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A-Frame in Culver City

Dear Chef Bourdain;

I know it’s been a little while since I rapped at ya – I’ve been on a little break to square away my wedding and maybe lost a little weight. But I have to tell you, if you’re ever in L.A. – you should really check out Roy Choi’s “A-Frame”. This food can literally exorcise demons. I do mean that literally – not “my brain literally exploded” but like, in the literal sense of the word “literal”.

Roy Choi is the guy that started the whole Kogi food-truck craze in L.A., and who brought that to the  Alibi Room. So this is a guy who’s foreward minded with his flavors, and ahead of that curve to start a whole gourmet food truck craze. And “A-Frame” is his baby – the place where he gets to play with the craze he started and take it to the next level with his business-partner, David Reiss. I’d heard a lot about A-Frame, but hadn’t been – and when some friends who are fellow food-enthusiasts were in the neighborhood, it seemed like a good place to meet up. Little did I know I was there on the opening night of the Spring tasting menu. If A-Frame is Kogi, taken up to the next level – than this genius menu is A-Frame refined and perfected.

We had the good fortune to sit next to David Reiss himself. At first he seemed to be a little rude, peering over my friend Kate’s shoulder to look at her menu. But when we said “hi” and offered him a menu, he turned out to be really friendly, and really interested in what we thought of the new items. That’s when we figured out he wasn’t just some guy – he was the owner of Alibi Room, The Brig, and of course, A-Frame.

Kate and David Reiss

So we shared what we had at our table, and Mr. Reiss shared bites of what he had, so we got to taste a lot of the stuff that looked scrumptious but was just too much for us to order for ourselves. We started with home-made kettlecorn, which was clearly popped right in a sauce pan, which gave it a more crunchy, chewy, buttery and fibrous taste than commercial popcorn.  We also had a plate of heirloom pickles that were a fucking revalation. Like, the skies open, and St. John revealed the return of the Kingdom of God kind of Revelation. There were Asian pears, cucumbers, tiny golden beets, endive and others, served with a little yoghurt dipping sauce. Together, it made a pickle party that was the opposite of every other pickle party I’ve attended – I really wanted it in my mouth.

I had the double-cheeseburger, and this burger deserves an entry of its own, it was that good. The meat had a brilliant, crusty char on the outside that tasted like happy summers, but was as tender as the preemie ward on the onside. Don’t think about that too hard. It came with field greens that were just the right bit of snap, rather than crunch – and a sharp cheddar that added a welcome umami note. All with a bit of tomato confit that was cold, a little vinegary, and smooth like Barry White. It was on a brioche bun that was like Belgium in Europe – it’s not flashy, but it serves a purpose that is subtle, important, and makes the whole thing go together.  Chef Choi happened to come out to say hi to Mr. Reiss at just this moment, and he leaned in and said, “I want you to get into that burger with two hands.” I did, it was just that kind of burger – thinking on it now, I think it was the best burger I’ve ever had.

We had beer-can chicken that was perfectly crispy and herby on the outside, with a  tender, juicy inside. The real test wasn’t the thigh, but the breast – and my friend Steve suggested we tear a chunk and put it to the test – and it was passed with flying, juicy colors. It was dense but still really moist – and all with a beautiful skin that was crisped to perfection. It came with a spicy mango salsa, and green salsa. It also had a “century egg” which was a funny pun; which came first? Chicken or egg? I’mna say chicken on this one. At least in my heart.

On the side we had asparagus with a fried egg, shaved parmesan and pancetta lardons. The egg was done just right so the yolk was runny and coated the asparagus. I’d never have thought of that, and probably lack the subtle skills to make the egg perfect like that, too – but together it was just dynamite. Mr. Reiss gave us a taste of incredible, juicy pork chops, some  more heirloom pickles, and a little polenta. The polenta was solid but tender, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, that’s not easy to pull off. We also had a little salad with strawberries and freshly cracked pepper that took traditional flavors and really made them pop.

Finally for dessert we had fried apple pie with cheddar ice cream. The apple pie was a little pocket of pastry crust, stuffed and fried. I didn’t really notice the cheddariness of the ice cream, and to be honest, the apple pie wasn’t as stand-out superb as everything else was. But we also had an ice cream sandwich made with salted chocolate cake-like cookies, and pepper ice cream. This was amazing. The pepper wasn’t like cracked black pepper, it was floral and sweet. The salt on the chocolate didn’t hit until just as all the flavors were finishing, and the resulting combination of familiar, comfortable treats with something new and really gratifying was like playing dodge-ball with your coworkers – you know it, you love it, but you’ve never done it like this and it lets some steam off.

When Chef Roi came out to say goodbye to Mr. Reiss, I told him that I felt his menu was really sincere – and I meant it. Everything about the table, with its silverware in a little basket on the table, and dishes that are big enough to share, spoke to how this food was about not just enjoying, but sharing. It was about taking things that are familiar and classic and putting them together with some twists that really came from the heart. Chef Choi’s response was, “I’m really exorcising some demons with these flavors.”

As you can see, no demons.

There was no sign of any kind of demon in sight – except, maybe one of gluttony, but how gluttonous can it be if all you want to do is share every little bite? So I think his bold work must have succeeded. A-Frame will blow your mind and exorcise your demons. Go give it a try.

 

A two-handed burger-eater;

Davy

 

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