Mei Lin’s Nightshade at Arts District in DTLA
Nightshade, 923 East 3rd Street. Unit 109. Los Angeles, California 90013, $12 Valet Parking, www.nightshadela.com.
Much highly anticipated restaurant opening by Mei Lin, ever since she became the winner of BravoTV’s Top Chef, Season 12. Lin followed in the footsteps of her former boss, Michael Voltaggio, who was Season 6’s winner (Lin was sous chef at Voltaggio’s ink). However, this restaurant opening came a few years after that win, after Lin has traveled around the country doing pop-ups and special events. One can only imagine the expectations and the pressure she is under, whether it affects her or not. Unfortunately, for those who only know about her cooking through Top Chef, they will either fully embrace her creations at Nightshade, or they will be quite disappointed (that the dishes do not appear to be as creative as the ones she made on Top Chef).
For me, every dish ordered was presented beautifully and was solid, though there were true standouts.
The night started off with a bang with the Green Jade Tomatoes, refreshing with a delicious dressing.
The next dish of East Coast Bay Scallops was also delicious, only if eaten with a spoon so that you can get enough of the coconut sauce for a well-rounded bite.
The Beef Tartare was our least favorite of the night. I thought it could be seasoned a bit more, while my dinner mates wanted more egg yolk jam so that the tartare would be moister.
The Tom Yum Onion and the Roasted Sunchokes were both delicious as well.
The final three savory dishes we had were also the stars of the night. The Shrimp Toast was quite hearty, especially when taking the time to get the toast to absorb more of the curry sauce.
The Lasagna was delicious and quite ingenious using what appears to be wonton-skin as a substitute for traditional pasta.
The Szechuan Hot Quail was crispy and crunchy and had a good amount of heat that lingered. Calling Szechuan Hot made me miss getting that numbing aspect from Szechuan peppercorns.
Desserts were not only delicious but also visually stunning. I particularly love the way the Almond Sorbet was plated, as well as it’s wonderfully refreshing quality from the mandarin orange ice, as well as the sweet pieces of mandarin orange that were plated under the sorbet.
The Silken Tofu reminded me of a spin on a more common dish of Chia Seeds with Pudding.
Food and service here were solid, though we would have like the pacing of the dinner to be more even. Pricing may be a bit higher than expected for some people, with the bill averaging about $75 per person (tax and gratuity included for food only). If you can go in with toned down expectations, you may be able to appreciate your dining experience so much more.