Jonathan Gold, his writing is irreverent and evocative and he has helped us all discover many many places we wouldn't have ferreted out ourselves. Our only quibble is that when you carefully read his reviews, it is sometimes very hard to tell which dishes are actually good at the restaurant. Take Larkin's: He was eating there the same night we were, so I imagine our experiences were fairly consistent. Reading his review this week, there's very few things that are actually recommended, although he does a great job of describing the ambiance. And perhaps our tastes differ, because I really didn't like those collard greens.
Anyway, here's my review from the Los Feliz Ledger, which is not available online.
Taste test: Larkin's
After several months of preview dinners, Larkin’s has finally settled comfortably into a craftsman bungalow at the outer edge of Eagle Rock. First time restaurateur Larkin Mackey has poured his soul into giving Northeast . some down-home cooking, and Larkin’s has fast become a comfy hangout for the neighborhood, with lunch, dinner and brunch on weekends.
Sit outside on the pleasant wraparound porch of the 1920s cottage, or inside where the house’s former living room is warm with vintage paneling, framed photos and tables made from recycled painted doors. The quaint touches are charming, if not always successful. Mason jar glasses might work better as flower vases than as drinking vessels, and the glass-topped tables are slippery, with no placemats to keep giant plates of ribs from gliding precariously towards the edge.
The concept is contemporary soul food, and while it’s certainly understandable that a culinary school graduate with vegetarian leanings like Mackey would want to lighten and update the soul food canon, whether it’s what people really want to eat is harder to say.
The food is competent, but some dishes fall short of the flavor and comfort that define Southern cooking. Certainly no grandma would serve a salad garnished with candied walnuts, goat cheese and pomegranate vinaigrette, but it might be a better choice than the iceberg lettuce wedge with a gluey blue cheese dressing that could use more tang.
Diners get a small bowl of “ caviar” made with black-eyed peas to nibble on while waiting, and main dishes are served with a basket of mini corn muffins. The pork ribs smell enticing as the sweet smoke drifts over the front porch, even though they’re just warmed up on a gas barbecue. At $20, it’s a big and meaty portion that could use some slow smoking so that the meat separates more easily from the bone. Fortunately the kitchen has a light hand with the barbecue sauce, and garlic mashed potatoes make a hearty side.
Catfish ($15) is perfectly fried with a crunchy cornmeal crust, but the tomatoes and peppers mixed into the accompanying greens have a spicy kick that doesn’t really mesh with the pungent collards. Other main dish choices include fried chicken, jambalaya and smothered pork chops.
Desserts, which include sweet potato pie and banana pudding, tend to be on the sweet side. Red velvet strawberry shortcake ($8) is an interesting idea, but doesn’t work when the red velvet cake is hard and dry. Blackberry/blueberry cobbler ($7) is served in a cup, with no evident crust, just something soggy and cakey at the bottom.
With a cozy setting and friendly service, Larkin’s is a welcome addition to the fast-growing Eagle Rock dining scene. Many locals, however, would embrace even more soul in the cooking – and maybe even some lard in the collard greens.