Besha Rodell kicks off the short week with a review of MTN, the new Japanese izakaya-inspired restaurant by Travis Lett, the Gjelina/Gjusta chef who “has had a hand in creating Venice's current culture, in all its laughable upscale boho glory.” There’s a heavy dose of snark throughout the review, but with $20 ramen and $10 edamame, it’s understandable if “your eyes roll right out of your head.”
However, plenty of credit is due to the MTN team who spent nearly a decade working on the project. The chefs make everything from the ramen noodles to red miso from scratch, which makes everything “true to its place, even as it channels Japanese flavors, taking lessons from Japan and overlaying that knowledge on the here and now.” That results in some pretty outstanding dishes:
The most obvious example of this is a salad of sea vegetables from Big Sur. The jumble of sea lettuce and giant kelp and other marine treasures, mixed with crunchy daikon and the light sting of shiso, is not like any seaweed salad you've had before. It hints at those flavors and textures, but it has the distinct taste of the California coastline, not just the ocean but our ocean. [LAW]
The ridiculously priced ramen may very well be worth the hefty price tag:
Again, it's almost a thing unto itself, so much a product of its time and place that it's hard to compare it to other ramen. Lett and his crew cook down the bones and head of a whole Peads & Barnetts pig, but it's not a thick, milky tonkotsu broth — it's much, much lighter yet still manages to pack an incredible amount of pork flavor into each sip. [...] The ramen noodles, which have a chewy, firm structural integrity, are made from artisanal wheat and buckwheat. Are the bowls beautiful and heavy and rustic? Of course they are. They probably came wearing a sign that read: WILL MODEL YOUR ARTISANAL BUCKWHEAT. [LAW]
The Weekly critic does take issue with the lack of warmth and hospitality at MTN and all other Lett restaurants, and the fact that the restaurateur is “notoriously media-averse,” making it challenging to fully tell the story of the diverse MTN team. B-Rod concludes that that narrative “(and not stylish boho excess) is the true promise of MTN — and of California.” MTN scores three stars.