Chefs and partners Kat Hu and Justin Yi turn offals and vegetables into gourmet fare at Hock + Hoof, next to the historic Hotel Alexandria in downtown Los Angeles. The restaurant, which opened last May, has already earned quite a following because of its creative options blending French techniques with Asian ingredients and flavors. These menu items pair well with their creative soju cocktails. While waiting for their liquor license, they are making a variety of innovative and pretty drinks.
The interior is modern and clean with a brick wall, white subway tiles, strings of white lights, and a little greenery. Near the front door is a framed photo of Bruce Lee.
I started the evening before seeing ‘Home’ across the street at The Los Angeles Theatre Center with a lavender colored Petit Pea. It was served in a dainty glass with a large ice cube and purple micro flower. Besides soju, it’s made with lemon juice, elderflower, butterfly pea flower and lemon bitters. Butterfly pea flower is known for its ability to change colors depending on the pH. It’s usually a hue of blue when steeped in hot water. When you add a little bit of lemon juice, the acidity changes the blue to a beautiful pinkish purple color.
My husband ordered the Reyes Especial made with toasted spice soju, lime juice, tamarind, blackberry, demerara (a dark rum fermented from molasses) and mango bitters.
Our server Chase shared with us that Chef Kat grew up in Nanjing, China, and learned how to cook in her grandmothers kitchen. It inspired her to enroll in Le Cordon Bleu. While in Los Angeles, Kat worked at the Ritz Carlton and the JW Marriott Los Angeles at LA Live, as well as at Cafe Pinot.
Chef Justin’s specialty is traditional Korean food, that he perfected in the kitchens at Bouchon Las Vegas, Patina Restaurant Group at LACMA and with Chef Kat at Roots & Rye up in Northern California, before coming back to Los Angeles to open Hock + Hoof together.
Opening last May, the restaurant is getting quite a following because of its creative fare. Kat is a bit of an offal expert, respecting the entire animal. She has worked with Chef Chris Cosentino, the author of Offal Good. Kat’s philosophy is similar to Cosentino’s, she wants to make food approachable for everyone, and prepare unfamiliar into familiar.
We started with oysters en croute that arrived on a plate of salt. Each oyster shell had a layer of buttery pastry baked on top. It was similar to an oyster Rockefeller.
Next we bit into Tomahawk steak tartare layered on rectangular pieces of toated focaccia. The chopped red meat was topped with Santa Monica Farmers Market green garlic. Kat told us that when she found this mild and savory garlic, she bought 30 bunches to make a garlic confit relish with olive and grape seed oil. She shaved a radish and included pickled cauliflower and dumpling carrots. We were told to take a bite of the steak tartare and then pick up one of the pickled vegetables to cleanse our palate.
When a plate with a generous scoop of soft, creamy and ethereal pink chicken liver mousse arrived, I took a big bite. I’m not a big fan of chicken liver pate, yet this plate was inviting due to the bright red gel dots made from Hawthorne berries, and two small puffy pieces of fry bread. Kat delivered it to our table sharing that she grew up drinking tea with Hawthorne berries. She gets them in Chinatown and told us they are very good for digestion. Once I spread the mousse onto the fry bread and topped it with the gel, I took a bite and was delightfully pleased with the flavors.
Chase told us that Kat’s mother is an organic gardener. One day she brought in some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes from her garden, and it inspired Kat to make a vegetarian dish. During this time of the year, she bastes turnips, cooks beets and pan fries Brussels sprouts. To balance it out, she adds some crispy shoestring potatoes. It’s delicious.
My husband ordered a local Angel City Pilsner and I selected a Raeburn Chardonnay from the Russian River area to enjoy with the rest of our menu items. My wine was a classic Chardonnay with intensive fruit characteristics and a creamy vanilla finish with each sip.
Next arrived a long marrow bone, cut down the middle and topped with bacon panko. “It’s actually lap cheong, which is a Cantonese sausage,” said Kat. She tops the slightly spongy, soft and rich melted interior with panko crumbs. It’s a little bit like tasting melted butter with a slightly lighter, sweet and nutty flavor. This delicacy is served on top of an egg crepe. The texture of the crepe is light and easy to roll without tearing. Kat recommended scraping everything from the bone onto the egg crepe. Then we were to roll it like a Spring roll and add the fried scallions. Again there were pickled cauliflower and carrots to bite into to balance our palate. If you have a dog, the staff allows you to take the bone home for a special treat.
Chase told us that Kat has her heart into this restaurant. She and Justin also have an artistic flair. Midnight black squid ink was smeared on the side of a white bowl before it was filled with forbidden black rice, sautéed squid and three different types of mushrooms – clusters of hen of the woods, meaty King oysters and long stems with petite globular caps Shimejis. Kat squeezes in a little lemon juice on top. This was another winning dish.
Feeling adventurous we agreed to try her favorite item on the menu, a seared and braised beef tongue. It tastes similar to slow-cooked beef short ribs. After searing and braising a cow tongue, she pops it in the oven for hours. Afterwards she pulls off the tough skin to reveal a beautiful and supple piece of red meat. She dresses the plate with three different types of celery – a root puree, sweet and savory roasted celery and braised celery. Kat likes to add a touch of sweetness to her dishes, and on this dish she scatters bright red and tart pomegranate seeds for flavor and color.
After this rich dish, we enjoyed the lighter Asian pear and creamy white burrata salad. Little sprigs of watercress give it an earthy essence. A drizzle of Osmanthus honey and slices of Asian pear add a zing of sweetness. A sprinkling of pine nuts add a touch of saltiness and texture. Osmanthus is a flower that has a distinctive fruity and floral aroma. This salad is a good starter dish or dessert.
A local gelateria makes an amazing Osmanthus gelato for the restaurant, It’s creamy with apricot nuances, and an ideal ending before seeing a play across the street.
Hock + Hoff is for the adventurous who yearn to try something different. What one person might consider food waste, Kat and Justin make it into something delicious. Open daily starting Monday through Thursday from 4 – 10 p.m., Fridays 4 – 10:30 p.m. On the weekends Hock + Hoof is open at 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. It reopens at 5:30 p.m. for dinner. $$ 527 S. Spring St. (213)279-9983.