The Young Men and the Sea
The swordfish pointed the way into this life-sized diorama of, The Old Man and the Sea - a nautical wasteland of anchors, thick, frayed rope, and rusty compasses, now navigating Son of a Gun’s (SOG’s) walls, washed in a crisp, soft blue to brighten what could easily have steered towards a musty motif, and instead sailed into “fancy fisherman” waters.
SOG was the sister restaurant of Animal, where I had enjoyed a BOAT (Best of All Time) meal a few years back. Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo had won me over about a decade ago as shaggy-headed, easy-going, hard-working, twenty-somethings with their short-lived, Food Network show, "Two dudes catering". Since then, they had taken over the LA food scene with their own ventures, along with a couple of collaborations with Chef Ludo Lefebvre.
SOG’s seafood-driven menu was a bit more demur than Animal, but the family resemblance was undeniable. Each ingredient was treated as an individual, stripped down to exemplify its genuine essence, dynamic complexities, and integrity. But it was how these individuals worked in a choreographed union with one another that cranked up the assembly line of olfactory senses to maximum capacity. “Food Whisperers” was the term that came to mind when dealing with Shook and Dotolo, as if every morsel they touched, gladly bent to their will.
Raw Hamachi, Galbi Vinaigrette, Pink Lady Apple, Radish Sprouts ($18)
Unexpected euphoria arrived in this pristine plate of pale, pink fish with a Mardi Gras party of garnish. Flavors shifted like an edible kaleidoscope, giving new shape to the dish with every bite, flowing seamlessly, yet all remaining singularly identifiable – the delicateness of the Hamachi, the striking sour of apple and vinaigrette, the bitter crunch of radish sprouts – all somersaulting into endless, taste-bud, twisting configurations like the Kama Sutra of cuisine. I swallowed. Contentment…followed with an unyielding desire to recapture its swift, elusive magic immediately.
Lobster BLT, Pain de Mie, Nueske Bacon, Potato Chips ($32)
“Ms. Vanilla Milquetoast, party of one.” I was kicking myself for being such a bore, and felt like I’d wasted my entrée order. Of course this lobster BLT was decadent, chock-full of fat-clawed crustaceans, and the golden doubloons of crisp potato accompanying it, still warm from the fryer, coated my fingertips in a lustered sheen of glistening oil. But…I’d had this dish before. Many times. I’d grown up on the east coast, and this was nothing new, although done flawlessly. I’d safe harbored it, and missed the boat on sampling SOG’s five-star, select eclectics like octopus salad, mirepoix, chile ($18) or lemonfish poke, black radish escabeche, citrus, crispy sunchoke ($18). Don’t make the same mistake I did! Take the plunge!
Fish and Chips, Malt Aioli ($16)
Replicating, while elevating, and not dumbing down this iconic, greasy, pub fare was a further testament to SOG’s abilities. Breading was a barely-there corseted nuance of crunch that lovingly held the fish’s flesh in place like a flawlessly tailored gown. Red carpet worthy and a rarity in LA as the unpretentious, talented, deep-fried, stunner.
SOG and Sensibility: It sounded corny when people proclaimed they, “Cooked with love”, but what else count account for that intangible, cosmic thing which transformed meals into revelations? Shook and Dotolo had found this hidden vortex and created what I called, “Morsel Code” = tapping into the tongues’ alphabet through an emotionally triggered taste spectrum. Notes of vulnerability, respect, love, commitment, hard work, fun, invention, and individuality were on the plate - the deconstructed human condition. The real deal. An honest-to-goodness, Son of a Gun, in the best possible way.