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A Beer Geek's Guide to Asian Flavors

Chef Sang Yoon enjoys blurring borders—which might mean serving Indian-inflected tamarind chicken on a crisp Chinese noodle pancake, then pairing the dish with a Belgian ale.

In Sang Yoon's ideal world, Belgian monks would bring Trappist ales from the monastery to the corner bar, and Sichuan peppercorns and shishito peppers would be available at the 24-hour convenience store down the street. The Trappist-ale part of this won't surprise anyone: Yoon is a renowned craft-beer advocate, serving close to four dozen favorites (along with terrific burgers) at both branches of his Los Angeles bar, Father's Office. This spring, the Korean-born chef will finally express his love for Asian food at his first actual restaurant—"with waiters and everything," he says. It's called Lukshon, a take on the Yiddish word for "noodles," in honor of a woman he refers to as his surrogate Jewish grandmother, who loved Chinese food.

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Yoon has eaten his way across Korea, India, China, Indonesia and Japan, both as a kid in L.A. and as an adult between cooking stints in France under Joël Robuchon and Alain Ducasse. Lukshon's menu will reflect those travels. "Basically, I drew a big circle around all of Asia and said, 'Anything's fair game,' " Yoon explains. "I'm not going to say, 'This is an Indonesian dish' or 'That's an Indian one.' I'm just looking at the entire region as one big pantry." That's why he tosses shrimp with tingly Sichuan peppercorns and mung bean noodles that remind him of Korea, and serves tangy, Indian-inflected tamarind chicken with a crispy Chinese noodle pancake. It hardly matters where the flavors are from, as long as they taste good together.

For his beer list, however, Yoon will turn not to Asia but to Belgium. "The range of flavors in Asian cuisine is so broad," he says. "Belgian ales have the range to match." While all beer is made of malted grains, yeast, water and hops, ales are generally brewed more quickly and at higher temperatures than lagers or stouts, making them brighter and more complex. Though barely bigger than L.A., Belgium has 100-plus breweries producing everything from malty dubbels to grassy saisons. Its global influence is huge. "The biggest trend in U.S. craft brewing right now is replicating Belgian styles," Yoon says.

Whether inspired by Belgium or Korea, above all Yoon hopes Lukshon will introduce Americans to something new. "I think people are bored with soy sauce and miso," he says. "They want bolder flavors that will challenge their ideas about Asian foods." What follows are eight iconoclastic Asian dishes, each paired with a different Belgian ale.



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Published February 2010
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