Sometimes you go to a restaurant and know to expect a good meal. I've been to Little Beast in Eagle Rock -- a neighborhood on the northeast side of Los Angeles -- a few times and every time I've enjoyed and even relished my meal.
Sometimes I've been surprised as I was when I once ordered the Little Beast Burger with red onion bacon jam and maytag bleu aioli. It was plump and juicy and simply one of the best burger experiences I've ever had. One of the things I like about going there is that new things are added to the menu on a regular basis. It's not a static bill of fare. Little Beast, which bills itself as the home of progressive American comfort food, is the brainchild of Chef Sean Lowenthal and his business partner and wife, Deb Schwartz. It always delivers. However, tonight's meal made a lasting impression.
We headed to Little Beast on a day when the temperatures in LA were 10-20 degrees higher than normal -- in the 90-degree range with stiff Santa Ana winds blowing throughout the LA Basin and very low humidity. Hot. It's the kind of dry scorching LA heat that creates red flag fire conditions. Even in the wafting waves of heat and thick hot winds, you still have to eat. Hunger calls.
We walked into Little Beast, which is in a lovely restored house on a corner street that rises up into the hills, and were greeted by a friendly hostess, taken to our table and scanned the menu. As an appetizer or small plate to start, the Hamachi tartare looked interesting but I was drawn to the charbroiled artichoke. I ordered it and once served, I knew I was in for a treat. The artichoke was served cut in half with a lemon aioli mayonnaise dip. I tugged the warm seared leaves off the flower head and dipped them in the creamy sauce. Nice start to the meal. We then split a crisp spring market green salad with goat cheese tossed in a light poppy seed vinaigrette. For our entrée, my partner ordered the pan-roasted Scottish salmon and I went for the crispy chicken breast. It seemed like a summery choice on a late LA. August-like evening even though it's still mid-May.
When the chicken came I was first struck by the thoughtful presentation on the plate. The chicken breast, which had been rolled and cooked with the skin lightly browned to a dark blondish hue and crispy enough to have a crunch but not crackly was perched on a green garlic chickpea panisse that had itself been browned to a soft caramel color. The centerpiece was surrounded by a pistachio gremolata with steamed broccoli on the side.
The revelation occurred when I cut the chicken and joined it to some of the panisse, which was moist under its outer layer and then rubbed my forkful of chicken and panisse into the pistachio gremolata. That mouthful was warm, crunchy and slowly jelled together to create a complex taste sensation to my mouth's delight. Coupled with the crunch of the skin and the delicately sliced pistachio in the garlicky sauce, I was in that nether place that creative and well-prepared food will sometimes send you -- somewhere between joy and a floating sensation. I've had traditional gremolatas before, usually with pine nuts, but the choice of pistachios in what may have been a parsley-blended olive oil base was inspired. With this dish, Little Beast entered the realm of subtle gastronomic mastery: progressive comfort food, definitely. I'll be back soon to try it again.