View more photos in Anne Fishbein's slideshow, "Meat-on-Meat Crime at Waterloo & City."
It is a grand time to be alive, fellow offalians, a year when a young man with a dream in his heart and a Lipitor in his pocket can gorge himself silly on spare parts available only to a lucky few just a couple of years before. Braised spleens and fried tails; hooves and noses; roasted kidneys, grilled hearts and crisp thymus glands await. The city teems with fermented squid guts, curried fish kidneys and mezcal-soaked exoskeletons; boiled kneecaps and simmered eel livers; raw-beef salads seasoned with bile. Fried pigs' ears are as common as french fries in some circles, and there are half a dozen — half a dozen! — places in Koreatown that consider grilled intestine a specialty. Roman-style lamb guts are still a trick to find, haggises are rare between Burnsdays, and some true connoisseurs of animal insides still seethe with jealousy when they read the daily menu tweets from Chris Cosentino in San Francisco and Fergus Henderson in London, but for the first time in our lifetimes, the chef driving the kitchen is apt to have a taste for anticuchos, cuchifritos and black, stinking bowls of Filipino diniguan.
So even here, even in the land of the gluten-free, the Master Cleanse and Dr. Barry Sears, what you crave is never far away. On a Dine L.A. Restaurant Week menu the other night, for one of the discounted promotional meals that tend to feature salmon where you hunger for spot prawns, hanger steak where you yearn for filet, and what seems like mandatory rounds of gooey burrata cheese, the restaurant Waterloo & City offered slippery terrines of pigs' feet and sweetbreads, smoked tongue with carrots, and goose meat with toasted hazelnuts. For a main course you could get a rare lamb burger or a slab of Arctic char with lima beans. But what was most impressive, the dish that could make an offalian swear fealty for life, was a big seared pork chop, served medium rare ... under a huge, oozing , coagulated slab of English black pudding. This wasn't just an entrée, it was a clear case of meat-on-meat crime.
You could have asked for the dish without the blood pudding, I suppose, in the way that many people routinely order their sauce on the side, and the juicy chop still would have been fine under its crown of sauteed apples. Waterloo & City is not one of those places with the legend "Modifications Politely Declined" printed on its menu, and I suspect that the chef, Brendan Collins, would be perfectly nice about leaving the crispy jowl off the plate of burrata and endive, or even trying to roast his balsamic-glazed Brussels sprouts without bacon. There may not be much for a vegetarian to love on this menu where the twirled log of freshly made capellini is flanked with a symmetrical chorus line of rabbit meatballs, and the most popular pizza is a crisp, thin-crusted thing topped with shreds of braised short rib and a pungent froth of melted Stilton.
Of course, it may be a stretch to consider Waterloo & City, a pool-shooting, darts-playing, ale-swilling, Ramones-blasting bar shoehorned into a run-down coffee shop, to be much more than a glorified bar. The place is ostensibly a gastropub, whatever that has come to mean, and there is indeed a rather oversweetened shepherd's pie; roast beef and Yorkshire pudding at Sunday lunch; and a maitre d' who is prepared to discuss the nuances of your glass of stout until the roosters begin to crow. The best dessert is a sticky toffee pudding that would be a hit at any men's club in London.
Servings are enormous: The leftovers I took home from that shepherd's pie served as dinner for four the next evening, and there was enough left over from that to make a decent lunch later in the week. You may think of zucchini-blossom fritters as those delicate appetizers you've tasted at Pizzeria Mozza, but Collins leaves the zucchini on the blossoms as kind of edible handles, and stuffs the blossoms with a fistful of baby shrimp before he fries them; they come to the table looking like a plateful of maracas, and you could no more polish off an order by yourself than you could eat six burritos.
For the dishes that are offered in a choice of sizes, the small portion by itself is bigger than most restaurants' entrées, and as much as I liked the fluffy potato gnocchi with smoked eel, slivered pear, a barely poached egg and a double fistful of thick-cut Nueske's bacon, I can't begin to imagine the trencherman robust enough to deal with the jumbo-size plate. The whole roast chicken for two, crisp-skinned but unremarkable if you ignore the bundle of smoldering herbs poking out of its butt, comes with all the french fries we know it takes to fill the Royal Albert Hall.
The heart of Collins' menu seems to lie with his oddball terrines — complex, well-flavored loaves of sweetbreads bound in a gelatin with pigs' trotters; rabbit with pistachios and marinated peaches; and a smooth mousse of chicken livers whipped with foie gras. It's a virtuosic display of charcuterie. The best thing I've tasted there in the last month was a dish of snails sizzled with garlic butter in a tiny black-iron cocotte. But Collins, until now known best for his stints at Anisette and Palihouse, may be most of all a bistro chef, most at home with braised meats and composed salads, fresh pasta that somehow seems more French than Italian, and an ability to please surging crowds.
Still, there is this: That pork chop we were talking about comes with the mass of blood pudding on it as the default, not as a choice — not like the roasted bone marrow you can request with your steak at Cut, or the blood sausage on the menu at St. Amour, or the boudin noir mousse that has occasionally popped up at LudoBites. The chef clearly intends the pork chop, with its delicious, gory garnish, to be popular, a dish enjoyed by everyone, not a novelty intended for deep-end diners.
We may be witnessing a first in the history of Los Angeles restaurants: the introduction of hard-core offal into the American mainstream. Waterloo & City is to Culver City what Suzanne Goin's Tavern is to Brentwood: the right restaurant in the right neighborhood at the right time.
WATERLOO & CITY: 12517 Washington Blvd., Culver City. (310) 391-4222, waterlooandcity.com. Dinner Mon.-Sat., 6-10 p.m., Sun., 5-9 p.m.; Sun. lunch, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m; late-night menu, Fri.-Sat., 10 p.m.-mid. AMEX, MC, V. Full bar. Lot parking. Charcuterie, $11-$12; small plates, $10-$14; main dishes, $16-$25; desserts, $9. Kids' and vegan menus available. Recommended dishes: smoked tongue and carrot terrine; potato gnocchi with eel, pears and bacon; pork chop with black pudding and sauteed apples; sticky toffee pudding.
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