First of all, Black Hogg, the name of the new Silver Lake gastropub, doesn't refer to a heritage pig or even a plain old hog or wild boar. According to the staff, it takes its name from the alternative definition of hogg, which the Oxford English Dictionary says refers to a young sheep, especially "one from the time it ceases to be a lamb until its first shearing"). And there that hogg is, ambiguous in neon outline at the very top of the restaurant's understated sign. A subliminal suggestion to order the buttery lamb burger?
Could be. And you definitely should. The ground lamb patty comes out pink and juicy, heaven on a soft glazed bun with Onetik, a Basque sheep's milk blue cheese and habanero-spiked onions almost buried under a massive heap of dark gold fries. The "buttery" refers to butter mixed in with the ground meat. Just watch the eyes follow one of those plates around the room or the smug, delighted expression of the recipient when the server sets that burger down. It makes a strong case for the lamb burger as an alternative to beef.
Not to worry. There's pig too, namely pork belly tacos and a Niman Ranch rib chop. The tacos (two to an order) are things of beauty, the pork belly succulent, piled high with a cooling Fuji apple slaw and a dollop of smoldering jalapeño relish. Fatty pork, crunchy slaw and that jolt of jalapeño add up to a remarkable taco. Unless you're very hungry, that pork rib chop, nicely pink at the center, is big enough to share, considering it comes with beans and rice too, and a moat of vinegary green mojo sauce.
Black Hogg is a beguiling new entry on the Silver Lake scene with exuberant rustic-urban cooking from chef-owner Eric Park, who slips a lot of flavor and a little heat into almost every dish. Fussy eaters not wanted: "The chef kindly requests no substitutions or modifications" is written at the bottom of the small, one-page menu.
The most surprising and delicious dish may be the brioche "box" with mushrooms. That's a 2-inch-thick slice of buttery brioche toasted and ladled with sautéed mixed wild mushrooms in a rich, expressive sauce.
If you walked in without knowing a thing about Park, you'd be wondering, where did this guy learn to cook? And where has he been all my life? In New York, mostly. Cooking at Eleven Madison Park and at April Bloomfield's beloved foodie haunt, the Spotted Pig. And this young chef must have soaked up Bloomfield's lusty cooking style during his time in her kitchen. But his dishes are very much his own. There's really nothing quite like Black Hogg in L.A.
You won't find a wimpy dish here. Flavor leads every time. Dishes come out fast — and correctly executed, except for the over-salted Brussels sprouts one night. Prices are moderate and plates are generous. Where else does $10 buy a huge salad of nine lettuces accented with sharp, grated ricotta salata?
Oysters — the other night Naked Cowboy from Long Island Sound or Hurricane Island, also from New York — are served nicely chilled with a fire-breathing, horseradish-dosed cocktail sauce and, this is interesting, spicy pickle mignonette, a touch sweet, a lot spicy, and a great match with the briny funk of the oysters.
Uni on toast with a dash of scallion vinaigrette makes another wickedly good little starter. Park has chicken livers on toast too, a rubble of coarsely chopped, creamy chicken livers with a blast of hot pepper and a garnish of ragged crispy chicken skin like some goth lace.
In March, Park took over a former Chinese restaurant in the same block as Sun Lake Drug just east of another neighborhood landmark, Cafe Tropical. Designer Brendan Ravenhill (Osteria la Buca) stripped it, painted the walls gray and added white oak accents that include a narrow shelf to hold a glass of wine or bottle of beer while you wait. Mismatched flea market mirrors hang above an L-shaped bar. Tabletops are bare, the look almost Scandinavian it's so simple and stark.
Drive by at 6 when Black Hogg opens and the room is likely to be almost empty. Come at 7, you might still be able to nab a table at this no-reservations spot. After 8, you will likely have to wait. The hostess does an incredible job under pressure, always gracious, always remembering to update guests on their table's progress.
Until recently, part of that crowd has been because their no-corkage BYOB policy made eating there so affordable. But that has changed, at least temporarily, as Park and company wait — and wait — for their wine and beer license. That's putting enormous financial pressure on this small, fledgling restaurant as not everyone elects to stay once informed they can't serve alcohol yet and no longer have BYOB. (It should be a few more weeks.) Meanwhile, you might want to take advantage of the fact that you can actually get a table. It won't last for long with food this fun and this well-executed.
I think by now I've had everything on the menu. Steamed mussels in a silky sauce with juicy smoked bacon lardons and toast make a terrific dish to share. The kitchen also turns out a credible version of fish and chips. The cod is moist and flaky, but the ruffled potato chips can be a bit greasy and just don't have enough heft for the fish. Mary's brick chicken is a sure bet, crisp and moist, served with halved Brussels sprouts in an anchovy vinaigrette. Weightlifter types dig into the hearty longaniza sausage hash crowned with a fried egg. Any of these main-course plates — most well under $20 — could be supper all on their own.
What used to be the one and only dessert, chai-spiced churros, has just been joined by a lovely brioche bread pudding with rhubarb, vanilla-scented cream and toasted hazelnuts.
Once the wine and beer license comes through, the restaurant will serve local wines and draft beers. Until that happens, buck up and have a cocktail or a beer somewhere down the street beforehand — and cross your fingers that the city signs off on the license soon. This dynamic new gastropub is too important an addition to the neighborhood to lose.
Exciting new Silver Lake gastropub from Spotted Pig alum (and L.A. native) Eric Park. Try the pork belly tacos, chicken livers with chicken cracklin', lamb burger, and mussels with smoky bacon. It's all good.
Location: 2852 W. Sunset Blvd. (at Parkman Avenue), Silver Lake, (323) 953-2820, http://www.blackhogg.com
Prices: Oysters, $3 each; dishes, $4 to $21; desserts, $8. Beer and wine license in progress.
Details: Open 6 to 11 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays. No reservations. Valet parking available around the corner on Parkman Avenue.
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