b.o.s. (Beef. Offal. Sustainable.), a review
In a cozy, 24-seat space next to venerable Sushi Gen in Little Tokyo, b.o.s. (beef. offal. sustainable.) has been trying to entice potential diners to experience their beef-centric, nose-to-tail concept since late 2013. Despite positive reviews by press, blogs, and customers alike, business never really picked up, and, unfortunately, b.o.s. will be serving their last supper on Saturday, September 27.
This past week I had the privilege of dining at b.o.s. for my first, and possibly last, time. I had met owner Jun Isogai and chef David Bartnes at the Plate by Plate benefit back in August, and was already in discussions to set up a tasting menu for a small group of friends when the announcement of their closure dropped. But rather than dwell on the whys and wherefores of the demise of the restaurant, I hope to inspire you with this post to give b.o.s. a try before the end of the month.
When b.o.s. first opened, the menu had an omakase-style tasting menu option, but one is no longer listed. However, a tasting menu can still be arranged with the restaurant with advance notice. For our dinner, we had a budget of $300 for five people, and our goal was to sample the wide range of dishes available at b.o.s. Jun and I narrowed the tasting menu down to 9 dishes from their a la carte menu that highlighted the breadth of nose-to-tail dining, including one large-format dish. I also asked if chef David could create a dish just for our dinner, whatever inspired him at the moment.
Here was the progression of our meal:
Carpaccio of Tongue, pea sprouts, avocado, pickled shallots, Issan dressing: While it isn’t totally indistinguishable from “regular” cuts of beef, if people can get over the idea of eating tongue, the taste and texture can come close to thinly sliced steak. The tongue in this dish was sliced translucently thin, and had a delicate texture to match. The flavors were light and bright, with just a touch of heat.
Sizzling Thai Tongue, Thai aromatics, lime chili sauce: The second dish of tongue was quite different from the first, beyond the obvious hot-vs.-cold preparation methods. Unlike in the carpaccio, the slices were thicker and thus meatier, so they did not overcook on the cast iron plate. With the aromatics, this dish could pass as a simple beef stir-fry, a great “gateway” dish for offal-phobes.
Crispy Curried Calf Brain, butternut squash purée, arugula gremolata, grape compote: Encased in a crisp breadcrumb shell, the calf brain had a relatively neutral taste, but its texture was creamy and fluffy at the same time. The compote was unlike any I had tasted, not overly sweet, with a great astringency that contrasted with the creaminess of the brain.
Grilled Miso Heart, king oyster mushrooms, yuzu miso vinaigrette: Another great “gateway” dish, the heart is an even more innocuous cut of meat than the tongue, in my opinion. Beef heart tastes like really lean beef with a very fine texture. Grilled rare, it retained a great tenderness. Pairing it with the “meaty” king oyster mushroom was a great choice.
Sweetbread Tacos, salsa verde, pico de gallo, sriracha sour cream, pickled radish: The only true disappointment of the night, this dish came highly recommended by other customers, but I found it to be just passable. The breading was too thick and the sweetbreads a bit dry. If only the tacos came with the excellent crispy calf brain instead…
Housemade Turkish Sausage, small intestine casing, ground beef, rice, herbs, spices, w/housemade harissa, yogurt sauce, shaved baby carrot salad: I mentioned requesting a “chef’s choice” dish, and this was what chef David prepared for us, inspired by a recent trip he took to Turkey. The sausage was rather lean without being too dry, and a bit crumbly, almost like chorizo. The inclusion of rice in the filling reminded me of meat-filled dolma. This was a table favorite!
Fried Tripe “Calamari” & Small Intestines Chicharrón, cilantro garlic yogurt dip, Issan dressing: This was one of the more offal-y dishes of the night, specifically the small intestines. Mind you, they still tasted fairly mild, but I’m more used having intestines from pigs, whose diets not as clean as cows! This was yet another delicious, accessible dish!
