2009 is the year of the Ox, which in Asian cultures, is a symbol of prosperity through fortitude and hard work. If all goes well, the oxymoronic but catchy Lazy Ox Canteen which just open in Little Tokyo will be prosperous through the hard work and fortitude of Chef Josef Centeno (above, center) and partner Michael Cardenas. We moved to LA just as Lot 1 was getting good press but before we could even try a baco (taco-pizza-gyro hybrid), he left as a consultant to several restaurants, leavng Lot 1 in his wake. Known for his diverse tastes and cooking style, a coworker and I stopped by to try Chef Centeno’s lastest venture.
Within walking distance from the Japanese Town metro stop, we took the subway downtown and easily found the restaurant. There’s a nice patio seating about 20 and inside was an open space filled with warm wood tones, cement floors, and metal duct work which rounded out the industrial chic look. A small bar is to your left as well as an open kitchen with stone oven in full view.
The menu is quite eclectic and diverse. No baco or suckling pig that we had hoped, but plenty of items that piqued our interests. Immediately after our orders, we were served some Peruvian cancha–roasted corn which was nicely accented with lime salt. We were able to taste a few different beers before choosing one of the 12 draft beers on tap. There’s also a selection of esoteric wines, bottled beer, sake, and shochu as well.
Despite being opening night, the service was spot on. Our dishes arrived hot and timely. We started out with the cod brandade fritters with yuzu aioli. This was non greasy and crispy on the outside and the salted cod was tasty and flavorful. Warm and comforting. Could have eaten 5 more of these.
Our second starter, which ranged from $5-10 or so was the Khlii (Morrocon styled beef jerky) served on a brioche with fried egg and salsa verde. Very interesting flavors. The khlii had a nice cumin flavor.
We decide to go family style and had more small plates, which ranged from $8-18 or so. The charred octopus with pickled shallots, corona beans, garlic rapansi, and calamansi vinaigrette was our next dish. The octopus was tender and flavorful–but we just wished we had more of the grilled/charred flavor which would have made it even more spectacular.
Next came the merguez with licorice pear, black garlic and tomatillo. Slightly spicy and packed with flavor, the merguez paired really well with the flavorful black garlic and acid of the tomatillo. We’ve never had black garlic before, but it was tasty and not overly pungent. Our favorite of the night–even though the size of the merguez can be easily finished with a bite if shared–or two if you keep it to yourself. Size does matter in this case.
Many of their organic produce is grown specifically for the Lazy Ox Canteen by Mountain Sage Farms in Temecula. We tried the butter nut squash with Okinawan brown sugar as a side for our entree. It was a nice complement to the richness of our entree.
Finally, we shared an entree (all are mid to low $20’s) the braised beef peleron (pot roast) with cream of wheat, kumquats and red wine. Delectable and fork tender. The sweet and sour kumquats worked perfectly with the richness of the beef.
Considering this was opening night, we left very impressed with the solid quality of the food, service, and atmosphere. Chef Centeno plans to change the menu frequently with daily blackboard specials and even weekly family style meals. With his strong history in LA and possible reintroduction of his baco as well as visions of possible of suckling pig in the stone oven, we’re sure to visit again.
241 S. San Pedro