The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2015

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april 2015  /  the tasting panel  /  83 e Interpretive Chef by Meridith May W alk into the narrow, dimly lit dining room at Wildcraft in Culver City on L.A.'s Westside, and you'll find space well-allocated: an open kitchen with a wood-burning oven, a bar with suspended bottles of wine that takes up half the length of the brass and black laquered tavern (and thus exponentially buoys wine sales) and the presence of Missouri transplant Chef Bryant Wigger. Wildcraft is the newest re-done restaurant in Blackhouse Hospitality Management Group, which includes authentic Southeast Asian cuisine at Little Sister (Manhattan Beach), New American small plates at Abigaile (Hermosa Beach), modern Mexican at Dia de Campo (Hermosa Beach) and the newly opened steakhouse, Steak & Whisky (Hermosa Beach). The group is still expanding with plans for a Redondo Beach bistro concept and a Downtown LA location for Little Sister by the summer. The power and brilliance behind these spots is Chef Tin Vuong. For Wildcraft, his original idea was to focus on Northern Italian, and in particular "la cucina Piemontese." But, after careful consideration, Vuong brought in Wigger as his Chef de Cuisine—not only a toque-ified talent, but a master renderer, hunter and animal farmer. On the night we met Chef Wigger, he offered up his "piggy plate," a decon- structed Mangalista pig, a rare Eastern European curly-haired breed that embodies more fat than mainstream porcine breeds. "The fat-to-meat ratio is extremely high," he explained as he pointed us to the pig butter—a whipped paté with shaved truffles and fennel that we slathered on our freshly toasted bread; also on the plate was his version of head cheese. Wigger broke down the entire 270-pound pig himself and shared some of the prize with restaurants Abigaile and Little Sister. "I was brought in to make Wildcraft more adult," Wigger imparts. "I wanted to take it beyond the pizzeria with handmade pastas and a seasonal—not linear— menu." His lunch bento box themes are a salad fantasy for vegetarians with three options ranging from grapefruit-beet salads to chick peas and bell peppers. Guests can choose three of the six options on the menu. But from our experience, Wigger actually goes outside the bento box when it comes to ingredients. His interpretation of rice balls falls into the complex category. Mushroom and bacon find their way into a creamy risotto threaded with mozzarella. His beef tartare, smoothed and rounded out with poached egg yolks, is sided with dehy- drated and fried beef tenderloin chips for dipping and smearing. Cured pork jowl is the substance for his meat sauce for spaghetti all'amatriciana, lotioned with olive oil and powdered with pecorino cheese. "I think we've made a conscience decision not to be traditional," claims Wigger. As he gears up for his next menu, he informs us he is anxiously awaiting strawber- ries, English peas and fava beans. We can't wait to come back to see how he solves his first spring season. Wildcraft's spaghetti amatri- ciana dish: guanciale, toasted garlic, pomodoro, house- made spaghetti, Calabrian chili, whole-leaf parsley and pecorino romano. BRYANT WIGGER ADVENTURES OUTSIDE ITALIAN CUISINE AT L.A.'S WILDCRAFT Chef Bryant Wigger reinvents Italian dishes at Wildcraft, such as this tortellini with lamb ragout, pecorino toscano, mushrooms and pea pesto.

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