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Project Ivanhoe at Local in Silver Lake is part of area foodie renaissance

March 17, 2012 |  9:00 am

PorkBelly
Silver Lake, a neighborhood known for its booming brunch corridor and fancy coffee houses filled with faux-tousled musicians in designer jeans and tattooed yoga moms, has long suffered from a lack of destination dining (that's not to discount the welcome presence of favorite neighborhood restaurants including Blair's, Michelangelo, Bar Brix and Cafe Stella). Still, the absence of more contenders for the love of crosstown palates is a surprising state of affairs for a trendy, increasingly upscale neighborhood with an annual median household income of more than $54,000.

Still, the area has been experiencing a mini-foodie boom over the past few months, including the arrival of chef Ben Bailly (Fraiche, Petrossian) at Cliff's Edge; the recent Silverlake Lounge-adjacent opening of Black Hogg by Eric Park of Spotted Pig and Eleven Madison Park; the opening of L&E Oyster Bar near the Satellite rock club; chef Ari Taymor’s relocation of his Venice-based pop-up, Alma, to Millie’s Coffeeshop for six weeks starting this week (he’ll be joined by a former Bouchon Napa chef for some dinners); and chef Kevin Lee's (Lazy Ox) evening takeover of Jason Michaud's kitchen at Local for an innovative small-plates program that the two are dubbing "Project Ivanhoe."

The latter is so dubbed in homage to the history of the neighborhood, which reminded 19th century Scottish adventurer Hugo Reid of his homeland, so much so that he called the area Ivanhoe. In 1906, when the 127-acre reservoir was being built, the city named it for early L.A. Water Commissioner Herman Silver.

I had the opportunity to taste a variety of rotating options from Lee's Project Ivanhoe about a week ago and took note of the range and variety of dishes that the Korean-born chef is cooking up. And although you may be fatigued by the ubiquity of pork belly on the city's menus, Lee's pork belly skewers with Korean chile aioli are soft with equal amounts of crunch and heat, and not too fatty.

PIg'sEarsHe is also serving seaweed noodles with sesame seeds and yuzu kosho dressing, a creamy concoction that, with each bite, emits a resounding (and pleasing) crunch. Thick, smoky and crispy lengua (tongue) came with toasty hash browns and savory creme fraiche salsa verde that tasted like breakfast and dessert all at once.

Pork is a big part of Lee's oeuvre with Project Ivanhoe, and as is the custom with today's carnivorous chefs, he is using as many parts of the animal as possible, including a plate of crispy pig's ears with a smooth smoked caper aioli.

Vegetarian-friendly dishes included roasted baby beets with whipped, herbed goat cheese and aged balsamic; and lemon quinoa with a soft, coddled egg.

Michaud, who is happy to have Lee in his kitchen at night so he can concentrate on his new Echo Park restaurant Red Hill, says that Lee has worked out most of the kinks of working in an unfamiliar space and is running the kitchen pretty flawlessly at this point.

"He almost has [the old dinner menu] completely swapped out and has reorganized the ordering inside," wrote Michaud in a recent text message. "Beautiful."

Now how do we sign up for a Silver Lake food crawl?

Project Ivanhoe at Local, 2943 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A. (323) 662-4740; www.silverlakelocal.com.

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--Jessica Gelt

Photos: Pork belly skewers with Korean chili aioli (top); crispy pig's ears with smoked caper aioli (bottom). Credit: Jessica Gelt / Los Angeles TImes.

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