A group of us went to Lazy Ox Canteen the Friday before my birthday early last month as a celebration of sorts, since I wasn’t planning on doing anything special this year due to my much-anticipated trip to Urasawa the next day. Little did I know that it would become the last Friday in the Josef Centeno regime at the restaurant, as announcements about his departure came out the following week. Good timing, I suppose. Even though Chef Centeno wasn’t in the kitchen that night (he was probably at Baco Mercat), I expected great things out of this kitchen.
We arrived promptly for our reservation that night, but the party before us refused to leave, even ordering another round of drinks apparently after our arrival. But the FOH was great at keeping us informed on the status of that party, and even combined a couple of the small tables on the patio for us while we waited to be seated inside. In the meantime, we ordered drinks and a couple of dishes to get us started. It’s a bit hard to describe what type of restaurant Lazy Ox Canteen is. I guess it qualifies as a gastropub. But as far as cuisine is concerned, it really doesn’t restrict itself to any particular one. There are touches of American, Spanish, Japanese, and other cuisines, often coexisting on one plate.
Roasted Poblano Soup w/ Pork Belly Chicharon, Autumn Grapes, & Creme Fraiche ($8)
This was very nice. The soup was thick and creamy, as if it was just purely pureed poblano peppers. The pork belly chicharon was a nice contextual contrast, as the grapes were nice tart contrasts to cut the creaminess of the soup.
Braised Short Ribs w/ Cream of Wheat ($25)
Another winner right out of the gate. The short ribs were braised perfectly, and the cream of wheat was smooth and creamy like a polenta.
Chicken Liver w/ Bacon, Cracked Mustard, & Mascapone ($11)
However, this was quite underwhelming. Very lifeless compared to the previous two dishes, as the liver was deli-generic.
7 oz. Lazy Ox Burger w/ Cantal Cheese & Whole Grain Mustard ($15)
We ordered two of these so everyone could try some. The meat blend was nice and juicy, cooked a perfect medium-rare on the first one. The second one, however, was less successful.
Lace Battered Surf Clams w/ Lime & Caper Pickle Aioli ($13)
A bit tough, and heavy on the batter. Couldn’t really tell if they were anything but basic fried clams.
Caramelized Cauliflower w/ Chile, Mint, & Pine Nuts ($9)
While $9 for a veggie dish is meh, this was a great dish. Everything together tasted like a tom yum soup of sorts.
Brussels Spouts w/ Bacon & Pecorino ($10)
Another great veggie dish. The bacon in this looked and tasted like pancetta, and gave it a nice savory flavor.
Heritage Pork Rillette w/ Marcona Almonds & Castelvetrano Olives ($8)
Judging from this and the chicken livers, it appeared that these type of dishes aren’t really the restaurant’s forte. Underwhelming like the liver.
Shredded Lamb w/ Coleslaw & Salsa Verde ($12)
Very gamey (which I like) and was cooked well. Kind of like a lamb carnitas of sorts. Solid, but not spectacular, dish.
The restaurant has a different large, family-sized, dish featured each day of the week. On the Friday we were there the featured dish was a bouillabaisse. I was a bit sad it wasn’t the famous fried chicken or something more exciting, but held my head high as I tried this. It was actually very good! Nice and homey, with plenty of seafood. But I don’t think I would pay $48 for this again…
The bouillabaisse came with a salad, which went largely untouched.
Polenta w/ Creamed Mushrooms & Curry ($11)
This was recommended by our server. It was a great pick. The creamy polenta went really well with the mushrooms, and the curry powder wasn’t overpowering, giving it just enough of the flavor.
Rice Pudding w/ caramel & pine nut crumb ($9)
We were really stuffed by this point, but had to get one dessert. Of course, we got their most popular one. Looked pretty boring (okay, very boring), but it was delicious! Mix it with the caramel sauce and the creme fraiche, and I’ll beat up any senior citizens who get in my way of this.
When I’m asked to describe Lazy Ox Canteen, I often find myself telling people it’s similar to Animal, only more worldly. However, I realize that these two restaurants are fairly different (other than the small plates concept). Lazy Ox Canteen doesn’t really focus on one particular cuisine, and in doing so, is able to have a nice variety of dishes on its menu. And man, can they cook veggies. However, not everything was a hit, and I wasn’t able to try some of their more famous dishes (pig ears, fried chicken). But I had a great meal, and I consider myself fortunate to be able to experience the last remnants of the reign of Centeno. Now, if only the new kitchen can keep up…
Chris Hei grade: B+
Lazy Ox Canteen
241 S San Pedro St
Los Angeles, CA 90012