Mar Vista is changing — you can tell by the quality of the meat on the rotisserie

By Mike Ryan

The rotisserie pork served on cheesy grits and topped with braised greens and a fried egg is a must-order dish Photo by  Mike Ryan

The rotisserie pork served on cheesy grits and topped with braised greens and a fried egg is a must-order dish
Photo by Mike Ryan

The status quo of Mar Vista has been in a state of flux for years.

It’s hard to pinpoint when the first shots of gentrification were fired, but the start of the Mar Vista Farmers Market in 2006 was an initial sign. As the neighborhood’s more modest cottages are being torn down to make way for multimillion-dollar Modernesque blocks of concrete and glass, even the no-frills Mar Vista Lanes is “upgrading” to a flashy new laser-light bowling extravaganza. There goes the neighborhood.

Bad news if you are a renter.

Good news if you are a foodie, though.

After all, gentrification and a burgeoning food scene go hand in hand. Now all roads lead to Venice and Grandview boulevards as the hipster headquarters of Mar Vista — a hot spot for Status Kuo to set up shop.

Status Kuo is by no means just for the cool crowd, though. With rotisserie meals (dine in or take out) and even a kids menu, it’s geared toward families as well.

The restaurant is also a departure from owner/chef David Kuo’s past employers, which include culinary juggernauts the Charlie Palmer Group and Jean George Vongerichten Management. (Anytime your name is followed by “group” or something like it, you’ve gone corporate full tilt.) Now his own boss, anytime Kuo wants to change the menu he can simply walk outside his door — where the farmers market happens on Sundays — and do it.

The mainstays of Status Kuo’s menu revolve around the rotisserie. You see and smell it as you walk in. Racks of chickens rotate on spits. A hunk of pork the size of a small duffle bag rests on a cutting board behind a glass barrier.

As a matter of opinion, the dishes at Status Kuo with the least amount of fussing are also the best eats.

The rotisserie chicken I had here was roasted to perfection. Crispy seasoned skin gave way to moist succulent meat. It was tender to the bite, but not completely fall-off-the-bone. It’s accompanied with a salad for $17, or for $18 you can get a whole chicken a la carte. Seems like a no-brainer.

Even better was the rotisserie pork, though. The brunch menu offers it on a bed of cheesy grits topped with braised greens and a fried egg. Like the chicken it was perfectly tender, but the outer ring of the circular slice yielded a crackling skin. It was outstanding alone and a total indulgence with an oozing egg yolk.

Off the rotisserie, however, it’s hit or miss.

My hopes for the fried chicken were high, but the batter was completely overwhelming. The plate was served as two indiscernible bricks of fry. Breaking it all away reminded me of when Bill Murray freed Sigourney Weaver from the dog statue at the end of “Ghostbusters.” I digress, but the point is that under this plating of batter a third of an inch thick gave way to soft skin that exposed naked chicken. It was total carnage and a real mess.

The Taiwanese Sunday Gravy had its merits and some subtle setbacks. Atop heaps of pasta laid a hearty helping of pickled mustard greens that added bite, the lime on the plate added bright, and a liberal garnishing of cilantro added, well, cilantro. I might have subbed in basil.

The dish’s house-made pasta base, though, was beautiful. And the scooped design of the radiatori pasta optimally caught the savory gravy and succulent morsels of braised pork. But when the gravy well ran dry, all that was left was cooled-down pasta. Order it as a share plate — just make sure you get first dibs before the gravy runs out.

At most places, first-come/first-served seating usually means a wait on a busy night. At capacity, the small space inside Status Kuo becomes downright intimate: for you, for your date, for the people next to you and the kitchen staff. A long row of tables share one side of Status Kuo’s narrow room and require some shuffling that makes for less-than-smooth entrances and exits. The other half is all kitchen, with a small service counter situated toward the back. And getting to the bathroom means walking through a dishwashing and prep area.

There’s a little more breathing room during lunch hour, and all the aforementioned excellently prepared meat lends itself to the makings of a fantastic sandwich.

The tri-tip variety served on a fresh ciabatta roll is satisfying but, I must warn you, contains sinus-clearing amounts of horseradish. It’s accompanied by a house salad of mixed greens, jicama, pickled onions and pepitas that is frankly good enough to stand on its own.

Two brunch dishes cost $31, while our dinner of a sandwich and two entree plates was $52. That’s not exactly breaking the bank, but mind you this is sans alcohol.

Status Kuo’s liquor license is on the way, I’m told, but it’s beyond me where they are going to fit the wine racks.

At the moment, this purveyor of fine rotisserie meats is a very good fit for a neighborhood on the move. Stay tuned to see how things develop — both Status Kuo and Mar Vista, that is.

Status Kuo 3809 Grand View Blvd., Mar Vista (310) 574-7610 eatstatuskuo.com

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