Hearing about Roy Choi's newest venture a couple of months back, I was very curious about A-Frame. Only fortifying this was always-reliable poster yogachick's initial post about A-Frame:
Not wanting to high-jack this initial thread which is already building up some steam, and with me always having my usual blah-blah-itis, I thought it best to start another post. My impression is based on our first and only visit, so please understand that I'm not an authority on this place. But at the same time, I was impressed enough that when I started to post about my thoughts, I just kept tapping the keyboard until I had far too much for just a typical post in response. I know there are those who feel Roy Choi is riding a wave of hype. I initially thought that as well when Kogi started to become too popular for anybody's good, but I am not ashamed to admit that I now feel that I was wrong.
We dropped by A-Frame last night and truly enjoyed our visit. I think it's a soon-to-be classic because of its 21st Century redefining of Bohemian style when thinking about chow. Like Kogi and Chego, A-Frame has no single reference point - one senses that it's more like a collection of reference points that Roy Choi has pulled together through chapters in his life. I’m guessing that Roy Choi’s various ventures are a result of coursing through his timeline post-70s, breathing in huge breaths of LA's neighborhoods and beyond, and coming back like a modern day Marco Polo or Monet. His food does the storytelling. Using Kogi as a beginning in the evolutionary process, I get the sense that each successive venture gives added momentum to allow Roy to express his creativity on a larger canvas, and extending his medium from charcoal to pencil to brush. The environment is well thought out - kudos to Roy and Sean Knibb's design group for considering practically every aspect of this space in three dimensions: taking a former IHOP and converting it into a working piece of art. The spaces are laid back, visually stimulating, and with a strong emphasis on no pretense - just like his food. My only quibble is that the acoustics inside are a bit harsh as the crowd starts to pick up.
And crowded it was. We arrived between 5-6PM, and the place was already two-thirds full. The night was starting to cool off, but we still decided to sit outside. Between the space heaters, the fire pit, and the plush comforters that A-Frame offers its guests (they are very plush - take care in not knocking over glasses on the table like we did when attempting to tuck the comforter under the table), the outside space was quite nice - I can't wait for summer. The only outdoor issue for me is the traffic noise on Washington. The setback from the street is minimal, so traffic noise can be a distraction. I have my own ideas of how to mitigate this but good company fortified by great food and drink tends to trump the traffic issue.
The drink menu is a very well thought out list of beers on tap, wines, mixed drinks, conventional as well as unique non-alcohol drinks, even teas and ca phe sua da - something unique and enjoyable literally for everyone. I’m not much into mixology but many of the listed drinks might change my mind, and the punch bowls were popular on many tables. I do enjoy wine, and am biting at the bit to try these selections, but I've been on a stout kick for the past few months, ever since having a revelatory experience with a properly poured pint of Russian River Imperial Stout at burger. in Santa Cruz. A-Frame unfortunately currently can't source this king of stouts, but IMHO, the Ten Fidy on tap was a perfect substitute (any chance we’ll see a malted ice cream/stout sundae on the horizon?). And to round out just their choice of darker beers, a lighter oatmeal stout, and a black IPA ale are on tap. My son has been drinking a lot green tea lately, and ordered their offering, which was a blend of green tea and Earl Grey - Earl Green. This is just one of many manifestations of Team Roy. There's a strong backbone of nonconformity in the Houses (and trucks) of Roy, but honestly, I for one am thankful for this.
The staff here is like Chego - young, lots of bridled energy, happy, eager to please and offer suggestions on ordering and what to order, all girdled in a ring of niceness. I've met nothing but incredibly cordial folks at both Chego and now A-Frame. Everyone from the hostess to our server, the barkeep and the bussing staff are incredibly pleasant and inviting. I think each of the staff at A-Frame must come with some sort of stamped diploma reading, “Certified Genuinely Nice Person to All Guests.” For those who feel they have a gripe with past experiences at Father's Office, I'd consider the folks here to be their antithesis.
