Sherman's Food Adventures: Nightshade

Nightshade

Dining with Mijune is not an unusual activity.  That happens here and there where we eat most of the menu and literally roll out of the restaurant.  This time around, it was something different as we met up for dinner at the hot new Nightshade in Los Angeles' arts district.  At the helm, we find Top Chef winner Mei Lin whose heavily Asian-influenced menu has been impressing diners for the past half-year.  We hoped to tackle most of the menu even if we had to force ourselves to eat it all.  Yes, it is a tough job, but someone has to do it!

Without further ado, the meal started off with a bang.  Usually, Oysters can be a refreshing start to a progressive meal, but these were in-our-faces good.  Served on the half-shell, the buttery and briny oysters were sitting in a mix of passionfruit leche de tigre and charred garlic oil.  OMG, the tart sweetness of the tropical passionfruit hit me like a culinary train while the smoky and aromatic garlic oil took some of the edge off.  All this time, the oyster was not lost as the briny sweetness came through at the end.  As if this wasn't impressive enough, the Hokkaido Scallops merely continued where the oysters left off.  The coconut vinaigrette was not shy on the acidity, yet at the same time, retained the aromatics.  Again, the soft and sweet scallops were not overwhelmed as they showed up at the end.  Crispy ginger and coriander added another layer of aromatics.

From there, we moved onto the Beef Tartare with sesame, egg yolk jam, kohlrabi and tapioca puffs.  Another solid offering, if not less explosive in flavor.  Rather, we found the delicateness of the melt-in-our-mouths tender beef accentuated by the strong amount of sesame oil.  Yet at the same time, I got the saltiness of the soy and the sweetness of the kohlrabi.  The light and crunchy crisps were the perfect vessel as they complimented the beef rather than being overbearing.  Something that really surprised me was the Tamarind Glazed Baby Carrots.  Normally, I am not one to gush about vegetables, but this one had the robustness that could challenge a meat dish.  Plenty of umami and body, the carrots were firm and earthy sweet.  Loved the intense tang and sweetness of the tamarind while the carrot top emulsion added a certain vegetable brightness.  Toasted coconut on top provided an extra pop of aroma.

Beautifully plated, the Koshihikari Rice Congee was topped with XO sauce, crispy challots, pork floss and green onions.  Lots of classic Chinese ingredients on top whereby the XO sauce was definitely the dominant ingredient.  Hence, the whole congee taste briny and spicy.  I still got some of the aromatics from the shallots and the salty sweetness of the dried pork floss.  The congee itself was thick with discernible grains of rice present.  They were tender and melted in my mouth though.  I enjoyed this, but maybe a bit less XO would've created more balance.  Creative and stunning to the eye, the "Lasagna" featuring tofu skins as the noodle and tofu cream as the "bechamel" was definitely Top Chef level.  This was topped with a pork ragu to give the dish a Ma Poh tofu-like eating experience.  The dish was ever-so-delicate where the lasagna basically melted in my mouth.  Again, the combined flavours were almost classic Ma Poh tofu whereby we got the taste of tofu and also the meaty spice with the pork.

One of our favourite interpretations was Mei's version of Shrimp Toast that sat on classic Cantonese yellow curry.  Usually, we find the bread underneath the shrimp to be so oil-soaked, it would be unappealing.  This was only lightly fried where the middle of the toast was still bready.  On top, the hand-diced shrimp was delicate and cold-water crunchy.  However, the best part was the thick coconut yellow curry underneath.  It was so balanced and flavorful, we could've licked the plate. Onto the larger items, we tried the Pork Schnitzel first.  It was dusted with five-spice and combined with the crunchy breading, it had an almost Taiwanese salty peppery chicken flavour to it.  The pork was perfect being juicy and tender with only a touch of pink.  It was intensely natural-tasting with a sweet porkiness.  By itself, I found it on the bland side, but the side of tomatoes took care of business.  Beyond the natural sweetness and tang, the gwaimei (weird or odd flavour in Chinese) dressing added the aromatics of sesame, the saltiness of soy and the umaminess of miso.  That made the schnitzel sing.

I thought we were pretty done by the time we finished the schnitzel, but no, not when eating with Mijune!  We also went for the other 2 larger dishes including the Szechuan Hot Quail with Japanese milk bread and house pickles.  Originally, I was apprehensive about ordering this due to the small size of quails.  Well, this one was not only quite large, it was prepared perfectly.  The batter was firmly crunchy with rendered skin and nicely seasoned.  There was definitely some heat as well as a touch of numbing from the Szechuan spice.   Best of all, the meat was tender and moist.  Now this was good, but the 28oz Bone-in Angus Short Rib was absolutely killer.   The slow-cooked meat was completely melt-in-our-mouths tender.  Beyond the soft and buttery texture, we found an impactful bark and glaze.  It was full of umaminess from the black garlic.  Furthermore, there was a balance of sweet, savory and spice.  With the accompanying bonito habanero emulsion, fermented radish, mint and pickles, we made some pretty awesome lettuce wraps.

From here, we moved onto all of the desserts.  Yes, all of them.  We dug into the Almond Sorbet with mandarin ice first.  It was stunningly presented with orange cream flowers on top.  Once we broke them apart, it reveals an aromatic and particularly almond nuttiness from the smooth sorbet.  Of course this had a strong Asian influence where my childhood memories were triggered.  Add in the sweet and citrusy ice, there was a brightness and refreshingness to the dish.  Next, the Silkened Tofu with baby peaches, shiso oil and chia seeds was almost too beautiful to dig into.  Again, the fruitiness of the peaches (as well as the light crunch) helped add impact to a relatively subtle dessert.  The smooth tofu was nicely accented by the sweetness of the peaches and the aromatic shiso oil.

Stunningly green, the coconut lime granita encompassed an aromatic Coconut Mousse.  Beyond the mousse, we found a center consisting of pineapple which combined with the rest of the ingredients created a pina colada-type of effect.  Again, like the other 2 desserts so far, the use of fruit really kept things light and also made things refreshing.  For me personally, I'm so into fruity desserts, this was absolutely heaven for me.  To top it all off, the nata de coco underneath was essentially what we more commonly know as coconut jelly.  The most understated plating was the Guava and cream cheese hidden underneath a sheet of decorated white chocolate.  Once past the firm chocolate. we found the tropical flavour of guava accented by pop rocks!  Loved the creaminess of the cheese as well.

Hidden by a crispy disc of meringue, we found Cherry Sobert with a plethora of plump cherries marinated in cola.  The result as a pretty sweet concoction that was a bit syrupy yet still fruity like all of the other offerings.  I really enjoyed the meringue as it was soft and chewy inside while crispy on the outside.  Subjectively, I really enjoyed the desserts because, as mentioned, these were right up my alley being refreshing, fruity and light.  As for the rest of the meal, I thought it was not only solid, it was expertly executed while full of impactful flavors.  Definitely a must-try in LA in my opinion.

The Good:
- Impactful, yet thoughtful flavors
- Light and creative Asian-inspired desserts
- Re-imagined Asian flavors that actually work

The Bad:
- Personally, I loved the Asian-influence in every dish, but I can also see it being repetitive for those looking for more variety

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