Tomorrow is opening night for A-Frame, a collaborative effort between Roy Choi (the chef who brought you Kogi and Chego) and David Reiss (the restaurateur who brought you The Brig and worked with Chef Choi to bring Kogi to his Alibi Room). A-Frame is a hop, skip, and jump down from Waterloo & City in Culver City, if that helps. If your “frame” of reference (ha ha) is more along the lines of Bob Villa, Tim “The Toolman” Taylor, and/or Martha Stewart, it might be more helpful if I say that the name defines its structure: a giant A-frame. If This Old House wasn’t your idea of Saturday morning public channel fun, but going to 24 hour diners in the middle night was, you not only had a better high school experience than I did, but also would immediately recognize the restaurant as a converted IHOP. Once inside, though, images of all-you-can-eat pancakes dissipate, and you’ll instead spot This Old House‘s blueprints all over it. As the Los Angeles Times wrote last week, the walls are sanded, bare, naked. We’re going back to the basics, people, starting with the foundation.
While Roy Choi isn’t A-Frame’s official chef (Jonas Curameng, sous chef at Kogi and Chego, is), he had a heavy hand in creating and curating the menu. The current trend in dining continues to be science non-fiction in the kitchen: liquid nitrogen once used to freeze and safely store alien-human hybrid embryos in The X-Files is now used to fashion cocktails. Chef Choi eschews all that; instead of HAL 2000 boxed in a sanitized hospital-white spaceship, he went a few hours/ice ages back to the apes, nature, and fire. He’s aiming to bring you back to that primordial place, when we ate with our hands and tore with our teeth. Almost everything on his menu is designed to be eaten this way, messily, with lots of napkins and, when you’ve run out of napkins, your shirt. This is what food under fire used to taste like, remember?
None of the dishes I tasted were finalized when I tried them, so I’m a little hesitant about giving too many details. That said, even in their semifinal stages, they were delicious. Unlike the the predominantly Korean flavors of Kogi and Chego, the dishes here explicitly pull flavors from all over Asia: in addition to Korea, you’ll taste Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, China, the Philippines. And, because this is all brought to you by the team who thought to put kimchi in a burrito, Mexico represents. Take those flavors, im-/emigrate them into a building with architecture popularized by an American, and you have A-Frame’s version of Los Angeles, California, USA. Eat your heart out, Tea Party.
Tomorrow, when you go, start with the fresh kettle popcorn sprinkled liberally with furikake, a Japanese condiment comprised of dry fish and seawood. Seriously, you can eat this all day. If you don’t believe me, believe one of the kings of molecular gastronomy, Michael Voltaggio:
Besides the kettle popcorn, get the fried chicken. Mashing the Peking duck process with the beer can one, the chicken is brined, rotisserie’d, then fried. Overall, it’s a 24+ hour process that results in juicy meat and a crackling, uber-crispy skin. Alongside the chicken is their version of the 1,000 year old egg, so you have the poultry version of Dave Bowman in 2001 in that you’re literally going from beginning to end. The chicken is served with two sauces, one red, one green. My favorite is the green, a smooth salsa verde. As it happens, the salsa verde is the Jane Lynch of the menu: it makes frequent appearances in the background, all of them memorable. Try the salsa with the cocktail shrimp (seasoned and tossed haphazardly in a bowl instead of dancing daintily around a martini glass). Others: lamb shanks that are beautifully charred and are meaty without being gamey; sweet crab cakes that are to be tucked inside lettuce leaves; and a tofu salad deemed amazing, even amongst the most ardent of meat eaters.
Even the desserts can be eaten with your hands. I know you will be stuffed to the gills, but try at least one of pastry chef’s Beth Kellerhals’s creations. If only one, the churros dipped in chocolate are the best thing sitting on the scale between Salina’s Churro Truck and Lucques‘s Churros y Chocolate. Apparently, there also will be an apple pie with cheddar ice cream. I’ll tweet all about it when I try it tomorrow.
Everything is served family-style, so get whomever you consider family together so you can try as many things as possible. Oh, eating together at a communal table. And sharing food and stories. Remember when we used to that?
A-Frame is at 12565 Washington Blvd in Culver City. Starting tomorrow, the kitchen’s regular hours will be 5pm – midnight. The fully stocked bar will be open until 2am, every day of the week.