On my way to Australia, I stopped by E.P. & L.P. The West Hollywood restaurant is located about midway between my house and LAX, so it seemed a smart use of time, especially given the connection between the restaurant and the country for which I was departing. I'd love to say that here at the Weekly our budgets are so huge as to allow me a trans-Pacific research trip in order to fully understand the restaurant of the week, but that's not the case; it was a happy coincidence. But it did allow me, during the week I was overseas, to think a lot about New Australian cooking, about modern Asian cooking, about E.P. & L.P. and about the intersection where all these things meet.
E.P. & L.P. is a flashy affair, put together by a group of investors that includes a few moneyed Australians and one member of Swedish House Mafia. It takes up the second floor and rooftop of a large building on the corner of Melrose and La Cienega, and it must have cost a damn fortune to pull off. Tabletops are burnished copper. The dining room and rooftop are sprawling. There are three bars (one of them "private," whatever that means), a huge open kitchen and views of the Hollywood Hills from the roof.
You arrive at the ground-floor vestibule to find a stylish gatekeeper, a fetching young woman with an earpiece, directing traffic. If you're here for dinner, she'll send you up the stairs. If you're here for drinks on the roof, into the elevator you go. At 6 p.m. on a weeknight, a young woman in very high heels was kind of falling down the stairs, obviously sloshed, as we went up. She stumbled onto the street and looked around, dazed. E.P. & L.P. has the sort of clublike vibe that makes this scenario not particularly surprising.
The chef, Louis Tikaram, was lured to L.A. from Sydney, where he was executive chef at Longrain, a flashy restaurant with locations in both Sydney and Melbourne, specializing in modern Southeast Asian cooking.
There's a whole branch of New Australian cooking that is Asian at its core, and Sydney, with its large Thai population and a history of high-end chefs using Thai flavors, is ground zero for restaurants trafficking in fistfuls of ginger and lime and chile.
There's a certain type of place in Australia — Longrain being perhaps the prime example — that's brash and trendy yet is serving food that's far better than what you'd find in the similar-feeling pan-Asian places in America. Maybe that's because Australia's proximity to Asia better enables its population to understand true Thai cooking. Longrain's food might not be as authentic or exciting or wild as Sydney's Thai-run neighborhood spots (which are likely the best in the world outside of Thailand), but if you can put your food snobbery down gently, Longrain and its ilk are kind of impressive, certainly by American standards.
And what Tikaram is doing here at E.P. & L.P., billed as an "Asian eating house without regional boundaries," is quite similar, if not a little more personal. The chef grew up partially in Fiji, and he's brought some Fijian flavor to the menu, as well as dishes with Vietnamese and Chinese influences.
Brightness is the key to almost every dish: Sweet Baja rock shrimp swim in coconut milk with lime and chile in what is apparently a Fijian-style ceviche. It's not that different from other coconut-infused ceviches, but it is delicious and bold and subtle all at once. Ultra-fresh raw kingfish comes in a tangy sauce made of caramelized cashew and jalapeño, with a garnish of cilantro and green mango. There are hunks of crispy pork under a forest of herbs, Chinese roast duck with smoked chile and tamarind, and crispy-skinned chicken with black vinegar.
You can order the typical way — family-style shared plates — or you can allow the kitchen to build you a tasting, which will get you a parade of the menu's greatest hits and is not a bad deal at $60 per person. You'll likely get that rock shrimp, the hot and sour beef tartare made from wagyu (provenance unknown) and served with puffed rice crackers, and the slippery salmon larb imbued with lemongrass and kaffir lime and tossed with Vietnamese mint. Everything is the antithesis of bland.
Still, there are plenty of issues that the big, glittery, Sydney and West Hollywood pan-Asian restaurants tumble into — and that E.P. & L.P. can't escape, either (not that it wants to; this all seems quite deliberate). It is LOUD in here, and the conversations you'll be forced to overhear all around you will be spoken by beautiful young people in scanty clothing who are either already inebriated or well on their way to getting there. The techno music bumps, and the servers (and cooks) all wear T-shirts with the restaurant's signature design element, which looks like polka dots reimagined as macaroni. (The wallpaper is covered in this design as well.) You will be compelled to order dishes with names such as "Check Yo Neck" and cocktails such as "I've Got 99 Problems but a Herb Ain't One."
Depending on your mood and how quickly you become grumpy when surrounded by young, moneyed, tipsy executive types, this might not be the best place for you to enjoy your monthly quota of coconut milk and galangal.
And you will absolutely meet that monthly quota. One of my only quibbles with Tikaram's better dishes is that after a while the flavors tend to become too similar dish to dish. There will be lime and ginger and gobs of fresh herbs and chiles and fish sauce and a whole lotta acid. Those things are delicious but a little palate-numbing once you've had them in five consecutive plates of food.
And there are some dishes that don't thrill much at all. I loved the expertly cooked, crispy, fatty lamb neck, which comes with herbs and lettuce leaves, but the sticky "chili jam" sauce was aptly described by my kid as tasting "like Pringles." A plate of grilled baby leeks comes elegantly askew over a smear of eggplant yogurt, which for some reason is so sweet that it tastes more like cream cheese frosting than cooling condiment. A dessert of ice cream made from black rice was so over-the-top with its insane crown of Sichuan cotton candy that you might be forgiven for not noticing that the cucumber cream and puffed black rice and ice cream are interesting but not exactly pleasurable. Some things here are built on extreme wow rather than good sense.
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No, this place is not about good sense, as our friend, the stumbling 6 p.m. drunk, inadvertently warned us. It is, however, about good food, most of the time. And if you're interested in what's up with the brasher side of New Australian cooking, E.P. & L.P. can teach you something about that as well. Which is good news, because the drive to West Hollywood is a lot easier than the 15-hour flight.
E.P. & L.P. | Two stars | 603 N. La Cienega Blvd., West Hollywood | eplosangeles.com | Rooftop bar, 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Mon.-Fri, noon-2 a.m. Sat. & Sun.; dining room, 6-p.m.-midnight daily | Plates, $11-$34 | Full bar | Valet and street parking