Last week, I was invited to a dinner at Lukshon in Culver City in collaboration with Godiva who created special chocolates in celebration of Lunar New Year, which happens on January 31st this year — the year of the horse! People born in this year are known for being independent, free-spirited and feisty and the menu this evening featured the Szechuan peppercorn in many of the dishes known for its spicy numbing qualities. Chef Sang Yoon of Lukshon also infused many of the savory dishes with Godiva chocolates, making some unique and delicious pairings I’d never tasted before.
We were really here to be introduced to the commemorative Lunar New Year chocolates which comes in several variations all enveloped in a stunning red box (the color of prosperity in Chinese culture).
The dinner was served family style and you’ll be happy to know that most of the savory dishes are available on Lukshon’s regular menu. I was tickled to be in the company of Karin E Baker, deputy editor of Flavorpill LA, Tommy Lei, known fashion blogger of My Belonging and Jocelyn Wang, the person behind V3Con Digital Media Conference and currently, President of the Asian American Journalists Association LA Chapter.
Our first course is a platter of Duck Popiah which we all zoomed in to take photos of. Popiah is a Singaporean fresh roll and here, Chef Sang has filled it with duck confit and a wonderful dark chocolate hoisin sauce which was so subtle none of us could detect it. However, we all agreed, it took the edge off the hoisin by giving it a smoother, more balanced flavor than pungent hoisin alone. Pickled stem lettuce added a touch of crunch and acidity to the dish.
I was so excited when Crispy Whole Fish arrives. An entire fish is presented beautifully, curved and fried to perfection. I was given the task of breaking apart the fish which revealed moist, tender flaky white fish morsels which we drizzled with the accompanying pecel (a spicy, sweet and tart sauce originating from Indonesia). Wok charred cucumbers are heavenly and possessed the intoxicating flavors of Szechuan peppercorns. I couldn’t stop eating it was so addicting!
Chinese Eggplant was soft with a crispy exterior and tossed in panch puran, an Indian five-spice mixture topped with a dollop of fennel raita and shards of crispy eggplant. The menu also stated cocoa nibs as an ingredient and again, it was so deftly added to the dish without overpowering.
The bowl of Crab Fried Rice was devoured so quickly we didn’t have much time to think about it. The blue crab infused jasmine rice had bits of pea tendrils, serrano chile and egg combined together and was so decadent it would have made a meal in itself.
Our next dish was Beef and Broccoli but like no other I’ve ever tasted before. Tender slices of hanger steak prepared in a black bean cocoa butter sauce was so rich and savory we all took more than a piece. Gai lan not only added color, but also, a wonderful vegetable component to the dish. I prefer Chinese broccoli over regular because of its leafiness. Puffed tendon added another textural dimension to this mouth-watering dish.
The Brussels Sprouts were also highly addicting and we were thrilled they placed two bowls on our table. The chile garlic vinaigrette possessed hints of sesame, coating the slightly charred Brussels sprouts which were eaten with glee.
And if we thought the crab fried rice was good, the Heirloom Black Rice made us even happier. Savory lap cheong (Chinese sausage), onion, roasted garlic are prepared with the rice and topped with a runny Lily’s farm fried egg which added another dimension of richness to the already perfect rice.
However, if there was to be a piece de resistence of the meal, I’ll have to say, Spicy Chinese Ramen was it. The broth was absolutely impeccable with so much depth and layers of flavors in every spoonful. Ma la (the flavor given to Szechuan peppercorns) bamboo, pork belly and crispy ear were ideal accompaniments but all I wanted was to slurp up all the broth.
By now I was really quite full but every one at the table was excited about the desserts about to hit the table. There were four desserts including Godiva White Chocolate Vietnamese Iced Coffee spiked with White Lion arrack. Arrack or arak is a distilled alcoholic drink made from the fermented sap of coconut flowers, fruits or sugarcane, but not the same as the anise alcoholic beverage consumed in eastern Mediterranean countries or north Africa. It was incredibly strong, both the coffee and the spirit and we wanted to take it with us to drink the next day but due to the alcohol content, was unable to take it with us.
Godiva Milk Chocolate Cherry Shooter also had some sort of alcohol in it. I wasn’t able to “shoot” it, but instead, took a small spoonful to taste from the crushed candied almond-rimmed glass.
Chocolate and Pear “Donut” had specks of gold all over it which created the most visually stunning edible ever, unfortunately, the photo doesn’t do it justice at all. With chicory, kecap manis caramel, fresno chile and puffed rice.
The item I was most looking forward to was Macadamia and Black Sesame Dumpling. New years generally includes “tong yuen” which is a mochi based dumpling with a filling of some sort, traditionally, peanut, black sesame or red bean. I wanted only a bite but it was a difficult task so I popped the entire thing in my mouth.
Even though our meal was part of a celebration that can’t be duplicated, you can visit Lukshon and put together your own lunar new year dinner, or, any time of the year. That ramen is to-die-for and should not be missed.
3239 Helms Avenue
Culver City, CA 90034