I pretty much do most things on a whim. Saturday-night’s whim led me to an opening that meant my friend, Sophie and I found seats at the counter of chef Gary Menes' pop-up restaurant, Le Comptoir at whacky, Tiara Cafe in Downtown L.A..
Hailing from Long Beach, CA, Chef Menes has knocked around Los Angeles kitchens, Patina (under Joachim Splichal) and Melisse as well as a stint at The French Laundry in Yountville. But you can read his bio anywhere. What I can tell you is how friendly and welcoming and relaxed he and his line were. We sat across the counter from the open kitchen, happily conversing with them all.
The high-ceilinged dining room feels vast and empty as Chef Menes chooses to make available really only the twelve seats at the counter, inches from where they are preparing the food. I like this. I almost always choose to sit at a counter if there is one available anywhere I go.
There are two seatings, 6pm and 8pm. It is a five-course, prix fixe menu with a wine-pairing for an additional rate. Full details available here.
We were kept in-bread the entire meal, with Chef Menes’ sourdough which he bakes with an 18 year old starter I read somewhere. It was moist, soft and squishy inside which I LOVED. The base crust was a little too black for my taste.
Mushroom Croquette on Pesto Aioli
The crust was perfect, the interior Duxelles (mixture of finely-chopped mushrooms, onions, butter and herbs reduced to a paste) was creamy and delicious.
Okinawan sweet potato veloute, yogurt, green garlic, farinette and herbs.
French foie gras terrine, dried cherry compote and saba (an additional $18).
I went with the foie gras and, even though the the sweet potato veloute was delicate and velvety (I tasted Sophie’s), I am glad I did. The foie gras was truly exceptional.
Sunny side-up egg, young lettuce, herbs, jus vert.
Asperge vert et eouf sur la plat, reggiano, beurre noissette and citron (an additional $8).
The interactive egg dish was adorable, cooking before us in a cast-iron cocotte, to which we were to add the pat of butter and the assortment of herbs ourselves. The entire dish was topped with a sorrel jus by a roving server. This showy little dish was probably my least-favorite, flavor-wise.
A veggie plate - beets, pickled onion petals, turnips, radishes, kohlrabi, carrots, pears, grapes, fava beans, squash and celtuce.
House-made fettuccini and black winter truffles (an additional $20).
Most unusually, I chose pasta. I did however try some of Sophie’s vegetables which not only presented beautifully, but were perfection in their simplicity. The fettuccini were light and bright, creamy and al dente. The truffles were full without being overly pungent.
Flavors of tangerine beef broccoli - pea tendrils, broccoli, black forbidden rice, caramelized onion jus, tangerine.
Poitrine de pore - slow-braised heritage pork belly, stone-ground grits, apples, greens and white wine-braised-leeks (an additional $8).
If my husband had been with me and witnessed my pasta order, he’d have been a little suspicious. Hearing me order the beef over the pork belly, he’d have been certain someone else was inhabiting my body. So glad I ordered the beef. It and the foie gras were definitely the stand outs of the entire dinner. The beef/ broccoli flavor was at once exotic and subtle. The rice was off the charts, with such wonderful depth of flavor.
Chocolate, blood orange, vanilla tuille, sour cream, pistachio, graham cracker and mint.
Cheese plate - Hooks 10 year cheddar, buffalo blue and Nuvola di Pecora (an additional $12).
I chose the chocolate, of course. It was good. Each little component of the canvas was a sweet, lovely little morsel. The standout of all the sweet things however, was the candied pistachios from Santa Barbara - heavenly.
We wrapped the night with a mug of Handsome Coffee’s, “Sau Judas” single-origin pour-over, worked extremely attentively by Chef Menes himself who utilized a thermometer and timer, taking his barista role quite seriously. This particular weekend, Handsome were also giving away little bags of beans to guests. I left with coffee in-hand and a belly filled with the perfect amount of food.
Le Comptoir is open Thursday to Saturday and they’re set to be there until July, 2012. You may make reservations over at the Le Comptoir website.