Monday, August 19, 2013

Ray's and Stark Bar

Ray's and Stark Bar has been open for about two years at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. This post encompasses two meals at the establishment, one of their regular menu and one during the most recent Dine LA Restaurant Week.

We began our second visit here with a trio of cocktails, all of which were very constructed.

Seeing a drink named for the greatest filmmaker ever, I didn't have much of a choice but to begin with the Kubrick Fashioned (Elijah Craig 12yr Bourbon, spiced simple syrup, Toasted Pecan Bitters, Forbidden Bitters, lemon peel). It was a great play on the typical Old Fashioned. 

The Rose Wishes and Lavender Dreams (Gin, Château L’Afrique Côtes de Provence Rosé, St. Germain, lavender syrup, freshly squeezed lemon juice, sage) was perhaps the most interesting cocktail. Very refreshing. 

Third was the Gansta Green Point (Jameson Gold Reserve Irish Whiskey, Dolin Sweet Vermouth, 
Yellow Chartreuse, lemon peel). Good, but much more typical than the other drinks.

The amuse on our first visit was a trout mouse topped with caviar. It was a great little bite, with the salty caviar working wonderfully against the soft mouse. 

The amuse on our second visit was even better. This was a cold zucchini soup spiced with cinnamon and topped with a squash blossom. We all agreed that we could have done with a bigger bowl. 

This duck liver mouse with bing cherries, herb salad, and pistachio was one of the Dine LA appetizers. It was good, but mostly made me miss foie gras. 

Little gem lettuce salad with summer squash, pine nuts, ricotta salata, and red wine-mustard vinaigrette. Great salad. The ingredients were all very fresh and there was just enough dressing to coat everything without overpowering the flavors.

We had octopus dishes on both visits. The first rendition was served with burrata cheese, broccoli di cicco, and Fresno chili sauce. The Dine LA version came with heirloom tomatoes, olives, feta cheese, cucumber, and squid ink skordhalia. I preferred the first version. I thought the flavors played off each other better than did the typically Greek ingredients found in the second. 

To go with the appetizers during our second visit, we also ordered a bowl of shishito peppers, prepared simply with olive oil and maldon salt. 

Agnolotti on both visits as well. The fist rendition had a truffled rice filing with Hen of the Wood mushrooms, hazelnuts, wild arugula, and porcini sauce. The Dine LA version had a corn-mascarpone filling with hazelnuts, pea tendrils, and lime brown butter sauce. The pasta was well cooked and of the flavors worked in both versions. 

Guinea hen with preserved orange puree, bacon, winter savory, Anson Mills polenta, romanesco, garlic, and chard. This was my first time trying guinea hen. The flavor is much deeper than chicken, but it lacked the fattiness of duck. 

Manila clams with sweet vermouth, basil, shallots, garlic, and grilled bread. This was my entree for Dine LA. I was a little disappointed in it. The broth and bread were great, but the clams were one note. This could have used another element, perhaps something to had a little spice. 

Pork belly was also represented on both trips, and with good reason. First with parsnip puree, farro, forest mushrooms, cippolini onions, and black vinegar. Second with farro, santa rosa plums, apricot mostarda, charred broccoli, toasted almonds, and black vinegar. I highly recommend ordering the pork belly. Both versions were cooked wonderfully and properly crispy skin and a good amount of fat. I really loved the parsnip puree in the first version. 

Skirt steak with charred onion puree, mojo rojo, wood grilled scallions, sungold tomatoes. I did not try this one. My dining companion who ordered it said it was well cooked, but she did not like the charred flavor from the puree. Our server was gracious enough to replace the dish with another entree.

Dessert on the first visit was various forms of chocolate, including brownie, chocolate tuile, and chocolate covered marshmallows in a passion fruit sauce. Overall, it was too sweet for me. 

The Dine LA menu included two dessert choices First was a buttermilk panna cotta with stone fruits, bitter almond, and riseling consomme. Nothing revolutionary, but good flavord and not too sweet. 

the alternate choice was a spiced chocolate cake with rum, dulce de leche, chcolate crumble, and salted pumpkin seed ice cream. Of the five at our table, everyone ordered this except for me. They all enjoyed the dish. 

One the best features of Ray's has to be free corkage, a rare feature in the Los Angeles dining scene. I had recently returned from a trip to Romania and brought this bottle of Merlot, part of the Curtea Regala line from Crama Dobregenea Winery. This was not the typical Merlet which we usually hold in such low esteem in California. It was intensely fruity with an underlying minerality that was very food friendly. We shared a taste with our waiter, a trained sommelier, who agreed that the wine was a great choice. 

So often restaurants at places such as museums are an afterthought, present style over substance, or are designed to appeal to the masses. This is not the case with Ray'a and Stark Bar. I highly recommend a meal here if visiting LACMA (and there is always plenty of reason to visit LACMA). Also, many restaurants cheap out during Dine LA and serve substandard ingrediantes and downsized portions. This was note the case for Ray's, which is a great value during restaurant week or not. 

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