Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lazy Ox: Can it be all things to all people?

crunchy corn kernels with pimenton set the tone for the full-flavored menu
Little Tokyo's The Lazy Ox is one of those rare places that's both capable of snagging three stars from S. Irene and serving as an easy place to drop in for some beers and happy hour snacks -- whether you like the word or not, it's one of L.A.'s most ambitious gastropubs. I love how chef Josef Centeno incorporates spices like za'atar and influences from Morocco, Spain, the Middle East and sometimes Asia in his dishes without diluting the concept.
You must order the caramelized cauliflower, even if you're not always a fan
Nearly a year old now, Centeno's cooking seems to be getting even more wide-ranging, and while Animal gets all the nose to tail attention, the Lazy Ox is just as ambitious. Yet your squeamish friends, who would never touch a rabbit liver or pig ear, will be just as comfortable here, with a really solid burger ($14), imaginative fish dishes and a refreshing attention to vegetables. It's also a handy place for a business lunch, happy hour snacks like burrata crostini, a Belgian ale on tap, or comfort food staples like a giant veal chop or fried chicken. Nearly 50 specials are listed each night, and amazingly, they're mostly successful.
In summer, soft shell crab was fried tempura style with a crunchy crust
On arrival diners get a small dish of addictive corn kernels with Spanish smoked paprika. It's a flavor combo Centeno returns to repeatedly -- most dishes play off smoky, salty, spicy and acidic in satisfying ways. Other standouts include a salad of deeply flavored brick roasted tomatoes with luscious burrata and the unexpected addition of Japanese pickled plums; light and crunchy fried dishes from soft shell crab to ethereal yet rich battered bone marrow. A few dishes familiar from Centeno's previous stops are featured - there's usually a hand torn pasta with egg and cavatelli with rich sauce of oxtails or beef and pork ragu, and sometimes his bacos -- flatbread tacos topped with crispy pork belly and the like -- make a command appearance. The beer and wine list is ambitious enough to ensure return visits, with solid sake and shochu lists in a nod to the neighborhood and a rumored Japanese restaurant to come next door.
The hamburger is terrific, with housemade mustard and garlicky aioli
Is there a down side? They've done what they could to warm up the room, but it's tough to bring character to restaurants in brand-new office or loft buildings, and the space can also feel cramped and really loud. For my tastes, the menu is one of the most appealing in town, but at times it feels like every dish is dusted with smoky pimenton and lots of salt. But these are pretty mild quibbles -- just sit on the patio if you don't like the room and make sure to order a variety of dishes.
The Lazy Ox
241 S. San Pedro
Downtown Los Angeles


Mlle Paradis said...

L.O. has become our favorite place (well ok outside of Wurstkuche and Father's Office for their mini-spuds in pepper sauce) and we have taken friends there too. We tend to do fish, they did the red meat choices. Home runs all the way. If you're up to meat that is larger than your head. But it's not all about size, it has great flavor.

My only quibble is that there is practically NO rice in the rice pudding - and if you're looking for umeboshi plum in that one recipe, it makes more of an appearance on the menu than on the plate.

Otherwise as Ms. Virbila said, "all restaurants in LA should be serving this kind of food".

Eddie Lin said...

"Nearly 50 specials are listed each night, and amazingly, they're mostly successful."

!!! Pat, have you sampled all 49 of Ox Tail's specials several nights in a row??? You are a glutton for goodness!

Pat Saperstein said...

Certainly not all 50 Eddie, I'm not quite that gluttonous! But we did have a group dinner for about 8 there, so we ordered at least a dozen things, plus I've been there two other times. But I hope to go back for more of the more adventurous dishes!

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Mike Tanner said...

The burgers reminded me of Eagle Rock's The Oinkster (which has been sliding in quality for a year or more now). I wasn't overly impressed but I will definitely give another try.

Anonymous said...

The biggest negative we had was the noise level. Food great, but the 6 of us could barely hear anyone but the person next to us. That's enough to make us not want to go back.

McBooth said...

As a Midwesterner at heart, it pains me to pay more than $10 for a hamburger. This is the only place worth the 4 extra bucks!