Thursday, January 12, 2012

More Luster than Bluster

It's often hard extracting the hip from the hype, deciding what's luster and what's bluster. Initial raves for a place always lead to some bitter backlash, and where the truth lies amidst those typical tides of opinion is never easy to tell. Welcome to Mohawk Bend in LA's trendy but still a bit edgy (which makes it trendier, I guess), Echo Park. Lovingly built into the bones of a century-old vaudeville theater, it's the kind of places that touts "our philosophy" on its website, with lines like, "We care about your food choices, which is why our menu has vegan, vegetarian, and non-vegan options. We have dedicated food prep stations for our vegan fare. Our goal is to make sure EVERYONE can eat at our restaurant without having to sacrifice quality or taste," that are both encouraging and a bit sanctimonious. You have to deliver if you're going to make such statements, especially when you extol your all-California produce-products and a 72-tap beer list that's also all California, plus one out-of-state guest brewer a month.

The good news is (based on one visit, so small sample error is certainly possible) Mohawk Bend earned any of its possible pretension. It was great that the staff certainly didn't pull any superior airs--we got seated (with reservations), within a few minutes of arriving, our waiter knew his stuff and offered up a free taster of Craftsman Acorn Saison that I did go nuts for (you never know with Craftsman crazy brews--that Aurora Borealis with persimmon and mint tasted of toothpaste while the Holiday Spruce, made with actual spruce, is delish and not like drinking your Christmas tree water, brewed). The waiter did look very LA hiply handsome, but I admit I'm superficial and want all the servers in LA to look like they just came off their commercial shoot; it might be because one of my first meals in Los Angeles years ago an agent at the table next to mine actually connected with the actress-waitress serving us both, although it might all have been a set-up to impress me, living in Iowa at the time.

Meanwhile, back at the Mohawk...that's one impressive and ever-moving beer list, enough to make you proud you're a Californian. The pub's owner Tony Yanow also owns Golden Road Brewery, and we tasted on of their beers to keep it all in the family, namely the Point the Way IPA that manages to do the righteous hoppy do it has to for an IPA and clock in at a mere 5.2% ABV. Expect DUI rates in LA to drop precipitously. But there was plenty of more great beer to be had, like a High Water Hop Riot (had had that in bottle, but as usual, tap is head and suds better), the jokingly named but yummy Lagunitas Sucks, and then for dessert a Bootlegger's Black Phoenix Chipotle Coffee Ale with just enough heat and just enough coffee kick.

As for the food, there is vegan poutine--even the cheese is animal-product free. But how can one go wrong with fries properly crisp, that then get to soak a bit in a mushroom-rich gravy, so the cheese is pretty much just a bonus? My partner was pleased with her JJ Kale Salad (that JJ is for the julienned jicama, not Hunsecker) but we were both bowled over by the mussels, fine farmed bivalves from Carlbad, in a terrific vadouvan. Don't worry, I had to Google it too--it's a French take on Indian curry, one more of the many reasons colonialism shouldn't have quite the bad rap it does. (I mean, tasty food gone global makes up for years of oppression and often outright slavery, right?) You will order extra bread if you get this dish. You will wish you had a hip flask to take any remaining juices home with you.

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