Grace Report (quite long)
Last week, my boyfriend and I celebrated our 2 year anniversary by having dinner at Grace. We considered several restaurants that we've been wanting to try (Lucques, Jar, All'Angelo) but we were swayed by what some on this board have touted as the "best single dish in LA" (the wild boar tenderloin). We also visit BLD occasionally for brunch and have enjoyed the food. Because of time constraints (and also because we wanted to try specific menu items) we chose not to do the tasting. Below is a rundown of the meal.
He ordered the foie gras; I opted for the pork belly (another storied dish).
Foie gras was delectable for five or six bites; however, the portion was gargantuan. Though I suppose this is a pro for some, I felt it was too much of a good thing. (This was a foreshadowing of things to come.) The raspberry gelee successfully cut the richness of the foie gras at first, and the pistachio cocoa crust was a good complement, but in the end the we felt the dish was far too heavy. The foie gras flan, on the other hand, was excellent - probably the best component on the plate.
Pork belly was also delicious for a few bites. The dish was composed of a mound of black rice supporting a gigantic slab of pork belly that was probably braised/slow cooked then perhaps seared, scattered with a few candied kumquats. The candied kumquats were a nice acidic component, but poorly integrated into the dish. In fact, the entire dish was very difficult to eat, for several reasons. The distinct layers of the pork belly presented vastly different textures (which usually is a highlight of the ingredient) but in this dish, the meaty layer disintegrated (much like pulled pork), but with individual fibers still remaining quite resilient. The middle layer (the fattiest) was a cross between unctuously gelatinous goodness and liquefied bacon fat. The top layer was very difficult to cut into, and curled up into spirals when finally sliced. The kumquats were equally difficult to cut, and surely not meant to be eaten whole (when they say candied, they mean candied).
In fact, midway through the dish, the amount of liquefied bacon fat pooling at the bottom of the dish was quite off putting. I didn't finish.
He ordered the wild boar tenderloin and I had the beef filet.
The boar was probably the biggest letdown of the night, but some of that may be attributed to the high expectations. Though I'll touch on overall presentation later on, I have to comment on the presentation of this dish here because it was an important element of why the dish failed in my opinion. Firstly, the bottom layer was the potato spaetzle, which was passable, but nothing to shout or write home about. Then came the layer of roasted brussel sprouts, upon which rested strips of grilled tenderloin. All of this was liberally seasoned and topped off with what looked like crisped herbs. On the whole, the dish looked like a squat yet precarious stack of multicolored pancakes of variegated textures.
Overall, the dish was somewhat dry and more than a bit salty. My boyfriend usually enjoys heavily seasoned food while I prefer a lighter hand, and it is very rare to hear him describe something as "overseasoned." He liked the brussel sprouts but I thought that dry roasting them was a mistake - though there were several components in the dish, there was a monotonous sameness about each component that sautéing or blanching the brussel sprouts may have mitigated. The problem was exacerbated by the overly generous portion, though I felt that the excess of spaetzle and brussel sprouts in comparison to the size of the protein made the dish seem like a lot of filler.
Beef filet was perfectly cooked to a medium rare. Farro was pleasantly chewy and stood up nicely to the beef. The red wine sauce also complemented the dish nicely. The blood sausage slices that topped off the filet were covered with cheese. Each of these separate components was beyond reproach, but the dish as a whole was a bit of a mess, mostly because I didn't feel that the dish came together. The haricot vert seemed like an afterthought, so much so that I'm coming back to add this sentence.
We also ordered a side of sauteed spinach. The kick of garlic was enjoyable but toward the end the spinach suffered from too much butter.
We shared the malted milk doughnuts. My boyfriend enjoyed them thoroughly, and I thought they were fine (however, I recently had doughnuts of a different style for dessert at Bouchon in Las Vegas, which was more to my liking). The doughnuts were crusty and the malted milk flavor really came through. The caramel + creme fraiche strawberry sorbet were excellent accompaniments. This was the most coherently put together dish of the night. Bouchon's doughnuts were much lighter, which is more my speed, but Grace's doughnuts pleased my boyfriend's man-palate.
PRESENTATION was passable at best. I got the feeling that stacking is the presentational method of choice, and in any case the presentation lacked finesse.
[Come to think of it, I thought the dishes lacked finesse as well.]
SERVICE was slightly better than adequate. Our server seemed very hands-off, which actually was not really a negative since service at a lot of the nicer restaurants can be overly attentive bordering on smothering, or suffer from excessively pompous posturing. However, I do prefer servers to be a teensy bit more informative.
DECOR was lovely. Probably my favorite element of the restaurant.
With a glass of wine each + tip, the meal set us back $205. All in all, it was a pretty good meal, with no bad elements despite my some of my harsher comments above. Nothing stuck out as jarringly or atrociously bad - but the meal had few, if any, high notes. I wouldn't say we had a bad experience, but it is unlikely that we'll return when fantastic and rave-worthy food abounds in LA at equal (or lower) prices.
If I had to summarize areas needing improvement, I would say that the cooking at Grace lacks restraint above all else. Secondly, I didn't really see much variety throughout the meal (though of course, that depends heavily on the dishes chosen by us, the diners). The similarity between Grace and BLD is easily seen - though the tendency for excess works out better in BLD's casual fare (pancakes with ricotta instead of buttermilk, eggs benedict with flatiron steak in lieu of canadian bacon with a Cabernet Sauvignon hollandaise).
I wouldn't warn people off this place, but I can think of a long list of restaurants I'd prefer.
I've always been a big fan of Grace; I particularly love their NY styled decor; super comfy. I had the sauteed lebelle farms and also the foie gras appetizer with apple compote, pistachio tuile and the red wine pannacotta... it melted in my mouth!
PS: I was particularly fond of the desserts at Grace; loved how they juxtaposed flavors - a trend I know, but i had their cider poached apples with a yogurt mousse and this dreamy vanilla black pepper ice cream... yumm...
As it turns out, I am going to an Wine & Spirits Mag event where Grace will be one of the restaurants serving food... it will be interesting to see how they are on the run... I think there are supposed to be some other major restaurants (Mozza, Come Ca, Michaels...)
What's the worst that can happen, good wine and tastes of food? :D
I wouldn't remove it from your list just yet--I would say to take her review with a grain of salt but it sounds like that grain was already on her boar. For what it is worth, I have been going since it opened (Monday was the 5th Anniversary and they are now offering a special menu in honor of it) and have found Grace to be fairly consistent, serving large portions of well-prepared and interesting food in a lovely setting. The staff (front, bar and service) have, with some minor exceptions over the years, been a pleasure to deal with.
I'm one of those people who has raved about Grace, particularly the pork belly and boar, and I'm sorry to hear that you did not enjoy your meal more. Unfortunately, it seems like there may be some inconsistency in the food, as I have not experienced those kinds of textural problems with the pork belly, and the boar was definitely not dry or salty when I had it (I also hate too much salt...and if you find Grace's food salty definitely stay away from Luques, which you mentioned is high on your list of places to try, because the meat is much saltier there). But yes, the portions are rather large at Grace and the plating does emphasize stacking...I like those aspects, but that's just a matter of personal taste. I'm sorry to hear the you were unimpressed, but it's still among my top 5 restaurants in L.A. Well, I guess this board is all about sharing diverse experiences, so thanks for sharing yours.
I agree Nicole, that this board is about sharing our differences of opinion. I have never had a bad meal at Grace, and nothing but excellent service. The dessert there is my least favorite course, as a rule. I just celebrated my FIL's 74th birthday there two weeks ago and it was a beautiful meal.