‘Pop up’ eating venues are all the rage in Los Angeles, from Ludobites to Breadbar’s Hatchi events, underground dinner functions like Room Forty and even Michelin-starred restaurants such as Mélisse where chefs from New York’s Spotted Pig and Los Gatos’ Manresa have popped in to present a one night-only dinner event. The newest kid on the block to join the pop-up phenomenon is Test Kitchen LA, a novel type of restaurant where chefs pop in to test out future restaurant and menu concepts. Bill Chait and Brian Saltsburg have taken over the old Spark Woodfire Grill location in West LA and transformed the building into a multi-level food and beverage institution, inviting high profile visiting chefs to showcase planned restaurant concepts for limited engagements while renowned mixologists pair the constantly rotating menu with innovative cocktails. In this city where diners are becoming more appreciative of fine cuisine and increasingly driven by a curiosity for mixology, the Test Kitchen comes as a perfect hybrid of all things delicious.
Headlining Test Kitchen LA’s debut 2 weeks ago was Chef Jordan Kahn, a pastry chef prodigy whose inventive desserts have been likened to the works of Salvador Dali and Jackson Pollock. At 17 Kahn was the youngest chef to ever work for Thomas Keller at The French Laundry, and he subsequently went on to fill his resume with impressive stints like Per Se, Grant Achatz’s Alinea, Varietal and most recently Michael Mina’s XIV in Los Angeles. Kahn is teaming up with Noah Ellis and Adam Fleischman of Umami Burger to open a Vietnamese themed restaurant called Red Medicine in Beverly Hills, and he used the Test Kitchen LA forum to introduce diners to this upcoming venture. For 5 nights only, Kahn showcased an impressive 12 course menu for $40 a person, a real bargain for his artistic Southeast Asian-inspired creations.
Crisp crunchy radishes with dollops of coco-butter and lime peel shavings were served on a carpet of dried soy flakes.
Cured amberjack sashimi was beautifully laid out on a sweet french melon boat with garnishes and flavorings of lime leaf, mint and a very present nuoc cham made with fish sauce, garlic and chile.
I was pleasantly surprised with the luscious texture of creamy silky tofu topped with cherry tomatoes marinated in an infusion of their vines, crunchy tofu and herb greens. The silky tofu was like a crème fraiche, a light and sweet cream that would have been just as amazing as a dessert.
One of the table favorites was the bite-sized Saigon tartines made with tender pork belly, pâté, pickled carrots, green chile and wisps of coriander flowers.
I didn’t expect to find inspiration and excitement in a savory dish, as Jordan Kahn is known for his whimsical pastries, but the crispy charred brussels sprouts that were served with caramelized shallots, fish sauce, purple basil and crunchy prawn crackers were an absolute joy to eat. This dish alone made the difficult-to-get reservations worth while, introducing a whole new sexy and sophisticated way to enjoy brussels sprouts. I could taste and appreciate the caramelization and smokey flavors of each individual leaf in the crunchy sprouts, making for a truly memorable and fantastic dish that I will remember for the rest of my life.
We wrapped caramelized chicken dumplings topped with cucumbers, scallions, mint leaves and lemongrass in bibb lettuce for an exciting bite of complex flavors.
The green papaya salad with crispy taro, deep fried shallots, rau ram and peanuts was like a drug that fed an insatiable addiction, rendering me incapable of putting down my chopsticks until the last drop of sauce was cleaned off the plate.
Farmers market baby carrots got a boost of miso-caramel like sweetness with fermented black bean sauce, star anise, coconut and tarragon flavors.
I couldn’t get enough of the beef bavette with bacon X.O. sauce, chinese celery, lime, palm sugar, white sesame seeds and chinese eggplants, another delicious dish.
Bay scallops with pomelo fruit, young ginger, puffed tapioca, charred frisée and sweet tamarind syrup was passable, but still a novel and exciting way to enjoy new flavor combinations.
The bright colors of the summer peaches and flower garnishes were striking in the dessert dish with creme de cassis, raspberries, condensed milk and tonic water sorbet.
Aside from the brussels sprouts, the final coconut bavarois dessert with coffee, basil seeds, crispy peanut croquant and chicory was the creation that made me a believer in Jordan Kahn. With so many different textures, complex flavors and surprising elements in each spoonful, I couldn’t believe that dessert could be this stimulating and sensational. This was a true work of art and a product of pure genius.
Jordan Kahn’s 12 course tasting dinner was all throughout delicious, at times bewildering and always innovative. It was an amazing experience to be able to get a sampling of his food for his upcoming restaurant Red Medicine, which will be serving similar Vietnamese-inspired cuisine. Creative cocktails like the plymouth with lemon, cherry heering and kombucha made by staff mixologists Julian Cox and Joel Black were an added bonus to the unique pop-up dining experience. Chef Ricardo Zarate, of Mo-Chica, will eventually take over the second floor space to open a permanent anticuchos restaurant, while the bottom floor will continue to function as a venue for rotating chefs like Michael Voltaggio, Neal Fraser, Walter Manzke and John Sedlar. Who will come in to cook for the next venue? Who knows…the only way to keep up with the fast pace of Test Kitchen LA is to check their website daily. They may not even announce the chef until the day of your reservation- but that only feeds the addiction and adrenalin rush of this exceptional pop-up restaurant for all Angelenos, including myself.
9575 West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Reservations can be made through Open Table
Random trivia: Did you know that according to a 2002 survey, brussels sprouts are the most hated vegetable in Britain?