There’s seafood all over the menu at Angler’s Los Angeles outpost, even if you don’t see it at first.
Consider the capon brim. He arrives at the shiny table. They give you a heavy steak knife, so it’s obvious what should happen next. You slice through the crispy skin and meat, and then you see it. The capon wing, which has been deboned, is stuffed with Sacramento-grown Koshihikari rice and abalone liver. The wing is meaty, juicy and smoky. The flavors of the abalone liver rice are intense: rich, oceanic and umami. That’s how the food chain works, sometimes.
“Abalone only eats kelp or wakame, which are the two tastiest kelp out there,” says Saison Hospitality Culinary Director Paul Chung, who will reopen Angler at the Beverly Center with his new menu on Wednesday, February 1.
Chung thinks a lot about seaweed, so he plans to grow some in Angler. He’s happy to explain how this is going to happen, right down to the tiny holes in one of the shellfish tanks at the restaurant and the circulatory current he can create there.
Although founding chef Josh Skenes is no longer involved, Angler’s ethos remains the same. This restaurant is all about showcasing California seafood and live fire cooking, with a gleaming hearth being the centerpiece of the space. What has changed a bit is the look and feel of the restaurant. There is more shine and wood. The cocktails stand out with bright colors and foams. There is a new street level entrance along with the hidden entrance at the Beverly Center.
And the menu is more accessible. Chung wants guests to stop by for 90-minute meals and eat for less than $100. Most items on the new menu are $35 or less. There’s no caviar service anymore, no caviar-covered banana pancakes, but he can get caviar as a supplement when he orders seaweed rice (a refined version of the simple rice bowls with nori packets Chung ate as a child). If he really wants a $2,000 king crab, he can request one in advance, but Chung wants to make it clear that Angler isn’t just a restaurant for special occasions.
“I think you can have a delicious meal without having to eat $180 crab toast,” he says. “I don’t want to put a price on people.”
There are a few new dishes at Angler, including the capon wing that is a nod to the whole chicken that Skenes used to serve, which will remind guests of the restaurant’s original incarnation. Skenes had a penchant for making dishes look primitive and gory, even when no actual blood was involved. (One chicory salad came with a bib, so diners could shield themselves from splashing the crimson liquid.) Instead of antelope tartare, Chung is serving ‘nduja-style bluefin tuna, which gets an extra hint of redness from Calabrian chilies that are smothered in a blend of spices before being roasted over an open fire. This dish is very similar to a meat tartare. And a bit of monkfish liver mixed in with the tuna helps make it look like a greasy sausage spread.
Chung, who is Korean-American, is also investigating his heritage and the diversity of food in Los Angeles while creating an Angler with a new look.
“I think LA is my all-time favorite foodie city,” Chung says. “I love how multicultural it is.”
At Angler, Chung is serving a ssam dish with duck blood sausage and pork belly. A skewer of swordfish al pastor with grilled pineapple is a clear nod to the excellent taco trucks of Los Angeles. Instead of the Parker House rolls that she used to make Angler, Chung has cheesy bread. It’s stuffed with Sonoma County cheeses because Angler, which has its original outlet in San Francisco, is a restaurant with a sense of place. But the inspiration for this bread also comes from Virginia-raised Chung, who returns to Korea as an adult and eats pizza with stuffed dough with mashed potatoes on top of the crust.
“I like to make food that references memories,” says Chung, who has kept Angler’s beloved soft serve on the dessert menu. “So a lot of the flavors here are either reference points from my upbringing or things I ate while traveling. At the same time, I wanted to make sure that there is a reference point for the old Angler as well. We want to make a restaurant that has a Los Angeles identity, but we still need to keep our seafood pillars and be a bit whimsical and tongue-in-cheek.”
Because Angler is a seafood-focused restaurant, the cheese-stuffed potato bread comes with anchovy butter.
Seating 128, Angler is designed to be a high-volume restaurant where dishes are prepared quickly, even if they include a bouquet of herbs that looks like something you’d get as part of a fine-dining tasting menu. (Not coincidentally, when you eat a flower-covered grilled radish, the flavors of the ocean are right there with a sea mustard butter.)
Much of the work at Angler happens long before guests are even seated. The first day of preparation for capon wings involves deboning, grinding the meat, and applying a rub to help dry out the skin. The wings are then glazed like Beijing duck and rest another day before being stuffed, blanched in hot oil, and put in a smoker.
“It’s like a three-minute pickup,” Chung says. “And in general, it takes like three days, but it’s an hour here and an hour there.”
Brinjal with smoked masala and yogurt is a longer process.
“Every year we get Early Girl tomato popsicles,” Chung says. “We put them on coals when they are at the peak of the season. It takes about 36 hours. And we keep them all in the ember oil. And those are the tomatoes that we take to make the masala. So it takes a lot of commitment and time to do it, but we’ve figured it out.”