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Counter Intelligence: Lazy Ox Canteen in Little Tokyo

Monday is the day to go, for chef Perfecto Rocher's paella. But any other day, a splurge on the slow-poached truffled egg is worth the trip too.

June 22, 2012|By Jonathan Gold | Los Angeles Times Restaurant Critic
  • Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times
Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times (m5sskqpd20120621085448/600 )

Andoni Luis Aduriz, the chef of Mugaritz, in the countryside outside San Sebastian, Spain, may be the closest thing to a pure artist in the restaurant world today. He encases potatoes in thin coats of ceramic so his customers can experience the sensation of biting into a stone. He drives dark-chocolate nails into scoops of sorbet. He smears fish eggs on sheets of edible plastic or curls of edible construction paper. He even has a manifesto: "You don't have to like something to like it."

But in the food world, Aduriz is perhaps better known for his mastery of the slow-poached egg, a variation of the Japanese onsen egg cooked for nearly an hour in a water bath at precisely 62.5 degrees Celsius (144.5 degrees Fahrenheit), at which point the white has set to a fragile wobbliness and the yolk has thickened to the luxurious, flowing richness of a well-made crème anglaise. Aduriz's egg inspired an 18-page feature in the first issue of the food quarterly Lucky Peach last summer. If you have noticed lightly poached eggs on practically everything lately, if you have wondered whether it is possible to eat asparagus in a restaurant that doesn't have an egg on it, you partially have Aduriz to blame.

But even in a town drowning in 62.5 degree Celsius albumen, the egg that stands out is probably the huevo Andoni at Lazy Ox Canteen, the Little Tokyo gastropub now under the guidance of Perfecto Rocher — a perfect, creamy 62.5 degree egg nestled over tiny cubes of Spanish chorizo, ringed with mashed potatoes made by puréeing French fries and (if somebody else is paying) blanketed with shaved summer truffles. The white melts into the potatoes almost as if it were cream; the violently orange yolk oozes slowly, purposefully, less like a liquid than like a solid that has decided to slump into a nap. The paprika sharpness of the chorizo is pleasant, and the woodsy funk of the truffles is pure sex, but it is the egg that you remember — the egg that haunts your dreams.

Is the truffled egg worth $31, twice the price of almost everything else on the menu? That part is up to you.

Of course, we've been to the Lazy Ox before — a dark, narrow dining room jammed into the ground floor of a new condo complex, a wine-intensive beer hall powered by Black Sabbath and Sex Pistols tracks cranked up to concert volume. It is owned by Michael Cardenas, founder of the Roku/Katana Japanese restaurant empire, and its founding chef was Josef Centeno, who recently left to open his own restaurant, Bäco Mercat. It was probably the standard-bearer for the last generation of small-plate restaurants, notable especially for its long roster of vegetable dishes, and everyone liked it a lot.

What's new is Rocher, who is what the columns used to call peripatetic. He applied four years in a row before landing an apprenticeship under Ferran Adrià at the late El Bulli in Catalonia but left a few weeks into the season to help Julian Serrano open a restaurant in Las Vegas. (He leapt from San Francisco's Campton Place to New York's Le Bernardin, to an uneventful term as the chef at Boulevard, the second restaurant of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. He has partnered with Walter Manzke in several Los Angeles pop-ups.

There is no reason to believe that his term at the Lazy Ox is anything more than an interim gig, something to do while he prepares for late fall's opening of a new paella-themed restaurant in the old Tudor House space in Santa Monica, also owned by Cardenas. Rocher is, as every Lazy Ox server will tell you, a third-generation paella chef from the countryside outside Valencia, the cradle of paella. It is the paella restaurant that is destined to make Rocher famous — propel him onto the speed dials of morning-show bookers and the rosters of chef conferences.

When you randomly stop by the Lazy Ox, the change in chefs does not necessarily assert itself. If you were a fan of Centeno's delicious Kentucky-fried rabbit livers with hearts of palm, Rocher's creamy dressing of arugula and avocado will not strike you as much of a departure. The charred shishito peppers with the shaved, cured dried tuna called mojama; the beef carpaccio with pickled shallots; and the spicy caramelized cauliflower with toasted pine nuts are pretty much the same. Centeno's style also drew heavily from Spain — romesco sauce everywhere. You can still get the goopy Lazy Ox burger with Cantal cheese.

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