Before I get on to the business of reviewing Destroyer, let me say that you’re going to hate this restaurant. Really, you are. If you are in a normal state of mind, the one that suggests that a restaurant is where you might go for a respite from the anxieties of your day, a place that leaves you comforted and refreshed, you are going to feel like that guy in the old “Twilight Zone” episode who comes to believe that the indignities of city living are a conspiracy directed specifically at him.
You are not going to find parking within a quarter-mile of the restaurant, which is in the Hayden Tract quadrant of Culver City; when you think you have outsmarted the system, anger will boil up within you when a food-truck operator shoos you out of your spot. You are going to walk by every Web company that ever crashed your browser, plus what looks like the world headquarters of Movember. The landscape is post-apocalyptic, dotted with seedling starter packs the size of battle tanks and buildings that look as if they’d been hip-checked by Godzilla.
And when you finally get to the restaurant, which you’ll recognize by the long outside tables and not the barely marked door, you walk into a small, bare room, mostly open kitchen, in which customers squint at the white letters of the menu projected onto an all-white wall.
Are the floors poured concrete? Do preserving jars feature in the room’s décor? Is the ambient thrum from an Icelandic post-rock ensemble best known for its work with Sigur Rós? Are the chefs’ aprons fashioned from dead-stock selvage? Are the ceramics black and hand-thrown? If you are the kind of person who has figured out that the rectangle of chipboard on the table is a sculpture and that “concord grape, warm potato, frozen cream” is dessert, you already know.
Jordan Kahn’s cooking here is spectacularly good, the best plant-centered cooking in Los Angeles right now. But you may still be a bit ticked that what Destroyer calls a cortado is what you know as a flat white. I believe this falls into the category the internet tends to describe as First World Problems.
Kahn is the former chef at Red Medicine, and still perhaps best-known for posting a picture of my predecessor S. Irene Virbila on social media before denying her a seat in his restaurant. In a world populated by chefs influenced by the vegetable-powered abstraction of Rene Redzepi at Noma, Kahn came even closer than most chefs in Copenhagen – not just in the use of sea buckthorn, wood sorrel and intensely flavored ices, but in the fluidity of his compositions, his love of foliage, his unconventional plating, and his jolts of acidity, strong herbs and burnt ash.
At first, Kahn’s food here can seem almost abstract, rough-textured bowls whose carefully arranged contents can seem more Arcimboldo than Wolfgang Puck. A disk of raw chopped beef, studded with enough grains and chopped vegetables to make it seem less like steak tartare than a Nordic version of Lebanese kibbeh nayeh, is tiled with transparently thin radish slices – it could pass for a maquette of a new sports arena. The beets look as if they are being chased by an army of malevolent seeds. The inevitable roasted carrots are scented with baking spices instead of cumin, but they are roasted carrots nonetheless. You may wonder whether there is an unmolested marigold or a nasturtium plant within five miles.
The first time you see the bowl of chicken confit, you may be dismayed – it resembles a dressed Caesar salad — until you dig beneath the leaves to discover yogurt, toasted hazelnuts and strangely rich (if dry) skinless chicken, with a puddle of brown butter vinaigrette underneath.
Eventually, you begin to understand the grammar of the plates, the specific succession of leaves, vegetables, crunch and rich semi-fluids that lies at the heart of Kahn’s cuisine: pea tendrils, tart gooseberries, almond curd, English peas and seeds; or a balustrade of fried Tuscan kale leaves surrounding a baseball-size construction of creamy things, crunchy things and, at the bottom, eggplant. You will come to expect the soft egg under the scattering of tiny, sauce-blanketed potatoes, as well as the hint of smoke and the sprinkle of tart, rust-colored dust. The baby lettuces may resemble the $34.99 Dish Garden from 1-800-FLOWERS, but it has crunchy pistachios and soft fresh cheese at its core.
Kahn is an unconventional chef. But still, it is a little surprising to see him in an industrial-park canteen, closed evenings and weekends, serving some of the most intricate, detailed dishes in Los Angeles, fashioned from great farmers market ingredients, at about the price of a takeout salad from Sweetgreen. As our brothers and sisters in Silicon Valley are fond of saying, it is all about disruption. And unless your idea of luxury includes picnic tables, plastic forks and pomegranate soda, Destroyer disrupts the idea of fine dining like nowhere else on Earth.
Chef Jordan Kahn returns ... to a Culver City counter.
3578 Hayden Ave., Culver City, destroyer.la
Lunch dishes $11-$16; desserts $6.
Open 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. Credit cards only (no cash). No alcohol. Street parking only.
English peas with almond curd; roast eggplant; chicken confit with romaine.
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