Don’t worry, barbecue fans: He’s got some great sandwiches for lunch.
L.A. meat maven Adam Perry Lang thinks a lot about beef. He thinks about how aging beef is as much about environment as it is about time. He thinks about how the debate over grain-fed vs. grass-fed beef is tired and how there’s more to consider when it comes to the nutrition of animals. He thinks about “fire management,” how to slow-cook meat and how to “burn clean smoke.” He thinks about how “the whole story of barbecue owing itself to four regions is somewhat passé” because there’s been a globalization of open-fire cooking that has blurred the lines. He thinks about chef’s knives and the steak knives you need to properly cut into a rib eye without tearing it apart.
But when he’s making knives at his workshop and test kitchen in Lawndale, he thinks about nothing at all. This is his craft and his meditation, when he’s pounding steel with a hammer on an anvil. This is his religion and his release, when he’s forging the knives, when metal and heat come together to create the perfect cutting instrument.
Knife-making, you’ll soon learn, has been a big part of the journey toward Lang opening his first L.A. restaurant, in the historic Taft Building at the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street. He plans to debut APL in spring 2018. The Hollywood restaurant is the culmination of a meaty career that’s included Daisy May’s BBQ in New York, Carnevino in Las Vegas and Barbecoa in London, the latter of which he opened with Jamie Oliver. Lang’s also a classically trained chef with fine-dining experience (Le Cirque and Daniel in New York, as well as Restaurant Guy Savoy in Paris) who might be best known in L.A. for slinging barbecue at pop-ups in his pal Jimmy Kimmel’s backlot.
“You’ll see my influences of where I’ve kind of grown up and gone through my schooling, up to this day,” Lang says of the food he’ll be serving at APL. “I have every French influence. I love classics, but I like to imagine classics as if they were created by someone who had access to the same pantry I have.”
Let’s get to the meat of the matter.
“At the end of the day, it’s a steakhouse because my passion is beef,” Lang says of APL.
A lot of people expected Lang to open a barbecue restaurant, so they might be surprised at what APL is going to be. But they’ll also be happy that Lang isn’t abandoning the Texas-style barbecue that made him a legend in Kimmel’s backlot.
So I recently headed to Lawndale, where Lang and his team prepared a lunch that included simply grilled 100-day, dry-aged steak alongside short ribs that were started at 3:30 a.m. and cooked over logs for more than seven hours.
During this meal, which happened after a quick knife-making lesson, Lang fleshed out what to expect at APL, beef and knives and all.
APL will serve many kinds of steak.
“You’ll know you’re in a place specializing in beef,” Lang says of APL. “There’s an insane dry-aging room downstairs. We’re making a massive commitment to it and the sourcing.”
The dry-aging room, what Lang likes to call “an environmental chamber,” will be used for all kinds of beef. Lang likes California Holsteins and Black Angus beef from the Midwest. He’s also found good cattle in Utah.
“As we get more and more confident, we can get more and more adventurous,” Lang says of sourcing a variety of beef, both in terms of the breed and maturity of cattle.
All the meat will be butchered on-site. Lang won’t be using steaks that have been aged by anyone else. He’s noticed other restaurants that will order, say, 25 tomahawk chops that are ready to grill.
“The meat’s sometimes good, the meat’s sometimes not good,” Lang says. “The thing that’s really missing is the connection. At a certain point, what makes it better is the cooks’ and chefs’ connection to that food. We have a saw, we have a dry-aging room. We like to butcher meat.”
When it come to aging meat, “I have all these little tricks,” Lang says. “The best thing I can relate it to is going to a cheese cave in France.”
What Lang means is that small changes in humidity and airflow can result in a totally different product. It’s about coaxing flavor and funk in subtle ways.
And then it’s about letting the meat speak for itself. Dinner at APL could simply be some dry-aged steak with a salad featuring hand-picked herbs and aged vinegar.
But there will be a lot more than steak.
“The beef short rib, for example, I want to serve it as a large-format for let’s say two to four people,” Lang says. “Sliced tableside, stacked back up on the bone, so people go to town. I’ll serve it with aligot potatoes. Right there, it’s a classic classic dish.”
It’s essentially Texas barbecue with some French flair on the side.
APL will also have a lot of fish on the menu because Lang ultimately wants to create a neighborhood restaurant. He’ll make seafood pastas. He might reimagine sole meunière, a classic dish he loves, with Santa Barbara rock cod.
He’ll showcase local vegetables and says he’ll have options if you’re a vegan. Lang and I talk for a bit about how a lot of New York chefs are coming to L.A. and raving about the local produce.
“I don’t care that I’ve been here for five years,” Lang says. “I still completely marvel at these markets and the weather. It amazes me that it’s taken all these people outside of California this long to come here. It’s about fucking time. Where are there better markets in the world with such extended seasonal periods?”
Barbecue fans will want to come by for grab-and-go lunch.
APL’s dining room won’t be open for lunch, but Lang will offer to-go barbecue sandwiches out of a 70-square-foot space that used to be a one-chair barbershop.
“It’s going to be almost like a New York-style pizza window,” Lang says of his grab-and-go lunch set-up.
There will be one quick and easy option, a beef sandwich Lang might sell for under $10. Then there’s a crazy sandwich, which he’ll fill with different cuts of beef, maybe prime rib eye and short rib like he served in Kimmel’s backlot. Lang’s thinking about adding another cut of meat as he considers something a little leaner and something with a “darker flavor that’s a little bit more charred.” He says he’s not afraid to charge $40 or $50 for this sandwich, because it’s going to be oversized like a Katz’s Deli monstrosity.
“I’m just going to fucking stack it,” he says. “It’s going to be just, ‘Fuck off, just let me do whatever I think.’”
Lang, who used to serve great chili out of a Daisy May’s cart in Midtown Manhattan, is also thinking about making chili dogs for lunch.
“I’m going to really work on hand-cut meat for the chili,” Lang says.
The knives will be special, of course.
Lang remembers spending a lot of time at Barbecoa trying to find the perfect knives. Some couldn’t hold an edge. Others just destroyed meat. Some were nice but cost $150 each, which made no sense financially.
After he left Barbecoa, Lang moved to L.A. and took a year off to do things like travel and attend bladesmithing school in Maine. He then set up his space in Lawndale, bought an anvil and some steel and starting making knives.
“I felt really liberated by it,” Lang says. “I’ve made more crappy knives than I have good knives, and that’s the sign you’re making knives. My instructor always used to say, ‘If you don’t have a bucket of broken blades, you’re not making knives.’”
But he knows how to consistently make good knives now, and APL will be a showcase for those knives.
“I really wanted to do a meat-centric restaurant with knives,” he says. “At the end of the day, if I could just sit there and cook beef with the perfect knife on a counter, I’d be super happy.”
He plans to make different numbered sets of maybe 100 steak knives for APL. He’s just hoping people don’t steal them.
“I’m trying to figure out ways to make them accessible but not also have me upset when one disappears,” he says. “It’s so emotional. I don’t want to be emotional. I want to be relaxed.”
Lang’s thinking about maybe starting a knife club, where you buy the steak knife you use and the restaurant has it ready for you every time you visit. He’s got some thinking to do about this.