The lamb shoulder is a glorious pound-and-a-half of meat, served with green harissa, yogurt, herbs, pickles and pita bread.
In an effort to challenge the culture of going to a restaurant, ordering food for yourself and not sharing it, chef Ted Hopson wants you to interact with your dining companions at The Bellwether in Los Angeles.
“I got bored of the idea of an entrée,” says Hopson. “It’s so not interesting to me.”
At his Studio City restaurant, Hopson serves inventive “share a little” small plates that take you around the world. There’s a hamachi crudo Caesar, pork-and-beef meatballs (a rare nod on the menu to Hopson’s Italian heritage) and pozole verde with braised pork cheeks. Hopson makes avocado hummus with fresh za’atar. His tempura cauliflower pops with Thai flavors, including fish sauce.
You can have a fantastic meal here by ordering a bunch of dishes that might feel like they don’t belong on the same table. Hopson has figured out how to make a vast range of global flavors come together harmoniously.
Family-style dining is the point, so Hopson isn’t restricting himself to small plates.
“I wanted to do something big,” Hopson says of the grilled lamb shoulder, which he recently added to the menu.
The shoulder is a glorious pound-and-a-half of meat, served with green harissa, yogurt, herbs, pickles and pita bread.
“I love that lamb has a strong flavor,” Hopson says. “You can do so much to it. You can use all these big, bold flavors that chicken can’t take, that beef can’t take.”
The Bellwether’s lamb is rubbed with allspice, cinnamon, coriander and fennel seeds. The harissa is made with fresh chiles and fresh herbs. The yogurt offers a cooling element.
“I want it to be communal,” Hopson says. “I want you to dip it in the spiciness and then dip it in the yogurt.”
He also wants you to take in the colors and flavors and textures of the pickled fennel, scarlet turnips and turmeric cauliflower. He wants you to tear apart the herbs.
Hopson is an Italian-American chef showcasing a Middle Eastern-style lamb dish, but some of the inspiration for this large-format masterpiece comes from Asian restaurants. That’s a pretty good summation of L.A. food in 2017.
“I love Korean barbecue when you go with a group of people, and you’re talking about what you’re eating,” Hopson says. “There’s banchan on the table, you’re dipping meat into different sauces, you’re engaging with people at the table.”
Hopson also remembers a meal at Hawker Fare in San Francisco.
“They gave you these huge pieces of herbs,” he says. “I love the brashness of it. It’s nothing pretty. It’s herbs that I’m just ripping and dipping in shit, and I love it.”
You’ll be using your hands when you eat Hopson’s lamb, so we should also let you know that The Bellwether serves what might be the best French fries in L.A. The fries go through a three-and-half-day process that includes brining, rinsing, steaming and freezing before they’re put into a 400-degree fryer.
Because the fries are already cooked before they’re fried, the goal at the end is just making the outside crispy. The result is a fry that’s like “an airy baked potato inside.”
The fries are served with both chive crème fraîche and a great hot sauce made with fermented carrots and habaneros. It’s like having two extra dips for your lamb and pita, which adds even more deliciousness to your large-format feast.