"Forget Foie" Feast at Laxy Ox Canteen. Los Angeles, CA. It would lead one to think, with all the hysteria some foodies and chefs are enduring from the imminent 86ing of foie gras off California plates, that no other animal besides a goose or duck has a liver worth eating. This, of course, is not true.
Believe it or not, there are other liver options, maybe not quite as velvety and luxurious as foie gras, but they are out there and without the guilt of gavage.
If you are skeptical that any other liver can replace the singularly sumptuous experience of foie gras, you'd be right but that doesn't mean a foie gras substitute is not worth seeking out.
Enter Chef Perfecto Rocher of Lazy Ox Canteen. Chef Rocher, like everyone else in the California foodiverse, had been bombarded by "Farewell to Foie Gras" menu promotions like so much ticker tape raining down on the LA Kings Stanley Cup victory parade. Therefore, what he decided to do was to, as they describe in the entertainment biz, "counter program". In other words, he wouldn't be serving a single lobe of foie during the days leading up to the official outlawing of the fatty goose liver. However, he would be serving liver from other animals and plenty of it. He's not just a chef. He's a leader of liver.
Perfecto's menu "Forget Foie" is something of a liver menagerie that includes beef, pork, monkfish and even rabbit livers. But before you drown yourself in livers, we must drink and drink like a Catalan — Chef Rocher's lineage.
With the sweet kiss of summer wine and fruit, Lazy Ox's house made sangria is rejuvenating and intoxicating all at once and also something to get my own liver working overtime.
Micheladas are becoming more common at bars and restaurants and that's a good thing. Savory drinks are not usual for the summer but this vibrant beer beverage fits in as much as board shorts and tanktinis. Imagine a Bloody Mary with beer instead of vodka, that's how they do it at Lazy Ox. Fortified with the Spanish beer Estrella Damm, it's a salty, spicy, tomatoey drink that tastes like a meal.
With the exception of foie gras, liver is not dainty. Its flavor is typically thick, distinct and prolonged. Perfecto, in all his wisdom, amused our bouche with a fresh platter of thinly shaved, pink-pearlescent leaves of Carpaccio of Ibérico de Bellota pork lomo (loin).
Ibérico Fresco, a co-operative in Spain where the hogs enjoy an idyllic life of roaming freely on the range and pigging out on AYCE acorns, living the dream until one day, the super-humane executioner puts on Léo Delibes' Flower Duet lulling the swine to a happy place then, suddenly, it's lights out for Wilbur. Lights out forever. Never knowing what hit him, this pampered pig essentially becomes the Kobe steak of pork. The best there is. Thomas Keller gets first dibs on this good stuff as does Perfecto. And as cliche as it sounds, the meat melts in your mouth. Texture-wise, it can give freshly churned butter a run for its money. It's simply hog heaven, which is where I hope the pig ended up.
What most people know about eating rabbit is that it tastes like chicken. Perhaps this is why Lazy Ox serves its Crispy Rabbit Liver like fried chicken. Encased in a crispy, fragrant shell of fried joy is rabbit liver that has bathed for 24 hours in buttermilk and paprika like a pop-star diva who believes that the treatment will result in something more appealing, more appetizing. In some ways this dish is the closest Perfecto gets to replacing foie gras. The rabbit liver is genteel and a pleasure to eat. It's not nearly as delicate or rich in texture as foie gras but the idea is there. Adding to the flavorful plate was a foundation of hearts of palm, pickled red onion and dandelion seasoned with a creamy arugula avocado dressing.
Pork is a livestock that lends itself very well to the nose-to-tail eating thing. Some people have pretty much consumed the whole hog. Oddly, when you think liver, you never think pork liver. It wasn't until Perfecto included it on the "Forget Foie" menu did I even realize that most people never eat pork liver.
A lone falafel-looking ball sat atop a mound of fresh "ugly tagliatelle" made earlier that day. The tangle of tagliatelle bound a few packets of cheese ravioli. Deconstructed blood sausage was interlaced with the pasta and a creamy white sauce smothered most of the plate. The falafel-looking thing was actually a fried pork liver ball. I anticipated it to be overpowering in flavor but it wasn't.
Speaking of overpowering, the beef liver plate Beef Liver a la Plancha finally brought the liver taste that we all know and love/hate. It was a strong flavor. In a word — livery. There was a lot of it too. But, Chef Perfecto Rocher, being a chef that has been around the block a few times (even a stint at the late, great El Bulli under Maestro Ferran Adrià), knows what to do with a tough cut. In this case he added chunks of sweet yam and then topped it off with a fried egg for good measure. The trick is to break the yolk and mix everything up until the liver-iness is cut, nay, annihilated. The flavor becomes a sweet, starchy, yolk-driven mouthful with sharp twinges of beef liver. Sometimes that's good, sometimes not so much.
The monkfish may be one of the ugliest creatures in the sea but its liver sure is pretty. Resembling little bits of soft tofu, each bite is akin to the softest fish flesh represented in a cube with the slightest hint of fish flavor.
Topping the dish like Neptune's crown were a few hearty lengths of baby octopus tentacles charred to an appetizing finish. This Beer-braised Octopus and Monkfish Liver was certainly the most daring liver plate of the night with the tender tentacles being its best component.
You've had plenty of things taste like chicken but have you ever had a pig that mimics beef? Although this wasn't part of the "Forget Foie" menu, the Ibérico de Bellota presa (shoulder loin) dressed with sunchoke puree was a notable plate simply because it showcased the extraordinary quality and flavor of this pork product. It was really an exceptional piece of beef, er, I mean, pork or was it beef? Scattered around the pork were a few browned pieces of pork fat which looked at first like bits of onion. Fat is flavor and those bits proved it.
Chef Perfecto Rocher comes in to work at 6 AM and goes home at 3 AM. He is probably always exhausted but you could never tell. He's energized by his passion, joy and enthusiasm for cooking good food. Before leaving, he insisted that I try the longanisa he's been working on for the menu. I take one bite. What can I say, Chef? Perfecto!
I'm sure Chef never heard that one before.