You can feel the hard work and thought that went into Nightshade the moment you step inside. The number of late-night meetings that probably took place before white marble was chosen for the tables. Never-ending video conferences discussing the positive and negative effects of cursive logos. The long-winded emails about hanging plants. A phone call with an investor that probably went something like, “People love pink right now, right? Have the waitstaff wear pink.”
By any definition, Nightshade is a well-run, attractive restaurant with interesting food that tastes good. But it also seems like it’s trying extremely hard to give us exactly what they think we want - instead of giving us something new to discover.
Hidden along a side street in the Arts District, Nightshade’s immaculately-appointed space feels like you walked into The Museum of Modern Restaurant Design. As objectively appealing as the hanging plants, gold accents, and hunter green booths are though, it’s all too expected - like someone took their 2018 West Elm wedding registry and opened up a hotel lobby restaurant. There’s nothing wrong with any of it, but in Nightshade’s attempt to look like every popular restaurant in town, we’re reminded of how much we just want to experience something different.
Of all the elements at Nightshade, the food is the most unique. You’re going to eat sunchokes in strawberry mole, tofu lasagna, and spicy rice congee with pork floss - all of which taste good. But these dishes, and others like the Szechuan hot quail, are still just versions of things you can get all over town. When you put the menu in context with the space, even the highlights feel like the result of an LA restaurant algorithm.
The larger issue with Nightshade’s menu, however, is the price point. Most plates here are fairly insubstantial, requiring you to order a lot of the menu, even if it’s just you and another person. Dishes hover around $20, and cocktails are $18, so it’s not hard to end up with the kind of bill most people reserve for a special occasion - not a Friday night date where a giant bloomin’ onion hits the table.
Nightshade has some impressive elements - mostly the food - going for it. But right now, it all adds up to an experience that’s too generic to feel truly memorable. The pink shirts do look good though.
Tom Yum Onion
You’re going to be tempted to order this dish because, as you look around the room, you’ll see a bloomin’ onion on every table. Try to resist, though. Outside of the excellent coconut dip, this is really just a big fried onion and there are much better things at Nightshade than that.
This is one of our favorite dishes at Nightshade. The mix of perfectly-roasted sunchokes and strawberry mole is the exact balance of sweet and savory you want at the beginning of a meal.
Koshihikari Rice Congee
If you come really hungry to Nightshade, make sure you order this. It’s basically a deconstructed rice porridge and one of the more substantial dishes on the menu.
This tofu and pork ragu lasagna arrives to the table looking like a million bucks. But unfortunately, the flavors are bit muted. It’s a good dish to share with the table, but not the one you’re going to walk away thinking about.
This is the one dish that we would go back to Nightshade just to eat again. And again. It’s rich, buttery, and the kind of thing you look at on your phone when you’re lonely. Also, we could drink the Cantonese curry that it comes with from a pint glass.
Szechuan Hot Quail
An obvious take on Nashville-style hot chicken, this gets points for being legitimately spicy. But by the time it hits the table at the end of your meal, it feels like a complete shot from left field. If you skip dessert (which we’d recommend, since none of them are that great), it’s an intense last bite.