beacon, an asian cafe
3280 helms ave. (@ washington blvd.)
culver city, ca 90034
last month, i lunched at beacon, an asian cafe in culver city, for the first time. though beacon seems to have gotten mostly rave-ish reviews, particularly with acclaimed chef kazuto matsusaka, for some reason, i wasn’t particularly impressed that first time. perhaps it was over-hyped for me - were my expectation too high? so i went back for lunch this week with a clean slate. it wasn't hard though, because the food was mostly forgettable the first time. but alas, so the second time...
i was engrossed in conversation that began in the 5-minute car ride to the helms bakery complex (this is l.a. – of course we drove), and we continued without a misstep en route from the parking lot to the restaurant’s front door. the discussion just became more heated under an umbrella’s partial shade from the noon-time sun on the patio. how did we end up at an outdoor table? i don’t even remember asking a hostess – i think we just automatically sat down at an open table without skipping a beat.
when i first sit down to a meal, before i even place a napkin across my lap, my normal routine is to scrutinize the menu, reviewing every item, narrowing down choices. i weigh options, gather opinions, then finally pick a dish, which usually ends up with a mad dash after the waitress, crossing my fingers that she hasn’t already sent a ticket to the kitchen, so i can change my order to something else. *phew*
not today. our server came by the table, and still i hadn’t even touched the menu, a cornflower blue sheet of paper, strapped down with rubber bands like an expert on the pilates table. all i did was a distracted scan, then mindlessly ordered the first thing under the salad and sandwich section. just a salad? so i agree to share a bit of sashimi, and kept conversing.
every now and again, a flash of sunlight directly in my eyes reminded me to take a sip of my iced green tea. it’s refreshing, and while normally i’d be a little weirded out by the tea’s unnaturally electric green neon color, somehow today, it matches our discussion of the days of discoclubs and giant circuses years ago.
somewhere along the way, there was miso soup, but in our rewind/fast-forward, break it down/pitch it up trek through time, i lost track of things and tastes that i usually note like a dedicated trainspotter. the bento, a gorgeous lacquered red and black box, comes out covered. the server very quietly interrupted us to ask if we’d like the lid left on or taken off. with a bit of ceremony, she removed the lid and there are all the proper petite things that a $15 bento box should have. i noted that the sashimi glistened in techno-color, but i don’t recall the specific fish. there were obligatory vegetables, and i only remember that they were crisp and chilled when there was momentary pause during the naughty nightlife narrative to maneuver an awkwardly large piece of cauliflower in the dipping sauce. a dainty piece of white meat – was it chicken? – a skillfully-shaped onigiri, right properly shaped and rolled in black sesame seeds, and something else – what was it? a quick peek now at beacon’s online menu, and though yes, it was thai-marinated chicken, i still don’t know what kazuto’s selection of the day was.
halfway through lunch i finally took notice that i had absentmindedly eaten half the five-spice chicken salad that i didn’t even realize had been placed in front of me. i took a cursory mental note out of habit: napa cabbage, fresh; dressing, bland; chicken, tastes like pork. but just left it at that to keep up with our discussion that spun ahead at 140 bpm.
i did take a breather for the hamachi sashimi, six opulent pieces cut into thick triangles. the yellowtail’s dip into soysauce left a shimmering oily swirl on the surface of the soy, a sign of the buttery, slippery smoothness to come. i mmm-ed in a momentary afterglow, and though most of the other food is forgettable, i gave it to beacon for good sashimi.
the food at beacon is not so bad. it’s beautifully presented, and it doesn’t cause a trainwreck of tastes. it’s also not so good that my tastebuds will be snapped out of trance. but i can forgive forgettable food, which makes beacon alright for losing myself to deep conversation.