After triumphing on TV, Mei Lin traveled the world to concept Nightshade in Downtown L.A.
More than four years after winning Top Chef season 12, chef Mei Lin has opened her first restaurant, Nightshade, in Los Angeles’ Downtown Arts District. What took so long? Well, for one, she did some traveling. And for the former sous chef at Michael Voltaggio’s now-shuttered ink. on La Cienega, that meant mainly eating — everything from street food in Korea to the wildly experimental menu at Noma’s recent Yucatan residency — to glean ideas for her restaurant-to-be, developed with investors Francis Miranda and Cyrus Batchan of No. 8.
A confident, eclectic cook, she loves mixing up the flavors she encountered in places like China, Japan and Vietnam with the avant-garde techniques she mastered in ink. and Spago’s kitchens. “It was important to me that each dish could stand on its own and make an impression,” she says. That includes her mapo tofu lasagna layered with tofu cream and pork ragu spiked with Sichuan peppercorns and prickly ash.
Lin’s deft design nous is writ large in every detail, from the emerald green velvet banquettes to the handcarved wooden spoons and exquisite ceramics.
“For my style of cooking, presentation is very important,” she says. Philadelphia’s Felt + Fat made the cream stoneware tray set with a quirky teapot, creamer and teacup. Meanwhile, Lin turned to two L.A. companies for some unique serving plates: Match Stoneware for a roast duck platter based on her own design and Ren Vois for subtly marbled clay ceviche bowls.
With Oregon’s Union Wine Co. Lin developed a riesling-based wine cooler with notes of lychee, black tea and lemongrass. And with master tea blender Tony Tellin of Steven Smith Teamaker in Portland, Ore., she fine-tuned a quartet of bespoke teas sourced from across Asia.
Taking time off to taste-test was a canny move for Lin. Now she’s back at the stoves, parlaying her travels into Los Angeles’ hottest reservation to book right now. 923 E. Third St., Ste. 109, L.A., 213-626-8888; nightshadela.com.
Words by S. IRENE VIRBILA.