Roasted Bone Marrow, housemade furikake, 61° egg, sesame gochujang: Marrow is not an unusual dish these days, and I originally eschewed it when setting up our menu, but Jun was generous enough to bring some out for us to try, on the house. Boldly, chef David accompanies the already unctuous marrow with a similarly textured 61° egg. This pairing works surprisingly well, with the different fats and proteins actually mellowing each other out rather than making the dish too heavy.
Braised Veal Cheek Pasta, shiitake mushrooms, braising sauce, olive oil poached tomatoes, housemade pappardelle: This dish would have fit the nose-to-tail progression better at the start of our meal, but as a somewhat heavier dish, coming out later made sense. I wasn’t sure how the pasta would be here, but I was pleasantly surprised by how perfectly al dente it was for my tastes. I don’t usually eat veal, and I would have expected it to be more delicate, but the meat had some heft to it.
Whole Braised Oxtail, w/ras el hanout, farmer’s market vegetables: This was our one large-format dish, advance order required. Before chef David brought it out to the table, we could see him plating it at the chef’s counter, building our anticipation! The oxtail itself probably measured 18″ long, and was quite a sight! None of my fellow diners had seen a whole oxtail before. And it tasted as impressively as it looked. The braising accentuated the deep, rich, beefiness of the meat, the gelatin in the bones and fat in the meat made it tender and moist. It was undeniably the best oxtail I’ve had!
The bigger surprise was how wonderful the vegetables were. Surrounding the oxtail was an assortment of roasted heirloom carrots and peewee potatoes, 130° poached tomatoes, and pickled cauliflowers seasoned with North African spices. The tomatoes, which were still snappy like raw tomatoes but had a more concentrated flavor from the poaching, were terrific. I especially liked the pickled cauliflower, which were crisp and tart!
Beef Tendon Risotto, w/English peas, pea sprouts, radish, lardons: Since we started off with tongue, I would have thought we’d end with tail, beyond the fact that the oxtail would be an incredibly tough act to follow. But I was quite happy with our last dish of the night, and quite impressed with chef David’s execution of the two Italian dishes he served us. Like the pasta, the rice was cooked perfectly, so that while it gave off enough starch to impart some creaminess, the individual grains still had some bite to them. The rice was also packed with flavor from the beef stock that I assume was used in cooking it. This was a great end to an amazing meal!
I am genuinely saddened by the closure of this ambitious restaurant. The dishes at b.o.s. are not gimmicky at all, something that even I, an offal-phile was wary of, and the food was just downright delicious. I was impressed with owner Jun Isogai’s pragmatism and positivity in the face of b.o.s.’s end, and with chef David Bartnes’s inventive and inspired cooking.
Jun told me after our meal that the nose-to-tail concept was his own, and when he was looking for a chef to execute his vision, he didn’t necessarily go looking for a chef who already knew a lot about offal. Instead, he wanted to find a great chef who would just be inspired by the ingredient. When he met David, the chef had never cooked with many of the ingredients he deftly handles now, like beef heart, but Jun said David told him that he just had to put the heart in his hand, and he will figure it out. A romantic notion, but after tasting his cooking, I believe it.
If you have a chance to try b.o.s. before it closes, please do. I wish all the luck in the world to both Jun and David in their future ventures, whether together or separately.
424 E 2nd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Acknowledgment: With “offal” in my name, b.o.s. has been on my radar since it opened, but I just hadn’t had a chance to try it up until now. A few months ago, I had an idea to crowdfund a restaurant review. I knew this wouldn’t be a sustainable model for monetizing my food writing, but I figured I’d give it a try. Of course, right as I was about to kick off my campaign, the “Potato Salad” Kickstarter thing went viral, so I held back for a bit, but after a few weeks I decided just to gogo for it, and the campaign ended with $100 in its funds!
So, my meal was fully funded by two individuals, each contributing $50. After fees, I received just under $88. My portion of the bill was $60 for the food, $3 for an iced green tea (I’m not a big drinker), plus tax and tip; I left $85. The remaining $3 may not have covered gas for the drive (1.5 hours there, 30 minutes back–gotta love L.A. traffic), but I absolutely can’t complain! My benefactors have decided to remain anonymous, but they (and I) know who they are, and I want to say “thank you” to them one more time!