Once in a while, we all need a break from the daily grind. Even if it's just one day. I chose to spend a rare day off last week on a short escape to Southeast Asia via Lukshon. Southeast Asia in terms of a modern take on the cuisine, anyway - just a drive cross town to the lovely Helms Bakery complex in Culver City.
To celebrate my temporary 'escape' - and fuel the illusion that I could do what I want with my time - I decided to sit outside in the serene, grey/green outdoor patio, and enjoy a mid-day cocktail - yes, a real cocktail. In broad daylight. With cognac. (I swear I'm not alcoholic...) At the servers' suggestion, and intrigued by the mention of a Chinese liquor that I only knew to be used to cook with (people drink it too, but it's strong and I've only encountered it as part of a marinade for Drunken Chicken), I went for the Yokohama Romance ($11) The drink is made with prunier vsop cognac, cherry heering, kaffir lime, lemongrass, shaoxing wine. I placed my order knowing that this could easily be overwhelming, with two intense liquors fused into one cocktail. It ended up being pungent, but fairly balanced and drinkable, and I liked the twist of lemongrass in the unexpected meeting of east and west in a glass.
So I really appreciated the server's helpfulness - when I asked what items are different from the dinner menu, he very candidly let me know Pork Belly Lettuce Cups was the only item not really on the dinner menu; Steamed Fish was a lunch portion and served as a filet at $19 compared to dinner, where the entire fish is served (head, tail and fins on) at market price.
Of course after hearing that I had to go for the Pork Belly Lettuce Cups ($16) cabbage, crispy pig ear, thai chile, lime, mint, aromatic rice powder. This reminded me of mushu pork (served in lettuce cups) but instead of ground meat there were decadent, fatty, tender and flavorful bite-sized pieces of pork belly, counterbalanced by lightly breaded and fried squiggles of pig ear and perfect, perky and crisp leaves of lettuce. Served with a cabbage slaw tossed with mint - and a bold sweet / tart/ slightly spicy chili sauce that took the whole dish over the top, in a good way. LOVED this hands-on dish - even if the smell stayed on my hands pretty much the rest of the day. Would go back on my next day off for this.
At first I wanted to try the Bhutanese red rice (with lamb bacon!), but then I realized it was also on the dinner menu and not too bad of a price ($9) - something I could come back for another day. So, I went for the Indonesian-inspired Chicken Rendang ($15) - the dinner version is with Short Rib. Though I normally don't like chicken unless it's fried - I'm willing to try it if it's pretty much marinated beyond all recognition and in a stew (minimizing risk of cardboard-like texture & taste). Lukshon makes their rendang with malay spices, red chile lemongrass rempah, coconut cream - all of which sounded delicious.
I really liked the taste and texture of these squares, kind of like a hash brown, but made of rice instead of potato. And they were fun to dip into the rendang. However, I wished the proportions of rice and rendang were more evenly matched - I went through the three squares of rice very quickly, and then was left with a large bowl of rendang that was really too intense to 'drink' on its own.
I ended up taking leftovers home and pouring it over brown rice - it still held up fairly nicely the next day.
All in all, a lovely lunch at Lukshon where I got to live it up as 'a lady who really lunches', if only for the day.
Not sure how often the menu changes or if they have a larger selection of lunch-only items on other weeks - I was glad to have been able to try it, and would come back another day for the Pork Belly Lettuce Cups. But mainly I wish that Lukshon would extend their lunch offerings to weekends to give people access, who aren't lucky enough to work in Culver City!!!
On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6.5 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 90%
39 Helms Ave. Culver City, CA 90232
Lunch hours: Tues-Fri 12-3pm
Parking: Free parking in Helms Bakery complex
Look for reservations: lukshon.com