Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Happy Hallmark Day. Beacon: An Asian Cafe - Los Angeles

Pam from Daily Gluttony said it best. Valentine’s Day, aka Hallmark Day, is a commercialized ploy to make money off tacky paraphernalia and make the single scurry around for a date like lions in Africa. Am I bitter? Not even. I remember V-Day being a fun day during my elementary school years. I used to sift through the candy heart boxes, saving all the “I love you’s” for the “special girls”. Yes, I have 8 “I love you” hearts, which means I can give them to 8 different girls. Even though those hearts tasted like peppermint-infused chalk, it was nice to give and receive. I also remember spending a lot of time writing on those Warner Bros. cards like with Pepe Le Pieu. Carefully writing messages of ‘love’ in illegible, mispelled cursive handwriting – stuff like “Your my valentine”. As I grew older, Valentines gift-giving evolved into nasty chocolate hearts and hideous white bears holding red hearts. I never fell into that because it was just plain tacky. Now it’s all about wining and dining – taking your ‘love’ to the nicest restaurant to impress. Which is what I did. No not with a new ‘fling’, but with a fellow foodie friend.

BR works part time at Beacon, an Asian Café in downtown Culver City. I had never eaten at Beacon and this was the perfect time to try out one of LA’s up and coming restaurants. Voted by Los Angeles Magazine as one of LA’s top 25 restaurant and headed by Chef Kazuto Matsusaka, I was in for a good treat. Matsusaka, has worked under Hideo Yamashiro (Yamashiro’s) and Wolfgang Puck (Spago’s). Like all restaurants in LA, they offered a prix fixed menu for Hallmark Day.

We got to the restaurant at 8 and were quickly seated at the bar. Beacon was smaller than I thought - holding no more than 30-40 people inside and 20 outside. It was cozy and lit with candles. Downtempo music echoed from hidden speakers, creating a nice urban ambiance. This was the perfect place with the perfect volume. Ever been to places like Yardhouse? That place is deafening, to the point where you practically have to yell just to be heard. I was amused by the mountainous cabinet filled with Sake and wine that towered over us. I tilted my head back and wondered how mad the employees would be if I ordered the Sake bottle on the very top shelf. Without even looking at the menu, we ordered the 6-course Prix Fixed menu with wine pairing. A great deal for only $59. Plus we’d get the employee discount – so we really scored. Fortunately, there were 2 choices for each course – perfect for both of us. We would simply switch off dishes.

As we waited for our dinner, BR and I checked out all the couples in love. What were they possibly talking about.

“Remember when we first met online? Was it on or eHarmony?”
“If I didn’t get so wasted that night, we would’ve never met each other…”
"No restraining order will ever keep me away from you, my dear."
“I still remember the time you held me as I threw up in the alley…”
“I was tired of dating 13 guys at a time. I was ready once I met you.”

The couple next to us at the bar were completely wasted and *ahem, hot and bothered. Being Asian didn’t help them because they were as red as the Kool-Aid man. Something told me that they were more interested in having each other for dessert instead of the Crème Brulee.

We started off with a deliciously sweet glass of cold sake. I looked at the menu and wondered what the positive and negative numbers meant. I was like “Is this gonna be my BAC level after I drink this”? BR explained to me that the numbers were indications of how sweet or dry a particular Sake was. Known as the Nihonshu-do rating system, the higher the number, the lower the sugar content – thus a drier taste. +3.0 is the ‘neutral’ point. The range of Fruity to Dry is -20 to +10. The sake we tried was a +10. Soon after, the food arrived. Here’s what we had.

A. Trio of Small Bites
Edamame Hummus, Olive Tapenade
Crispy Shrimpcake with Ginger Aioli
Shitake Mushroom Tartlette with Pecorino

The Edamame Hummus was somewhat bland. I’ve had it with White Truffle Oil and prefer that. The Crispy Shrimpcake was awesome. These came out piping hot and burned my tongue. I can eat a whole basket of these. The Shitake Tartlettes were BR’s favorites. As tiny as they were, the shitake and buttery flavors really packed a punch.

B. Baby Arugula, Endive and Radicchio Salad
This is what I call a perfect salad. Served with a beautifully browned ball of warm Goat cheese, this salad hit all the checkpoints in my palate. Sweet, hot, tangy, warm and crisp. I’m gonna try this out for my next catering gig.

C. Smoked Sturgeon with Fennel-Carrot Salad, Wakame and Créme Frâiche
This was so so. I appreciated the time they took to smoke the fish. It was my first time eating Sturgeon fish, but I would imagine that it’s as fishy as salmon. It was a good thing that they served this with Avocado Créme Frâiche.

D. Kaki Fry Oyster
This is so dangerously good. Like the Crispy Shrimpcake, I can eat a whole basket of these. They were fried lightly with a nice panko crust and full of flavor. There was no ‘fishiness” in the taste of the oyster and the texture actually tasted resembled a Portobello mushroom. This was another BR favorite.

E. Vegetable Dumpling
This bowl of Mushroom-herb broth came with 2 delectable dumplings. With the essence of truffles infused in the broth, I think we could’ve done another 5 bowls. I’d like to try adding some Pho noodles in this broth. Mmmmm. I loved this one.

F. Miso Marinated Black Cod with Miso Puree Sauce
This is a typical entrée in any Japanese restaurant, but I’d have to say this ranks #2 in my books. #1 goes to Nobuyuki Matsuhisa’s version, in which he pours hot oil mixed with soy sauce, sake and green onions OVER the broiled black cod. Oh man. If you ever eat at Beacon, I highly recommend this dish. The miso adds a salty, yet sweet taste to the perfectly cooked fish. See that pink rice ball – it was shaped into a heart. BR and I quickly ‘broke’ it and laughed.

G. Star Anise Braised Veal Shortribs
This was my first time eating Veal shortribs. The overall taste of the dish was very light. I expected to taste more Star Anise, which I love. I think they could’ve added a little bit more salt because it was bland. This got a thumbs down from BR and me.

After all the wine and food we had, we walked away with a steal of a deal. I didn’t bother photographing the THREE plates of dessert we had, because I hate dessert. It came out to $52 each, excluding tip. I’m definitely coming back here.

Beacon: An Asian Café
3280 Helms Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 838-7500


Anonymous said...

def one of the better vday meals i've had. and who better to enjoy it with than my BFF!!! whoo hooooo, yay for BFF's :P

BoLA said...

Great write up! I love the collage!! Will have to def check this place out! Have fun tomorrow night! ;)

Yuzu said...

Aww, I'm sad you didn't photograph the desserts. Because of that, death awaits you with nasty, big, pointy teeth! ;P Can you at least describe what it was?

Passionate Eater said...

On reading your post, I can literally see your mind developing new ideas for your next catering job! I hope the waitress didn't have to scale the tall shelves to get your sake.

Interesting food! I've found that fusion cuisine makes a lot of use of panko bread crumbs and edamame beans--that definitely adds an Asian flare to food, but those items don't really contribute much flavor-wise. I love the "ginger aioli and shrimpcake" idea though. (We gotta steal that idea.)

Are you thinking about adding Asian elements to your arugula and blue cheese salad?

Delicious post!

Passionate Eater said...

Oh, I wanted you to read this about Tommy's Joynt. Hope that you'll be able to try that place next time you are in SF!

eatdrinknbmerry said...

PE, it's coming up on day 3 of my SF trip. i tried the buffalo stew!

Hugh G. Johnson said...

although a little small, the food looked tasty. Place looks like a fine joint to try.

sorry but i won't be able to go to Dieselboy tonight..rrr.. have fun and don't get elbowed in the head inside the mosh pit.

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