Saturday, March 3, 2012

Plan Check Kitchen + Bar: Day & Night

That stretch of Sawtelle Blvd. north of Olympic is best known for all kinds of Japanese deliciousness from sushi to curry to tsukemen.  Along comes Plan Check, tucking neatly into the end of Little Osaka's restaurant row - next to the Building and Safety Department, where the city's architects, engineers, developers and designers funnel through each day in hopes of securing permits for their plans, and which provides the inspiration for its name.  The marketing blueprint for the seeming square-peg-in-round-hole restaurant? Small plates "inspired by traditional American classics", rye whiskey cocktails, and premium beers.
I'm not a big burger fan, but this one seemed...different, maybe.  With my day job now on the Westside, I'm excited to check out a whole new set of lunchspot options - and couldn't wait to see what all the buzz was about (Twitter was aglow with rave <140 character reviews even during soft open).  So I was excited when a co-worker agreed to go with me on official opening day.  But, knowing it wouldn't be kosher to have midday cocktails, I invited fellow Tweeters miffyeats and munchabout to do dinner with me as well, so that I could get the comprehensive daytime and nighttime experience!  Let's break down the meal - both day and night - by elements:
Experience: Check.  Though I loved the industrial, raw-ish looking interiors, we decided to sit outside on the patio, since it was a gorgeous, sunny LA day.  When we sat down, the server gave us paper placemats, that he hand-stamped with the cocktail list.  Ostensibly like a checker at the Building and Safety Department next door would date stamp a plan submitted for review?  Some might see this as gimmicky, but we saw it as a nice touch that draws immediate attention to their specialty cocktails, crafted by Pablo Moix of La Descarga and Harvard and Stone fame.  Approved.

Libations: Check.  My daytime beverage of choice was Ice Tea plum infused black tea, honey syrup ($3).  Burgers may be the stars that get the most virtual 'ink' at Plan Check, but I would be remiss if I didn't take a minute to rave about their version of the humble iced tea.  I haven't seen many (any) places in LA, that aren't Asian, that serve iced tea with syrup on the side.  It's either table sugar (which, duh, for the millionth time in the decades that the drink has been served here - DOES NOT BLEND INTO COLD TEA) - or sickeningly sweet flavored teas like raspberry or mango, all made with artificial tasting syrups saturated and inseparable from the tea.  Iced tea is one of my favorite drinks when in Hong Kong for the simple beauty of the fact that EVERY place uses / serves sugar syrup, in the right amount, with it.  So that it blends in, and you don't have any crunch of unmelted sugar granules in your tea, just a lovely amber smoothness that is refreshing on a hot day.  Duh.  I am sure there are places that serve it with sugar syrup, that are not Asian - but I just personally have not encountered one before Plan Check (please do let me know if you know of one!) So I was impressed that Plan Check serves theirs, yes infused but very lightly with natural tasting, subtle plum flavors AND honey syrup on the side as sweetener.  And yes, sugar cubes in case of people who can't break free from routine.  Approved.

Burger Construct Bending Burger: Check. Pastrami Nosh double smoked pastrami, swiss cheese, kimchi mustard, pickles, fried egg ($12) I LOVED this at lunch that first day.  It's a burger that pays no attention to rules and regulations when it comes to what constitutes a burger.  Pastrami between buns instead of slices of rye bread?  Why not? And presented in Canadian-bacon-thick slabs versus thin deli slices? Great.  Add a fried egg ON TOP of the burger to make it even more evocative of breakfast than lunch?  Awesome (love breakfast any time of day, especially when you're not supposed to have it).  My only note is that they either forgot to give us the kimchi mustard on the side, or it was in there and we couldn't really taste it.  Too bad as I was excited at that creative fusion element.  Otherwise, loved the juicy, bacon-like pieces of pastrami with the perfectly fried egg, thin and crisped buns, served in a cute little cast iron skillet. Approved.

Classic with a Twist: Check. Bleuprint Burger smoked blue cheese, pig candy, fried onions, steak sauce, peppercress ($11) The classic blue cheese burger, with steak sauce instead of the good ole ketchup and mustard, candied bacon, and some gourmet greens to elevate the stash.  Juicy delicious and all kinds of umami between fresh made, light and fluffy bun.  Approved.
Sticks and Tallow to Break My Bones: Check. Fresh Cut Fries skin on kennebecs, beef tallow, smoked salt, fresh ketchup ($5) I LOVE fries with skin still on.  Plan Check has 'em.  And cooks them to a perfect crisp, in beef tallow (rendered fat).  We inhaled these like there was no tomorrow.  I would come back for many things, but these fries alone would be enough.  The side of ketchup also has flavors that remind me of cocktail sauce, a fun twist that adds to the instantly addictive deliciousness. Approved.
Plan Check by Day?  100% approved.  I couldn't wait to check the place out at dinner.

