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The Review: Black Hogg is a beguiling entry on Silver Lake scene

Gastropub chef-owner Eric Park slips a lot of flavor and a little heat into almost every dish.

June 02, 2012|By S. Irene Virbila | Los Angeles Times Restaurant Critic
  • It will get harder to get a table at Black Hogg in Silver Lake after it gets its wine and beer license.
It will get harder to get a table at Black Hogg in Silver Lake after it gets… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

First of all, Black Hogg, the name of the new Silver Lake gastropub, doesn't refer to a heritage pig or even a plain old hog or wild boar. According to the staff, it takes its name from the alternative definition of hogg, which the Oxford English Dictionary says refers to a young sheep, especially "one from the time it ceases to be a lamb until its first shearing"). And there that hogg is, ambiguous in neon outline at the very top of the restaurant's understated sign. A subliminal suggestion to order the buttery lamb burger?

Could be. And you definitely should. The ground lamb patty comes out pink and juicy, heaven on a soft glazed bun with Onetik, a Basque sheep's milk blue cheese and habanero-spiked onions almost buried under a massive heap of dark gold fries. The "buttery" refers to butter mixed in with the ground meat. Just watch the eyes follow one of those plates around the room or the smug, delighted expression of the recipient when the server sets that burger down. It makes a strong case for the lamb burger as an alternative to beef.

Not to worry. There's pig too, namely pork belly tacos and a Niman Ranch rib chop. The tacos (two to an order) are things of beauty, the pork belly succulent, piled high with a cooling Fuji apple slaw and a dollop of smoldering jalapeño relish. Fatty pork, crunchy slaw and that jolt of jalapeño add up to a remarkable taco. Unless you're very hungry, that pork rib chop, nicely pink at the center, is big enough to share, considering it comes with beans and rice too, and a moat of vinegary green mojo sauce.

Black Hogg is a beguiling new entry on the Silver Lake scene with exuberant rustic-urban cooking from chef-owner Eric Park, who slips a lot of flavor and a little heat into almost every dish. Fussy eaters not wanted: "The chef kindly requests no substitutions or modifications" is written at the bottom of the small, one-page menu.

The most surprising and delicious dish may be the brioche "box" with mushrooms. That's a 2-inch-thick slice of buttery brioche toasted and ladled with sautéed mixed wild mushrooms in a rich, expressive sauce.

If you walked in without knowing a thing about Park, you'd be wondering, where did this guy learn to cook? And where has he been all my life? In New York, mostly. Cooking at Eleven Madison Park and at April Bloomfield's beloved foodie haunt, the Spotted Pig. And this young chef must have soaked up Bloomfield's lusty cooking style during his time in her kitchen. But his dishes are very much his own. There's really nothing quite like Black Hogg in L.A.

You won't find a wimpy dish here. Flavor leads every time. Dishes come out fast — and correctly executed, except for the over-salted Brussels sprouts one night. Prices are moderate and plates are generous. Where else does $10 buy a huge salad of nine lettuces accented with sharp, grated ricotta salata?

Oysters — the other night Naked Cowboy from Long Island Sound or Hurricane Island, also from New York — are served nicely chilled with a fire-breathing, horseradish-dosed cocktail sauce and, this is interesting, spicy pickle mignonette, a touch sweet, a lot spicy, and a great match with the briny funk of the oysters.

Uni on toast with a dash of scallion vinaigrette makes another wickedly good little starter. Park has chicken livers on toast too, a rubble of coarsely chopped, creamy chicken livers with a blast of hot pepper and a garnish of ragged crispy chicken skin like some goth lace.

In March, Park took over a former Chinese restaurant in the same block as Sun Lake Drug just east of another neighborhood landmark, Cafe Tropical. Designer Brendan Ravenhill (Osteria la Buca) stripped it, painted the walls gray and added white oak accents that include a narrow shelf to hold a glass of wine or bottle of beer while you wait. Mismatched flea market mirrors hang above an L-shaped bar. Tabletops are bare, the look almost Scandinavian it's so simple and stark.

Drive by at 6 when Black Hogg opens and the room is likely to be almost empty. Come at 7, you might still be able to nab a table at this no-reservations spot. After 8, you will likely have to wait. The hostess does an incredible job under pressure, always gracious, always remembering to update guests on their table's progress.

Until recently, part of that crowd has been because their no-corkage BYOB policy made eating there so affordable. But that has changed, at least temporarily, as Park and company wait — and wait — for their wine and beer license. That's putting enormous financial pressure on this small, fledgling restaurant as not everyone elects to stay once informed they can't serve alcohol yet and no longer have BYOB. (It should be a few more weeks.) Meanwhile, you might want to take advantage of the fact that you can actually get a table. It won't last for long with food this fun and this well-executed.

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