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LA Times Critic Delights in the Nigerian Flavors of a Mid-City Newcomer

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Plus Pikoh misses the mark, and more talk of the Magic Castle

aduke african cuisine chef at stove
Chef/owner Aduke Oluwafunmilayo Oyetibo
Aduke African Cuisine

Los Angeles Times co-critic Bill Addison has been diligently spreading around his restaurant reviews over the past few months, jumping from high-end places like Spago to Shanghaiese food in the San Gabriel Valley. This week’s offering is a smallish Nigerian spot off Pico and La Cienega named Aduke African Cuisine.

The restaurant itself is named for chef/owner Aduke Oluwafunmilayo Oyetibo, who moved to the States six years ago but only opened her restaurant in March.

Oyetibo mostly stays behind the stoves — much of the time she’s busy managing catering orders as well as cooking for restaurant customers — but she occasionally sweeps through to greet guests. You know when she’s around: Her smile could dissipate fog.

The food, from the pounded yam fufu to the okra stew known as ila alasepo, is both interesting and abundant in flavor, leading diners on a walking path through greens, spice, and a whole country’s worth of textures.

A leafy tumble called efo riro appears on many tables. In southwestern Nigeria, cooks often make the dish with amaranth greens, smoked fish, beef and sometimes cow tripe; Oyetibo adapts hers using spinach and often couples it with unsmoked white fish. I’m directed toward eba (pounded cassava, delicate in texture and peachy in color) or semo (as in semolina, which is milder and firmer) as matching swallows.

The restaurant is a meandering kind of place, with dishes taking their time to emerge from the kitchen, but that just leads to friendliness among the 13 tables, and a sense that community here is just as important as the jollof rice.

pikoh oysters on pink salt
Oysters from Pikoh
Wonho Frank Lee

With Patricia Escárcega still out on maternity leave, the Times is again turning to Gustavo Arellano for his take on Pikoh, Ricardo Zarate’s casual cafe in West LA. While Arellano finds that some of the dishes really hit the mark, ultimately the place is a bit frustrating when one considers what Zarate has shown he’s really capable of elsewhere.

The menu itself, filled with bone broth and activated charcoal bowls, is a “parody-ready setup,” says Arellano, but does get saved in spots thanks to some real creativity:

The food is never bad, and it’s sometimes really good. The avocado toast made from quinoa bread looks like a cliché but is saved by the pan, baked at Pikoh, which has a fabulous nuttiness; it also buttresses an otherwise unremarkable bacon-and-eggs and a creamy salmon tartine.

Elsewhere, Zarate and chef de cuisine James Jung hit the mark with “a chicharrón-esque pork tonkatsu served with sinus-searing Japanese mustard,” but overall Pikoh’s dishes “whisper Peru when they should scream it.” Add in some service hiccups and an issue at the bar, and suddenly Arellano is not having such a great time. Still, “a stop here isn’t a mistake,” even if the critic “still yearn(s) for the scintillating ceviches Zarate served from his original stall at Mercado La Paloma.”

And, finally, the Times (Los Angeles) has it own piece out on the rebirth of the Magic Castle, following up on the other Times (New York) from earlier this week. “The Castle is pulling a new rabbit out of its hat,” says writer Jamie Feldmar, delighting in the news of chef Jason Fullilove’s arrival. The place is still all about the magic shows, but having a competent chef at the helm certainly helps.

Aduke African Cuisine. 6118 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA.

Pikoh. 11940 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA.

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