Get ready for some intriguing new flavors from the neighborhood French bistro in the Arts District tomorrow. Camphor, from Lock & Key owner Cyrus Batchan, brings two seasoned chefs who offer extensive pastry experience, classic French training and a passion for reinventing familiar dishes in the former Nightshade space.
These chefs are Max Boonthanakit and Lijo George, who met while working at the famous starred restaurant Blue by Alain Ducasse in Bangkok. Boonthanakit’s resume includes time at José Andrés Bazaar and also received the 2019 Eater Young Gun (now Eater New Guard) as pastry chef at Nightshade. George recently moved to Los Angeles – his first time in the United States – and the couple collaborated on the Camphor menu. One look and he’s reading classic French, but there’s something else at play in the kitchen. The duo rework the dishes by bringing brighter ingredients, while borrowing from their South Asian origins and their long experience in the kitchen.
Take the amuse-bouche, a palate-cleansing lentil puff similar to an Indian panipuri with cooked green chickpeas, mint, parsley, basil and aquafaba. To be clear, Camphor’s menu is not a mix of South Asian and French flavors. But there are the little gunpowder shrimp that give off a subtle heat.
A glance down the page, and there’s a traditional beef tartare with herb tempura, or a delicately prepared lobster with coral bisque. Boonthanakit and George have opted to remove the mussel shells for diners while serving them with fries, and the delicate chicken with thyme and jus will easily satisfy. Those familiar with Boonthanakit’s legendary desserts will be eager to try new creations like savarin drizzled with hazelnut chocolate meringue and refreshing lemon meyer marzipan ice cream.
For cocktails, former Lock & Key bartender Andrew Paniagua whips up standouts like the $30 Martini de Provence, a generous combination of Mulholland vodka, infused with French olive oil and herbs de provence, pear, Dolin Blanc vermouth and saline brandy with a sidecar of olives, goat cheese, Peruvian chili and cippolini onion. Hawaiian-born wine director Kalani Lau curated Camphor’s collection that includes bottles not found on any other list in Southern California. (Note: Lau is obsessed with white Burgundy and has gotten a few limited vintages.) And in a nice old-school twist, Camphor will present an after-dinner traveling cart.
Camphor is open Wednesday to Monday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Reserve a table via Resy.