Plan Check: How Is This Restaurant Not Like the Others?
Plan Check's pot roast
Scattered around Los Angeles are restaurants that could be used as examples for teaching kids how to differentiate among objects. "One of these things is not like the others" lessons. Petrillo's on Valley Boulevard in San Gabriel, a solo Italian neighborhood restaurant bobbing up and down in a sea of Chinese and other Asian establishments. The Oaxacan favorite Guelaguetza, complete with Oriental facade, is as out of place in Koreatown as Rick's Café Américain is in Casablanca. They are the lone-wolf eateries cooking to their own, unique rhythm.
Following this random-act-of-restaurant idea is Plan Check, an American comfort-food joint on the north end of Sawtelle, which is known as Little Osaka for its dense stretch of Japanese food options, from ramen houses to izakayas.
The name itself is a head-scratcher: It's named after the plan-check division of the Department of Building and Safety, which happens to reside down the block. Why squander precious time thinking up a name when there's so much cooking to do?
Plan Check does fit in with its surroundings in unexpected ways. Chef Ernesto Uchimura, a bona fide hamburger sensei of Umami Burger fame, who is of Japanese descent, makes it a point to give a shout-out to the neighborhood by incorporating Japanese elements in his American comfort food. Panko bread crumbs are a popular Japanese ingredient and the secret behind the pleasing crunch built into the Portuguese milk bread buns -- aka "crunch bun" -- that frame his burgers.
Plan Check might even be considered the first real izakaya to open on Sawtelle, since it's the only dining room in the area with a full liquor license, serving the stiff stuff that washes down the pub grub. But instead of karaage and yakitori, patrons fortify their bellies with menu items such as Smokey Fried Chicken and Pastrami Nosh. Pablo Moix and Steve Livigni (Harvard & Stone, La Descarga, Black Market) are making yuzu soda in-house and then spiking it with "moonshine" whiskey or mixing Midori cocktails named after a famous radioactive Japanese lizard.
Uchimura's PCB (Plan Check Burger) is masterfully sized -- just big enough that you crave one more bite. Its "ketchup leather" is absolute condiment sorcery: something like a tomato fruit roll-up that gradually dissolves under the heat and savory juices of a medium-rare red wagyu patty, complementing the burger without the soggy effects of Heinz or Hunt's.
Designed for full flavor dynamism, the short rib pot roast is braised in red wine, partnered with a bone marrow turnover pie and mirepoix. A kind of reverse-engineered beef potpie, the bone marrow turnover component began as an empanada that Uchimura created for himself, friends and the occasional menu special. The crust is buttery and flaky but rugged enough to encase the gloopy, oleaginous bone marrow. In a perfect world, it's a pie you'd be able to score at a convenience store.
There are some dishes in the world that dare you to stop eating them. Plan Check's Smokey Fried Chicken is one of them. Sweet and salty, crunchy and juicy, its contrasts in texture, flavor, even temperature make this one of the best fried chicken plates in town. The puddle of smoked milk gravy inspires joyful drooling with its sweet smokiness and bacon flavors. Spicy pickled okra punctuates the dish's Southern roots and rounds out the sapor spectrum by adding a cool, sour-piquant. The yam preserve mimics a candy caramel and is like built-in dessert.
Lovers of creative comfort food should plan to check out Plan Check soon.
Follow the author at his blog Deep End Dining, or on Twitter @DeepEndDining.
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