June 25, 2011

Fooding around in LA with Laurent Quenioux at Starry Kitchen (Los Angeles)

There is probably hardly anybody who wouldn’t agree that music, art, books or food are an important part of our life and that everybody is enjoying it in one way or the other. We all like to listen to music or read a book to relax, visit a museum or gallery to look at paintings or remember fondly certain dishes made by our parents when we were younger. But once you start asking different people what are their true favorite bands, artists or restaurants there will hardly be any agreement and everybody has their favorite band or restaurant often based on certain memories or connections they feel to them. Over the years we have visited many different restaurants and often came repeatedly back to some because we like them so much. But if anybody would ask us what was our favorite restaurant over the last 1-2 years our answer would be without doubt – Bistro LQ.

It is always hard to describe what makes for us a good dish to become special or a chef to stand out, but with Chef Laurent we felt from the very first visit at Bistro LQ a unique connection/resonance how he interprets food, creativity and execution which is very close to our idea of a perfect meal. Rooted in French cooking techniques and preparations he hasn’t limited himself to any style or country anymore and takes ingredients, flavors and conceptions from anywhere and combines them in his own, unique way. He constantly challenges common notions which flavors and ingredients shouldn’t work together and every dish tells its own story, and it is quite stimulating for us to try to come up with our own interpretation which is part of the appeal of Bistro LQ. And so it is no surprise that Bistro LQ became our second “living room” on our frequent trips to LA and that GM Eric Bouty even mentioned to us that we were among the most frequent guests of the restaurant. Unfortunately excellent cooking and good reviews don’t guarantee success especially if you are cooking far away from the mainstream in a style that might be better fitting with restaurants in San Francisco. This together with issues with the landlord led to the closing of Bistro LQ in March of this year – a very sad day for us.

After a very short time Chef Laurent appeared back on the culinary scene as Executive Chef at Vertical Wine Bistro in Pasadena, at collaborations with Chef Walter Manzke, and perhaps most interesting with a pop-up like concept LQ Fooding Around in LA at Starry Kitchen.

What appears at first as an odd combination is actual a nicely matching one. Not unlike Laurent Quenioux the owners of Starry Kitchen, Thi and Nguyen Tran, took an unconventional approach to realize their ideas. Starry Kitchen originally started in their Hollywood apartment in which they served home cooked meals. Once their home restaurant became too successful it got shut down by the health inspection for not having a commercial kitchen. Despite this setback they didn’t give up but decided in the beginning of 2010 to open their “official” restaurant in Downtown LA. Starry Kitchen serves lunch throughout the week but only dinner on Thursdays and Fridays, and so it was a perfect match to have a Bistro LQ pop up from Sundays to Wednesdays. And it was no question for us to visit LQ Fooding as soon as we had heard about it.

Starry Kitchen is located in downtown LA at the California Plaza

The restaurant has more a feel of a lunch place, but the team around Nguyen did a great job to make it a very welcoming and relaxing place for dinner as well.

Starry Kitchen has a partly open kitchen and you could see Chef Laurent and his staff busy at work.

A few items like the water glasses seemed to have come from Bistro LQ as well as their signature cucumber-lemon water.

The bread from Bread Lounge was perhaps the weakest part of the meal but good enough to sop up some of the sauces throughout the night. It was served with good olive oil instead of the more common butter.

Amuse Bouche: Sea snail, soy butter
French meals often start with escargots, but the whole dinner had Asian influences and so it was just fitting to serve a sea snail as a starter and accentuating it by pairing it with soy butter instead of garlic butter. The sea snail had a slight rubbery texture not unlike geoduck and tasted sweet and was faintly reminiscent of the ocean.

1st Course: Summer vegetables, hamachi, lemon miso curd, black sesame soil, yuzu kosho, herbs and sea weeds
The hamachi had an impressive marbeling and a smooth and buttery taste. At first the summer vegetables, like peas, corn, fava beans, seemed like an unusual pairing but with their natural sweetness and the tartness of the lemon miso curd and yuzu kosho the whole dish was perfectly balanced. The sea weed added an interesting textural crunch to the dish which reminded us of a spring dish.

2nd Course: Carlsbad oysters and mussels, kimchi sabayon, Chinese celery, cauliflower
Both the mussels and oysters were very tender and had a similar consistency as the cauliflower. The kimchi sabayon had a slightly sour flavor but also some hidden spicyness which kicked in after a short while. The fried Chinese celery leaves added an unexpected flavor which brightened up the dish.

3rd Course: Mu shu foie gras
Mu shu is a staple of Chinese restaurants in the US which are heavily Westernized. It often consists of shredded pork and vegetables wrapped in a pancake. In Laurent’s playful interpretation, the pork was replaced by a perfectly seared piece of foie gras. Foie gras is often paired with strong sweet or savory flavors to counterbalance its richness but in this dish the subtle flavors of the vegetables and the hoisin sauces created a nice balance so that the foie gras was always noticeable in every bite but it never overpowered the other ingredients. We easily could have eaten several of these wraps.

4th Course: Squab, veal feet, ginger cone boudin noir, mashed potatoes, apple
This dish featured two ingredients Chef Laurent used regularly at Bistro LQ – squab and boudin noir. The outstanding boudin noir was always a highlight and this was no exception. Served in a cone with mashed potatoes and apple puree it reminded us on dishes from Alsace. The squab which can easily be dry and tough was cooked perfectly. Both main ingredients were brought together by the veal feet which were small morsels of gelatinous meatiness.

5th Course: Rhubarb, hazelnut soil, curacao cubes, sour cream sorbet
Rhubarb has often a very tart flavor but here it was cooked until tender with spices like cardamom and was in itself already tasty. The sour cream sorbet mellowed the tartness even more and proved to be the right balance - a strong finish for the tasting menu.

Tasting menus at Bistro LQ always provided rollercoaster rides through the culinary world with its different flavors, and this pop up incarnation was no difference. You often read the menu and wonder how these flavors could work together but once you taste the dish it becomes clear and obvious and you wonder why nobody else might have thought about that before. It’s not very often that we have a tasting menu in which every single dish worked, and after every single course we talk about that we wish we could get a second portion. Before this event we were curious if a pop up of Bistro LQ would change anything how Chef Laurent would cook, but beside a bit more Asian influences than before, perhaps as an homage to his hosts, the pop-up concept was an extension of his regular Bistro LQ. The ambience and service was even more relaxed and laid back than before but was always professional and fitting for the occasion. It was interesting to see the energy of Nguyen while he talked with every guest and explained different dishes, and hopefully even once LQ Fooding around LA stops at Starry Kitchen Nguyen will continue do similar concepts in the future as he, his team and the location seem to be a good match for such events. He definitely made us curious to stop by at Starry Kitchen itself in the near future.

It was great to eat dishes from Chef Laurent after the painfully long break since March, and we realized how much we missed it that we seriously considered to ask for a place on the patio of the restaurant for the sold out second seating at that night to start the menu over once more. Not unlike as with your favorite band it’s nice to listen to a single to remind yourself why you like them but what you are really interested in is to be able to listen to a complete LP/CD to be able to really dive into the music. Restaurants are no different and pop up events are a welcoming “snack” but what we really hope for is to have the possibility to again taste full blown tasting menus with Chef Laurent, and it was great to hear from him after dinner in the kitchen that he is planning to open a restaurant in Pasadena. We can’t wait for that to happen and will be among his first guests !

350 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 617-3474


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