Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New Chef Shines at Ray's and Stark Bar (Mid City, Los Angeles, CA)

By: guest blogger @btsunoda

It’s been my experience that many museums don’t plan for the food and drink interests of their patrons. While visitors may be wowed by the fine art and sculptures, the food offered doesn’t quite match the experience. I recently visited Ray’s and Stark bar and I’m happy to say that I had a very different experience. Ray’s and Stark Bar is located at the LA County Museum of Art or LACMA.

They opened in 2011 and feature a Mediterranean-inspired menu includes dishes locally obtained ingredients and offerings from their wood-burning oven. They feature seasonal cocktails, a California-centric wine list, and artisan beers and spirits. While the original chef, Kris Morningstar, former sous chef Viet Pham has taken over and keeping the restaurant going strong. DSCF3940
 The restaurant is actually situated outdoors from LACMA, next to the BP Grand Entrance to the museum. It is well protected by the elements, covered to shield diners from direct sunlight and a glass partition to isolate noise from busy Wilshire boulevard. Eames-style chairs gave the interior a retro-styled look.
DSCF3953 Executive chef Viet Pham is a graduate of the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena. His mother helped him to become interested in cooking at an early age. Pham became passionate about the farm to table philosophy when he met Philip Tessier from Bouchon. He has worked at Ray’s and Stark Bar as their sous chef since they opened in 2011 and was promoted to executive chef in the spring of 2014.

Collaboration and teamwork are essential ingredients which make Ray’s and Stark and Bar successful. Viet Pham and “Dragon”, the forager, team up to decide what ultimately gets placed on the menu. Pham credited much of the success of the menu to Dragon because of the knack he has for finding the best fruits and vegetables.

The brainchild of Ray’s and Stark Bar’s water menu is Martin Riese, general manager and certified water sommelier. Flipping through the book, it read much like a wine list, only for water. The water menu included each water’s total dissolved solids, sodium, magnesium and calcium. Because water includes local minerals, it varies greatly, much like wine. Read more about the water menu.

First out of the kitchen was their housemade charcuterie which included duck rillette and truffle chicken liver.
I liberally spread the duck rillette and the truffle chicken liver over the toasted baguette slices and enjoyed both immensely.
Caviar lime (a.k.a. finger lime) and chiles mildly accentuated the taste of the mild hamachi. I think the citrus chile pairing would work well with a sparkling water such as Gerolsteiner or a beer such as the Organic Blonde from Eel River.

A dish inspired by Chef Pham's mother's recipe is the Manila Clams
While the dish was named “Manila Clams”, it was more like a Thai interpretation of a Spanish dish. Spicy pork meatballs were carefully inserted into the open shell of each clam. The coconut curry sauce that accompanied the clams worked well with the pork meatballs.

The octopus dish was one of my favorites of the evening.
The octopus was wood grilled and had a smoky flavor and had a nice crunch to it. It was accompanied with cranberry beans, lemon cucumber, Corno di Toro peppers, tomato, Maui onion and aji amarillo. I thought the consistency and the flavors worked extremely well together.

 I’ll admit I’m favoring lamb these days. Lambchetta, a take on the pork porchetta dish was one of my favorite dishes of the evening. It was served with polenta, mint, mustard greens and red onion agrodulce.

Crispy pork belly with watermelon followed next.
Pham receives outstanding marks for creativity and execution. Seeing the perfectly cubed pork belly and watermelon reminded me of how exacting sushi preparation can be. The crispy pork belly combined with the soft watermelon and fresh mint was an unexpected delight.

My favorite dish that evening was the spaghetti with Santa Barbara uni and smoked trout toe.
The pasta is housemade and was extremely fresh; combined with the crunchy buckwheat, each bite brought a lot of flavors together.
Wood fired pizza is probably what Ray’s and Stark Bar is best known for. It is made Neapolitan style with a charred crust while soft and chewy. I sampled their “LAMB”orghini Merguez which consisted of lamb sausage, provolone, niçoise olives, red onion and pomegranate molasses. It was both smoky and sweet.
 A panna cotta dessert rounded out the evening. It was made with fresh blueberries, strawberries and blackberries from Harry’s berries. The berries were surrounded with a blackberry geranium sauce. It was a light and flavorful dessert.

 Ray’s and Stark Bar partnered with LACMA and Artbites to create Cur-Ate. This is a series dedicated to the love of food and art. The next Cur-Ate event will be held on November 11 and features Japanese samurai culture. Considering how good ramen is in LA, I was impressed that Pham will create his own for one of the prix fixe offerings. He admitted that he’s been working on perfecting it.

Ray’s Stark and Bar 
5905 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA
90036 (323) 857-6180
Ray's Restaurant and Stark Bar on Urbanspoon

 Disclaimer: This event was hosted.


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