The tweezer-manipulated plates of Miles Thompson may appear dainty, but his cooking drips with soul. Half-shucked snow peas are arranged over a dollop of tofu with citrus and coconut cream. Guava and fish sauce-lacquered lamb belly comes with a bit of trout roe wrapped in miner's lettuce; together they form a grooving melody of brine and fat. One can easily forget this transporting experience is taking place inside a shoe box in Echo Park, a neighborhood where $1 tacos still rule the night.
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The barkeep is talking to a regular about gentian-root liqueurs when 25-year-old Miles Thompson emerges from the kitchen. With the intensity of a prophet, he arrives at your table to deliver a plate of Dungeness crab custard with lobes of uni and pickled strips of hajikami ginger root. There's a certain fearlessness to the chef, who worked at Son of a Gun and did the pop-up thing (the Vagrancy Project) before landing at this 1920s stucco box in Echo Park. The only meat in a tasting menu may be in the first-course beef tongue cappelletto, tiny pasta capsules presented on a seared spinach leaf. Dessert involves the earthy notes of Jerusalem artichokes. Every direction seems promising to Thompson, who compresses the possibilities into the indentation at the center of a white plate.
This little restaurant has tried to be many things many times. Now the owners are taking a chance on 25-year-old Miles Thompson, of the arty pop-up the Vagrancy Project. The result is more highbrow than the area wants or needs—but damn if it isn't delicious. Carrot tendrils headline a salad with sunchoke, radish, and pickled turnips. A tender ravioloenvelops soft blood pudding, and a clever kimchi ranch dressing sets off a fried oyster. You can taste the effort, and service struggles while the chef pores over each garnish. Depending on how much Top Chef you watch, you'll worship or despise the place, but the craft cocktails should please all.