Sunday, July 02, 2017

Wolfdown Review: Secluded Spot Flies Under the Radar in Silver Lake

Citrus radicchio salad at Wolfdown
Here's EatingLA's review of Wolfdown from the Los Feliz Ledger. Click through to see how many forks it received.

In the four years since Nicky D’s stopped serving pizza on Rowena Ave., Silver Lake has changed a good bit. Restaurants in the area have upped their game; real estate prices have climbed. Maybe because of its understated Rowena location, the seven-month old Wolfdown, which replaced Nicky D’s, has flown somewhat under the radar.

Wolfdown, which focuses on Asian-influenced dishes, comes from Jason and Chrissy Kim, the owners of Forage, the Sunset Junction cafe that incorporates produce fresh from neighbor’s gardens. The Kims freshened up the funky bungalow, and the woodsy patio now sparkles with twinkly lights, while several seats at the bar look out over the open kitchen inside the cozy house. Like at Forage, the menu highlights bright bits of acidity and crunch that put the spotlight on startingly fresh produce. But unlike Forage’s counter, this is a full-service restaurant with wine, beer, and sake.

The top of the menu offers shareable plates like tangy citrus and radicchio salad textured with crispy wontons, or grilled calamari with lemon and mayo. Coconut black rice ($13) melds several intriguing flavors: deeply flavored oil-roasted vegetables, nutty rice, and fresh pea tendrils.

black rice with root vegetables at Wolfdown

The fact that chicken and shrimp dumpling is listed as a singular item might tip you off that it’s not a plate of potstickers: It’s more of a large pancake with a delicious dumpling filling on the inside, though the presentation is unexpected. Brussels sprouts are slicked with chili oil and contrasted with crispy chicken skins, while other vegetables like beets and broccoli also get their flavor amped up with olives or black bean sauce. The kitchen knows how to make vegetables complex and fascinating in a way that completely escapes some of the vegan restaurants in the area.

Main courses include proteins like Korean fried chicken with spicy chili or soy honey butter and slaw ($25); noodles with beef cheeks; or a $45 Prime New York steak with herring butter. Braised black cod ($25) arrives in a ceramic bowl in which pieces of buttery fish alternate with chunks of purple daikon, swimming in a lightly sweet and spicy sauce with a side of fragrant Mori’s rice.

Pan-Asian restaurants often get a bad rep for covering everything in sickly sweet soy-based sauces. Luckily, Wolfdown’s much more nuanced dishes include plenty of tart notes to balance the sweetness, while sauces are differentiated with varying flavors like miso, sesame, and regional sauces like Korean kochujang.

Desserts also incorporate creative uses of fruits and vegetables, like sugar snap pea gelato with strawberry shortcake or black and blueberry compote with dense, creamy peanut butter semifreddo --a sophisticated take on peanut butter and jelly.
Black- and blueberry compote with peanut butter semifreddo at Wolfdown
Is there anything not to like? Both the menu and the servers can seem a bit quiet and serious -- a few more snacky hors d’oeuvres or welcoming bites might give the menu a little more sense of fun and generosity. Or how about a ramen night once a week? Dinner for two will run around $100 -- fairly standard for the neighborhood, though still a splurge for many. But overall, Wolfdown’s setting is relaxed and the cooking is perfectly calibrated.

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