Helmed by Aussie chef Louis Tikaram, West Hollywood hot spot E.P. & L.P. has brought L.A. the type of modern Asian cooking that is often categorized as "pan-Asian." But in this case, the cuisine would be more aptly described within the context of its origin: Australia.
Tikaram's cooking comes from a country culturally steeped in — and immensely populated by — central and Southeast Asian immigrants. It's a melting pot where different cultures and cuisines collide with native traditions and flavors.
At E.P. & L.P., that regional diversity is combined with California's unparalleled fresh produce and reflected in dishes such as abalone with hand-ground curry paste and Thai aromatics, wood-grilled lamb neck with lettuce, herbs and chili jam, and succulent octopus with farmers market greens. It makes for a unique dining experience that draws inspiration from Asia and Australia as much as it does Los Angeles itself.
This particular breed of cuisine is informed by Tikaram's Chinese-Indian-Fijian heritage — and with the new summer menu revamp, E.P. & L.P. is one of the only places you'll find Fijian food in the city. Perhaps the most standout, quintessentially Fijian dish is Kakoda (pronounced Ka-koN-da), a ceviche-like plate of Baja rock shrimp, fresh coconut milk, lime and chili. And for vegans, there's a Kakoda-style ceviche made of Nama sea pearls from fresh seaweed.
"It's a dish I never really thought I'd have on a menu," Tikaram tells me. "Just because growing up I'd have it so much. Whenever you go fishing and have fresh fish, you'd always make Kakoda first and then as the days go by it would turn into fish curry, or fried fish, but always Kakoda first."
He describes L.A. as a sashimi and ceviche heaven. "Everyone loves it so much here, it's like if you say the 'C' word [ceviche], or put it on a menu, it immediately sells out," Tikaram says. "There's so much influence from Mexico and El Salvador and Latin America here, that's why I thought it would work. I thought, 'Oh perfect, I can have this dish I grew up with' and that's where L.A. more found me than I found L.A."
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Kakoda is traditionally a mild dish, with the flavor and subtlety of fresh coconut milk. What makes Tikaram's version different is the protein choice — it's more common in Fiji to prepare the dish with regional, tropical fish rather than shrimp — and the pickled serrano chilies, which add acidity and kick the flavors up a notch.
Growing up in Australia, Tikaram would pick coconuts and then scrape them by hand to make fresh coconut milk — he calls it miti. "We would take the coconut cream and then we would season it with a lot of chili and a lot of lime juice, and that's exactly the same as a ceviche," he says. "It gently cooks the fish nice and slow, and it would preserve it for a little while as well."
Perhaps in homage, E.P. & L.P. scrapes and makes fresh coconut milk for this dish and others daily.
E.P. & L.P., 603 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 855-9955, eplosangeles.com.