In an entertainment-driven city such as ours, we are all too familiar with this fact: Trilogies seem to have a depreciating quality (we can debate the merits of re-makes another time). So it is surprising that Lucky Duck by Square One, the third act from Square One Dining, may be the strongest in the series, one that includes the original Square One Dining and Square One at the Boathouse. Situated at the corner of Hyperion Ave and Griffith Park Boulevard in Silver Lake, the dinner spot is undeniably garish from the outside. A giant yellow duck is slapped across the black building, prompting passersby to wonder whether it is an eatery or a children's clothing store. Once inside, however, any in-your-face aesthetic is replaced with trendy, modern decor. Hanging plants add an earthy touch, which coincides with what Chef Bryan Stevens (Gingergrass) is trying to drive home the most: carefully-sourced, local, sustainable cuisine. And he is most certainly succeeding.
But first: the service here is outstanding. Knowledgable, relaxed and always appearing at the perfect moment, our waiter worked the room with ease, doling out both recommendations and casual conversation, and taking photos for a gaggle of ladies on their girl's-night-out. Did that make the food taste better? I think the cheese plate would have melted hearts even with shoddy service. Spread out on a stone slab, smears of local sheep's milk and a creamy glacier goat brie lay on display alongside toasted artisan bread and the most addictive house-made butter. And the honey! Resembling ornate molds of ice, the translucent honey was a highlight of the plate (though we devoured everything else, too). True, at $15 for small slices of cheese it is on the expensive side (price being the most blatant flaw that Lucky Duck suffers from), but it is filling, addictive and oh-so-worth-it.
The cauliflower "couscous" could have been mistaken for a breakfast bowl: a layer of greek yogurt serves as its foundation, while grated cauliflower and paper-thin apple slices provide a heartier substance. A friend claimed it slightly bland, and for a starter it does seem out of place. But here is where I found Lucky Duck's commitment to organic, clean ingredients the most impressive: the yogurt was fresh and tart, the apples crisp, the madras curry oil potent, the Medjool dates just the right amount of sweet. The same could be said for the fried green tomatoes, a hearty dish that employed tangy piquillo pepper aioli and a crisp onion salsa; we could have sworn that the sunny-side up egg on top had been plucked from the coop moments before.
The seasonal menu is ever-changing, and so if the pork chop is not featured on your visit—I'm sorry. If it is, order it (although the house-made farfalle tossed with a virtual garden—asparagus, English peas, pea tendrils and leeks—is a fantastic back-up option). The meat is sourced from Cooks Pig Ranch just outside of San Diego, and the cuts are inconsistent in size—which is why Lucky Duck offers one pork chop ($17) or two ($29). "They're a little on the small side tonight," warned our waiter, but one was perfect for two people, especially after an assortment of appetizers. The slab of meat is dressed in a honey glaze that is not overly sweet, instead complimenting the slightly acidic slaw that arrives alongside the cut. Also not overly sweet: our grand finale, the butterscotch budino. A glass jar holds the creamy pudding—some nights it is vanilla or chocolate, others it is butterscotch—flanked by a few ginger snap cookies. It was gone in moments. The decorative smear of caramel on our plate was wiped clean, the remaining crumbs pressed onto fingertips, the jar scraped until you couldn't tell what had been inside. Is this the future of triologies? One can only hope—especially if there is budino at the end.
What to Eat: The cheese plate ($15). The fried green tomatoes ($8). The pork chop ($17). The budino ($7).
What to Drink: The wine program at Lucky Duck is curated by Lou Amdur, and curated well. The 2009 Mondeuse ($12), a medium-bodied red, paired beautifully from the beginning of our meal to the end. As for the cocktails, their signature drink—playfully coined The Ducky Luck ($10)—is a fantastic summer beverage. The bubbly flute of Cava, vermouth and Miracle Mile Forbidden Bitters leaves behind a tingling sensation after each sip.
Where to Sit: There is outside patio seating, but unless you enjoy a steady soundtrack of cars zipping by on Hyperion Avenue, al fresco dining is not the way to go here. Inside, a comfortable (and small) arrangement of tables means that whether you are with a party of two or six, the place will almost always feel like yours and yours alone.
Conversation Piece: Lucky Duck will be introducing brunch early this summer—and if it's anything like Square One's brunch menu (hello, brioche French toast), we're in for a treat.