First Look: Little Trouble

See and be seen at the new Westside noodle bar and cocktail lounge

Walking into the new Westside bar Little Trouble feels like entering a dark, gritty, back-alley bar in Chinatown; that is, after handing keys to the valet, walking past a bevy of fancy shops and walking under Ford Fry's posh new steakhouse. Whether the new joint from the team behind Victory Sandwich bar is a restaurant, a club, or a bar is a tough call. It's easier to just say, "It's cool."

Little Trouble has no signage. Instead, a long concrete tunnel ending at a sizable neon emblem summons one from street view. From the entrance, Little Trouble breaks off into two sections: to the left is the bar area and to the right is a dining area and a club-like lounge section with low tables and benches. Reflected neon comes at you from every direction. It has both an industrial imperialism vibe and a futuristic noir feel.

Melissa Allen, co-executive chef of Victory Brands used her experience cooking at Miso Izakaya to forge a street-food-like menu of Asian snacks that go well with cocktails. It's simple, fun food. The meat on a stick section of five includes a small, braised pork meatball with strong lemongrass flavors ($5) and chewy but nicely charred baby octopus ($7). Both dumpling choices are stellar. Steamed Thai beef ($8) bundles are filled with minced, tender beef, scallions, cilantro, and a mild chile with a tart and slightly salty dipping sauce. The golden fried crab dumplings ($9) give way to creamy mascarpone and zesty lemon with bits of crab as you crunch into them. Choose between pork or beef buns ($5) or get both. They are snack sized.

There are salty bites that go well with libations. A pile of fresno-honey pork rinds ($6) easily satisfies a group of three. Finger-sized, blistered shishito peppers ($6) topped with flakes of sea salt are flawlessly roasted. Tempura selections ($11) change with what is in season and come lightly battered and fried.

Two dishes at Little Trouble could be considered entrée sized. On my visit, the cold ramen ($8) was light and refreshing with brightly pickled carrots and daikon (radish). Noodle filled bowls of hot ramen ($14) had a curry and coconut snapper broth, with peppers, celery, mushrooms, and topped with an egg.

The wells of the wooden L-shaped bar sit a few inches lower than seating, which makes it easy to watch the drink-making action below. The wall behind the bar looks like it was made out of a shipping container emblazoned with the logo of fictitious "Super Heavy Industries."

With a sister establishment like the now-defunct Paper Plane, one would assume the cocktail game would be strong. It is. Try the Old Fashioned riff called Improved Whiskey Cocktail stirred with rye, bitters, maraschino liqueur, and absinthe. The Found Art with mezcal and rye is a smoky, layered sipper. If you're with a group in the lounge area, it's fun to choose from the selection of highball cocktails, which can be ordered individually or in portions serving two to four. My party liked the bitter, botanical profiles of the Green Girl made with aromatic genepy, tequila, earthy sage, lime, and tonic ($10 for two people/$36 for four). Bartenders also know the classics and weren't fazed when we ordered a Last Word, swapping the gin for smoky mezcal.

The beer list is small but carefully chosen with a few locals like 3 Taverns' Night on Ponce and Creature Comforts' Tropicalia. Emergency Drinking Beer, the collaboration beer of from Paul Calvert (formerly of Victory Brands) and Wild Heaven, is also available. Sapporo is the only beer on tap. The wine list holds a couple of whites, a couple of reds, a sparkling, and a rosé — all European in origin and all easy food wines.

Little Trouble feels like walking onto the set of an '80s sci-fi flick. There aren't billboards on blimps floating by, but this place is a little slice of Blade Runner. It's more than a bar, but it doesn't quite feel like a full-on, sit-down dinner restaurant either. The snacks are flavorful and easy to share. Between the buns and bowls and stuff on sticks, the moody new lounge succeeds at serving all the stuff you crave when drinking. It's definitely a place to go if you're looking for a dark, neon-filled change of pace, or if the night's objective is to see and be seen.

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