As Downtown Los Angeles continues it’s march toward culinary mecca, every district within downtown seems to have a restaurant which anchors the neighborhood as a destination for foodies. The Jewelry District had limited nighttime food options until Bottega Louie made it’s splash nearly five years ago. Baco Mercat brought legitimate modern cuisine to Main Street, Alma is helping to revitalize the Broadway theater district, while Rivera provides a touch of class to the South Park neighborhood. Of course Little Tokyo has had several blocks worth of eateries for years, but few restaurants strayed from serving up anything but Japanese street food. Chef James Ta breaks that mould with the contemporary cuisine he is serving up at Fickle.
Chef Ta comes from a family of chefs and restauranteurs, and has worked closely with his father to open several restaurants across the San Gabriel valley. He seems to fit with the new generation of young chefs — affable, cultured, ingredient-conscious, and ready to create dishes not found on other menus. With Fickle, you get the impression that Chef Ta is ready to showcase his many talents in the spotlight of Downtown, and perhaps claim the culinary crown of Little Tokyo.
With a prominent corner location on 1st and Central, the restaurant was remodeled with contemporary finishes – a welcome reprieve from the faux-Japanese-village look present in many of the area’s eateries. The restaurant space actually serves double-duty: During the daytime hours, the space is branded “The Sandwich Smith”, serving up well-crafted sandwiches with well-sourced ingredients to Downtown’s workers and businessmen. At night, the restaurant’s upscale alter-ego emerges as Fickle; the best way to describe the cooking would be modern Vietnamese with touches of European ingredients. The space is dominated by a long and tall communal table, perfect for getting your drink and grub on.
ChatChow got a first look at what’s coming up at Fickle’s spring menu, and we were left impressed with what the Chef was serving up. We began the night with an heirloom tomato salad with a solid dose of creamy burrata (and yes, we are totally on board with the ongoing trendiness of burrata; we could feast on the stuff day in and out). We also tried the Kampuchea shrimp served up with the classic Vietnamese flavors of pickled carrots and cilantro. Among the highlights of the evening for me were the Santa Barbara uni served atop a bed of cucumber and mint (delicously tender and refreshing), and the roasted bone marrow (another dish which never fails to make my tongue pass out in delight). We were also served some delicously tender lamb atop cous cous, and a ginger-marinated flat-iron steak atop orzo. Fickle also has a well cultivated wine list, pairing our dishes with some fine wines from Spain and New Zealand.
If this is a sign that Little Tokyo has finally graduated from ramen and izakaya dishes, you could say that we’re Fickle’d with delight.