I'm just starting to get acquainted with the L.A. food blogger scene, but the few people I've met in real life have been great. The wonderful ladies from Dining With the Catty Critic and Rock My Palate were kind enough to invite me along to experience the food of Chef Joseph Mahon, aka "The Cooking Gangster," formerly of Bastide, at a pop-up experience at Koreatown's Biergarten. Chef Mahon paired his culinary talents with the mad genius of the self-proclaimed "Wine Pimp," David Haskell.
Biergarten is basically my ideal sports bar - lots of tvs, wide-open spaces. Smiling owner Neil Kwon was on hand to greet us and, even though he had abdicated his space for two evenings to the Magnum Crew, he made sure to check in with us throughout the evening to gauge our satisfaction.
Each dish in the 5-course menu (7 if you opted for the supplemental dishes) was paired with a beverage by David Haskell, who poured for and gave an incredibly thorough explanation of the pairing to each table. Because I was sans Mark for the evening and therefore in charge of driving myself home, I skipped the pairings, but definitely check out Rock My Palate for a great write-up of that aspect of the meal.
First course was a "carrot pudding," with orange granita and shaved peanuts (below). At first, the bright neon hue of the dish made me a little wary, but I should have known better. This was a dish of elegant balance, with the sweetness of the carrot weighed nicely against the citrus of the granita and a very subtle curry flavor. The shaved peanuts were more than just garnish - the nuttiness and texture they lent were essential to making this a successful dish.
Next up was the cocunut soup, with mussels, tapioca, cilantro pistou and lime (below). This was a complete blast from the past for me - it reminded me of one of my mother's signature dishes, a seafood curry made with coconut milk - luscious yet light, creamy and bright. I really appreciated that the soup actually included a couple of juicy mussels. I loved the crunch of the tempura mushrooms, but I would have loved the soup even without them.
I skipped the supplementary wild mushroom course, so the next dish I was able to enjoy was the fried chicken, served with a salad of arugula, bacon, dried tomato, celery, and radish, and finished with a buttermilk dressing (below). Chef Mahon's take on the classic dish didn't do anything particularly out-of-the-box, but man! Was it really fantastically executed. The breading was crispy, flaky, and surprisingly light, and it blanketed the succulent, well-seasoned chicken. And I really enjoyed the tanginess of the dressing on the colorful salad.
We moved on to the sablefish or "butterfish" as the menu titled it, which came with pickled cabbage, cucumber, and daikon, all couched in a kimchee broth (below). The inclusion of the word butter in the title was apt, as under the crispy skin, the fish melted under a slight pressure from my fork. The kimchee broth was a lot more subtle than I expected, and well-complemented by the acidity and crunch from the pickled vegetables.
I missed another dish in here, the duck confit, but was excited to move on to the dessert course, ginger bread waffles, deep-fried and served with cranberries and topped with whipped creme fraiche and a drizzle of clover honey (below). As our regular readers know, I'm a notoriously picky dessert eater, not particularly drawn to overly sweet or rich dishes. But this was right up my alley. The tartness of the cranberry perfectly offset the sugar and cinnamon crusting the waffles.
With the drool-worthy food, great company and fun atmosphere, the meal was definitely a pleasure. I cannot wait to see what this "Magnum Crew" has lined up next. Whether it be another pop-up, a food truck, or a bricks-and-mortar permanent establishment, I can guarantee you I'll be there.