Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Croquer: Lazy Ox Canteen

Little Tokyo isn't just for ramen, mochi, and shabu-shabu anymore. With neighbors like Wurstküche, Señor Fish and now Lazy Ox Canteen, there's a rather pleasant culinary turf war that has downtown dwellers close-lippedly reaping their patient reward.
A small box in the ground floor of a contemporary loft building (just down the street from the fish market), Lazy Ox is a modestly calculated tavern by chef Josef Centeno and business partner Michael Cardenas.
With an interior that says 'Downtown Denver' or maybe 'North Portland', Lazy Ox is woodsy and cozy. Fresh cabinetry houses the wine list, massive chalkboards on the wall are scrawled with the day's fifty-or-so specials. This is what has people talking - Not the number of items on the ever-changing menu, but how good each and every one seems to be.
Completely overwhelmed while deliberating over the small plates options, Michael and I each ordered a St. Bernardus Triple Belgian ale to 'help us focus' as a small ramekin of toasted Cancha kernels was set before us.
Because it sounded delicious and jumped out on the printed menu, we started with the Bellwether Farms ricotta fritters with saffron honey - and not a bad gamble. The perfectly crisp fritters crumbled into molten cheese at the bite, a texture-lovers' heaven. The flavors were subtle, but a nice delicate starter.
The vegetable side of caramelized cauliflower with chile and pine nuts came out next, and may have been the boldest and tastiest flavor of the night. Lightly browned on all sides, each succulent piece of cauliflower was loaded with a smokey chile zest. I easily could have gone for another order...
The braised veal breast was quite the looker. Silky flesh sitting atop chunky potato salad, dripping with a complex, sweet jus. The veal was like butter, and I found myself scraping the sauce, sweet onions, and potato salad remnants into postscript bites until the plate was white. 
I haven't been ordering tons of mussels lately (due to a causatum that... needs not be shared on a food blog), but I couldn't deny the preparation on Lazy Ox's menu. Their mussels are "brick roasted" with basil, white wine, house-made sriracha & French feta... Served as any proud kitchen should, topped with charred bread for sopping up the remaining divine broth. And boy was it! Harmoniously spicy and cheesey, I pined for more toast to make this cast iron pan as clean as the veal plate.
We wavered on ordering another dish after the mussel shells left the table, our palates fully awake and excited. Our eloquent server, who had pointed us in the right direction all night mentioned that we had missed her favorite, and with a wink we knew we must trust her. Better than dessert, we savored every tender bite of the dashi-marinated yellowtail with avocado, hash brown & tonburi (a seed sometimes called "land caviar"). The fish was remarkably fresh and luscious, the avocado offering the suggestion of tartare without the pretense. I appreciated the gentle crunch from strategically placed sprouts and minuscule rice crackers. A meticulously geometric "hash brown" sat on the edge of the plate without obvious purpose, but was a nice little interval to remind me how much I had enjoyed my meal but that, alas, it was time to be done.

241 S San Pedro; Downtown LA (Little Tokyo) 213.626.5299
Lazy Ox Canteen in Los Angeles on Fooddigger
Lazy Ox Canteen on Urbanspoon


  1. I keep hearing about this place... why haven't I been there yet. You have convinced me!

  2. Lazy Ox is a place I've been dying to try... ah, too bad I'm moving to Portland next week!

  3. WA - Do it! The burger and bäco (flatbread w/ an array of toppings) get rave reviews too..

    AA- Portland! Ohh foodie heaven... I miss it so. Le Pigeon, Beast, Simpatica... You will have so much goodness to explore! I'll be keeping an eye on Banana Wonder to follow your adventures..

  4. I love the Lazy Ox but have only managed to get there once. Have got to go back. Really nice write up - I ate some of the things you did, and it was all so good.

  5. The Lazy Ox continues to elude me -- perhaps out of laziness? Either that or I just keep forgetting about it! I do hope to get there soon though. It's not always the case that restaurants can do vegetable dishes (like the cauliflower) so well that they can stand up to the heavy meat hitters.