L.A.'s landscape is currently crowded with chefs that trump up, twist, and even torture great ingredients. On the other side, there are plenty set on coaxing inherent assets from within to let ingredients speak for themselves. Depending on whose hands are doing the massaging these days, both M.O.s can lead to either enchanting effects of sublime simplicity or flavor-expansive artistry, while many attempts at both styles fall flat on their faces. At Post & Beam, Govind Armstrong demonstrates a remarkable amount of restraint, working furiously for a packed house without breaking a sweat, and doing just enough to let his excellent ingredients shine on their own strengths and speak from within.
Stocked with fresh supplies from the South Central Farmer's collective and buoyed by the restaurant's own backyard garden, Armstrong's execution can be somewhat disarming in their transparent approach, such as the startling moment you taste the chef's grilled octopus, unadorned with anything save for the flavor of wood from his oven and a squeeze of preserved lemon, letting the animal's innate lush and creamy character stand on its own.
Armstrong does much the same for his small hand-stretched pizzas, thin discs of flavor-packed dough rimmed with a crackly crust that permits a heap of wild mushrooms and sporadic dollops of California goat cheese to present their best selves. Larger plates like cast-iron chicken, exhaling the pure flavor of poultry, and boneless beef short ribs graced only with fresh horseradish, follow a similar model, allowing natural flavors to gleam alongside Southern-influenced sides like collard greens beefed up with ham hocks, smoked in-house, and farmers market adherent favorites like brocolini charred with the taste of that wood and a slight polish of chili and sweet garlic.
Last week, New York chef Marcus Samuelsson stopped by Post & Beam with friends over dinner, just one of the many diners filling this noisy, open space stripped down to its basic structural elements and named for Baldwin Hills' mid-century architectural aesthetic. While Samuelsson and Armstrong may not have the most in common stylistically and have very different menus and approaches at their respective new restaurants (Samuelsson at Harlem's Red Rooster), both share a mirrored mission statement of bringing chef-focused, pure cooking into neighborhoods long ignored by chef-driven concepts and served steadily by a glut of fast options.
Much has been made of owner Brad Johnson and Armstrong's aim to bring Baldwin Hills a healthier, more soulful option than what's usually found here. No doubt, their move rings more than a little of a food revolution for South L.A. But it would be a shame to focus too much on where Post & Beam is. Straightforward, undisguised, and alive, Post & Beam is not solely an engaging introduction for South L.A., but a pure and mighty spotlight of Southern California's best for the region at large. From the locally-grown crops to the Cali beers on draft to the slight down-home twang we prize around our own slice of the South, the restaurant is energized by a passionate, pronounced South L.A. local hitting the nail on the head of how we really want to eat these days.
Check out what Armstrong is cooking in our slideshow of Post & Beam.