For our nighttime excursion, we chose to sit inside, and got a booth seat fairly easily on a Wednesday night.  They also have a fun long wooden communal table, for a night when you're feeling friendly.
Libations (by night):  Check.  Tropic Thunder jalapeno infused kanon vodka, mango, lemon juice, sugar ($10) this was beautifully layered, with fresh citrus, sweet (tropic), lent depth by bit of heat from the jalapeno infused vodka (thunder). Loved that you can get this level of sophistication in a neighborhood small plates place - and it definitely (with my limited exposure to the area so far) fills a void in the Sawtelle area.  Well done, Pablo.  Approved.  
Embellishments: Check.  Stuffed Mushroom roasted portobello, swiss cheese fondue, crispy kale, steak sauce ($8) The main courses we had at lunch were fantastic, and at dinner - with more stomach room, it was time to squeeze in a side.  The tenderness of roasted and incredibly flavorful portobellos, blanketed by melted swiss cheese, are counterbalanced by crispy bales of kale - and kicked up a notch with steak sauce, not commonly used with this dish but makes all the sense in the world once  you taste it. Approved.
Namesake Burger:  Not approved. PCB (plan check burger) akaushi red wagyu beef, americanized cheese, ketchup leather, savory onions, mixed pickles, crunch bun ($10) I'm fairly predictable in my attraction to the unusual - and this burger, with it's "ketchup leather", was what I originally wanted to get at lunch, but didn't end up trying til dinner.  Our daytime server had explained that the ketchup leather concept came out of thinking how all the stuff in a burger that makes it good (and juicy) usually soaks through and makes for soggy bottom, which is no good. Ketchup leather is a savory fruit roll-up that prevents that by providing a non-absorbent layer between the fixings and the bottom bun.  We found that it didn't have much flavor, and the fruit roll-up consistency, chewy and slightly waxy, didn't provide a good mouthfeel.  The rest of the burger didn't provide anything out of the ordinary and wasn't mindblowingly delicious as a classic.  Not approved.
Consistency: Not approved.  I enjoyed the Pastrami Nosh so much the first time that I wanted miffyeats and muchabout to try it.  Unfortunately the one we had at dinner, just a week later, did not live up to the first time.  The pastrami was chunkier and dry, and the fried egg was sort of more rubbery, bread was thicker and less crisp.  Granted, it was still first week of opening and it was busier than our lunchtime visit (though not full capacity until later on at night).  Since I work close by, I'd go back again once they've had a chance to get into their groove - I loved this burger that much at lunch.
Living Up to the Hype: Check. Southern Fry smokey fried jidori chicken, spicy green pimento cheese, duck breast ham, pickles ($10) This fried chicken burger was a Twitter crowd fav - and the best bite in my opinion that evening.  The chicken was so juicy, tender, and full of chicken flavor (I know that sounds ridiculous but it's NOT a given, the way most kitchens make chicken makes me not like chicken - it's as tasteless as what I would imagine styrofoam to be).  And was perfct paired with a spicy, sour, crunch of pimento cheese and pickles.  Also loved that duck breast was mixed in - two fowls do make a right.  A really fantastic piece that lives up to the hype.  Approved.
The Sweet Finish: Check.  Cruller Donuts cooked to order, cream, fruit ($6) I was intrigued when I saw this on the menu - everyone view things through their own filters based on experience, and in mine, cruller meant the giant fried dough sticks that Chinese people eat for breakfast with their congee (rice porridge) or cut up and stuffed into rice noodles at dim sum.  Apparently cruller just means any twisted, fried dough pastry.  Plan Check's are basically donut-shaped churros - possibly the best churros I've ever had.  Warm, soft, fluffy, hot out of the oven, and thick enough where the ratio of sugary, cinnamon-spiced crispy exterior is in perfect ratio with the piping hot, yieldy interior.  All served with the lightest whipped cream and fruit (in this case, bananas).  Yum with a capital Y.  Approved.

Plan Check by Night? Conditional Check.

All in all, a strong start for Plan Check based on the two meals.  There were hits and misses, but overall some good food for not too bad prices. It's great to have a gourmet burger option in the neighborhood, where you can have a great cocktail with your burger, served up in a cozy bar/restaurant setting that isn't scenestery (like Umami in Studio City).  I'm torn between giving it more time to ramp up, and wanting to make the most of the neighborhood gem before it gets crazy crowded - they don't take reservations. 

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 90%

Plan Check
1800 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles, CA
Ph: 310.288.6500

Parking: Meters on Nebraska

Twitter: plancheckbar ______________________________________________________________________

Plan Check Kitchen + Bar on Urbanspoon 

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