Tapas/izakaya-style of eating has become popular around LA, and while the Spanish and Japanese tend to consider these types of places as way stations when eating in this style, one gains the sense that A-Frame is very inviting - stay as long as you like. The food pairs well with drinks, and ordering dishes here in succession is encouraged. The furikake kettle corn has been mentioned a lot – we ordered it and while we did like it, I’d recommend ordering this first and by itself. Reason being, it needs be eaten first and foremost because of its nature. It’s nibbling food meant for sharing while socializing with drinks; its half-life is short because of the butter (I’d find it more appealing if it were more light-handed on the butter); and one can quickly lose interest when the other more substantial food starts to show up. The mix of popped and puffed corn is interesting, and the furikake and chile flakes adds a lot of dimension, but still – take this one down first and by itself. It’s a very good starter that doesn’t take up too much room, which is important – the menu is full of other interesting items that one most likely will want to pursue.
The heirloom pickles ended up being the center of the universe for our table. The menu’s description is too brief and vague to fully appreciate its role and deliciousness. I’ve found that Roy’s palate tends to favor layering flavor-forwardness with richness. I’ve often found myself at Chego wanting something to counter this, and the pickled veggies and fruit perfectly play this role at A-Frame. The pickling of the Farmers Market produce is very subtle. A carrot still has the character of a carrot, a cucumber still resembles its former self, and the shy perfume of an Asian pear is elevated by the process. But the slight acidity and freshness of the pickling takes each piece of produce to another level, and goes perfectly with the other more frank dishes. I personally consider this item a must for future meals here.
We ordered the blue crab cakes without reading the description – we love crab cakes. The crab cakes are set in a sauce of crème fraiche with lemongrass and ginger, and the accompanying red leaf lettuce and baby perilla (Korean equivalent of shiso) are used to wrap pieces of the crab cake. If it were I who had created this at home instead of Roy for A-Frame, I could probably claim that I was the only person in the world at that given moment who was eating that combination of ingredients. It is a unique way of eating crab cakes, and it does work.
Like others, the barbequed lamb chops were one of the most favored items at our table. The chops are just lamby, the puree of salsa verde adds flavor but isn’t overpowering, and the citrus gremolata adds another spark of flavors and umami to an already outstanding dish. I usually like my chops medium-rare. I completely forgot to ask for this and ended up with it grilled medium – still very good.
The bittersweet tempura is a platter-sized portion of battered and deep-fried broccoli rabe that is topped with chips of kabocha, and a dipping sauce reminiscent of ponzu. While the leaves of broccoli rabe were somewhat oily, I couldn’t stop reaching for these. The slight bitterness combined with the dipping sauce hit a sweet spot on my palate. Washed down with some stout, this became a repetitive process. The kabocha chips actually were fine on their own – they were perfectly fried and sweet.
The carne asada torta reminded me most of Chego. If you like Chego’s rice bowls, the same will apply for the torta. The flavor ranges are similar, and the side of house pickles were of the same variety that we got earlier. This combination of rich strong substantial flavors combined with the somewhat soothing mild acidity of the pickles results in a nice balance. The torta’s salsa roja is on the spicy side – more heat-sensitive palates might consider this.
The Kitchen Fries are anything but conventional fries. Huge wedges of various sweet potatoes that have been deep-fried and finished with sea salt. The kim chee dipping sauce wasn’t overpowering on my palate but I seemed to prefer eating these straight up. I enjoy the natural sweetness of the potatoes.
Chu-Don’t-Know-Mang is a great way to cap off eating at A-Frame – if you still have room. Our diminutive daughter who was for the most part keeping up with our eating seemed stuffed by the time the last dish arrived. We were ready to punch out when she asked, “What’s for dessert?” I guess it was her Diet Coke, no? Anyway, this churro-esque dessert is another one of those results where ships passing in the night collide. One ship was carrying a load of pound cake, another had a deep-fryer going, while the third ship had a fully stocked ice cream bar. Four thumb-sized “sticks” of deep-fried pound cake coated in cinnamon sugar and served with a glass of vanilla ice cream finished with malted chocolate milk is a combination that I’m surprised hasn’t been offered yet in some similar iteration at the local County Fair. It’s not diet food – that’s obvious, but sharing it four ways seems to appease at least a little bit of the guilt – just a little.
A-Frame is practically next door neighbors with Waterloo & City on Washington. Their address is 12565 Washington Blvd in the part of LA that is actually Culver City - confusing I know. They're currently only open from 6PM every day, but I have the feeling that Roy might finally knuckle under and actually become less of a night owl. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
12565 Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90066, USA