The Product: Colorful, Versatile Rice
3239 Helms Avenue
Culver City, CA 90232
When Chef Sang Yoon opened Lukshon, the grown-up brother to his Father's Office outlets, he wanted to focus the menu away from his famous burger and look instead to his Asian heritage. Knowing Angelenos already had an extraordinary bevy of traditional Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese cuisine to choose from, Yoon veered his creations towards modern Southeast Asia, creating a small-plate, technique-driven menu packed full of flavor. "I think this is the most spectacular city in the country for Asian food," says Yoon, "and I wanted to do something with a modern sensibility, to create authentic flavors, but not in traditional ways."
His key to creating these bold, bright, and authentic flavors was a well-stocked pantry. "We spent a year and a half developing our pantry," explains Yoon, who named the restaurant Lukshon, the Yiddish word for noodle, in remembrance of his adopted Jewish grandmother. "We literally searched the city, outside the city, and the country for ingredients. It was like a scavenger hunt; we even made relationships overseas to bring in ingredients."
One of the most important pantry staples for Yoon is rice, so much so that the chef devotes an entire section of the Lukshon menu to it. "We think about white rice, we think about fried rice, but I really wanted for the rice itself to be the star of the show," says Yoon. "So we have red rice, black rice, green rice; we have all these different kinds of rice that are the focal part of the dish." During his pantry scavenging, Yoon sampled more than 25 varieties of rice to find the best flavors for Lukshon. "We got in samples from everywhere; it's amazing the number of varieties of rice that are available," he says.
And those rice dishes are in high demand at Lukshon: Yoon's Heirloom Black Rice with Lap Cheong Sausage and Lily's Farm Egg is the most popular item he serves (and his personal favorite). The black rice, also known as forbidden rice as it was once reserved for royalty, is traditionally grown in the Himalayas, and offers a rich, nutty flavor and a dense, almost chewy texture. It's usually served steamed, and unlike its white counterpart, provides an abundance of nutritional value. "It has a completely different nutritional profile than white rice," says Yoon. "It has more antioxidants, ounce-for-ounce even more than blueberries. Rice is not just empty carbs."
Black rice is not typically used for fried rice, a dish Yoon describes as generally tossed together leftovers in China, "Sunday supper-style." Yoon's version instead is a thoughtful, composed dish, starring a grain that is more than just a vessel to carry other flavors. "Fried rice in Asia is just about taking leftover rice and adding whatever else you have," says Yoon. "It's not an intended dish. You don't see fried rice where there is thought put into the dish." The Lukshon version combines Cantonese tea sausage with roasted garlic, red onion, and the "awesome jet black" rice. Yoon adds a fried egg, "the chef's best friend" on top, for good measure. "The egg creates a richness and inexplicable texture when the yolk breaks," he says. "The best way to eat it is to mash the egg through the rice, almost creating a sauce."
The Lukshon menu also features jasmine rice, Bhutanese red rice, and rice from Cambodia, and Yoon continually samples other varieties. A newer addition to the menu, chicken rice, infuses rich chicken flavor into the Cambodian rice during every step of the cooking process: the rice is cooked in chicken stock, reduced with a rich chicken sauce, served with crispy chicken skin, and tossed in chicken fat. It's a thoughtful rice-chicken marriage, made complete with the delicate, slightly floral Cambodian rice. And Yoon's still working out the right recipe to use with a bamboo-infused green rice he found. As for long-grain white rice—you won't find it on Lukshon's menu (although he does offer steamed Jasmine rice). "I'm trying to introduce varieties of rice that you don't typically see and use them in interesting ways, ways that aren't even seen in Asian cuisine," he says. It's rice elevated, updated, and recreated, and it's the perfect star of his return to fine-dining cuisine.