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First Impressions: Ray's @ LACMA

Hubby and I visited LACMA on Saturday and had lunch at the new restaurant there, Ray's. Full disclosure - I've done some work at LACMA and really love it there, so I was definitely predisposed to like Ray's. Even so, I'm pleased to report that my expectations were exceeded.

It's located in a little glass box that was built on the east side of the new plaza (BP Grand Entrance Pavilion, according to the map). Ray's is the restaurant, and Stark Bar, which is an open-air patio, is right next to it. Despite being a very chilly afternoon, Stark Bar was packed - but we opted for Ray's. I loved the space as soon as we walked in - although it is brand new, it has a very mid-century modern feeling, with a bright red and white color scheme and three walls of full-height glass windows and doors. The fourth wall is masonry and mostly covered by colorful fabric panels (wow, acoustical design in a restaurant - how novel!). On this wall were two glass vitrines that had teacups in them, from the namesake Ray Stark's personal collection, according to the menu. The furniture was also MCM; the tables had Saarinen-esque tulip bases but with plywood tops. The tops had a little drawer at each seat that contained the place-setting - totally unnecessary, but rather charming nonetheless.

The menu was a fascinating read - the executive chef is Kris Morningstar, who I think is a very creative talent, and it was refreshing not to see the same old California cuisine on the menu. We started with warm bread and butter for the table, which was absolutely delicious (is anything better than warm bread on a cold day?), then moved on to an appetizer called "Chile", which is described as "Wood roasted chile, chorizo, dates, local goat cheese, almond sauce" and was delectable - I would order it again in a heartbeat. For my entree, I got "Bacon", which is "Wood grilled Benton’s bacon, wilted chicory, grain mustard, buttered bread, sunny egg, pickled onion." I wanted to love this dish, but I have to admit, it defeated me. I love salt, fat, and strong flavors - but this dish, which was not a large portion, had too much of all three for me. The first three bites were great - I think it would have worked better as a much smaller appetizer. But you know how sometimes you don't love a dish and it makes you completely lose interest in the restaurant? This was not the case at all for me here - I can't wait to go back and try something else. We finished with a rhubarb crisp with vanilla ice cream, which was fantastic.

Service was well-intentioned but a little confused - since they've been open less than a month, I imagine they're still working out the kinks.

Overall, I found Ray's to be delightfully different. I've been to a lot of museums and eaten at a lot of museum cafes, and this one really stands out (and eating at LACMA was always so depressing before, so that makes it even better).

Information and menus here: http://www.lacma.org/visit/Restaurant...

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  1. I got so excited when I read your review because I though FINALLY the Patina group's catering arm lost their expensive, sub-standard grip on a LACMA. But the link above points out that no, the death star still hovers over LACMA and Kris Morningstar is the "executive chef" whatever that means. Expect it to decline rapidly in qualtiy and value quickly.

    1 Reply
    1. re: JudiAU

      Well, I really hope not, but just in case, get over there quick!

      1. re: omotosando

        Went with another couple a couple weeks ago for dinner and while the menu is varied & interesting, the execution was a bit off. The clams in curried broth was way too salty and a bit funky. I'm a big fan of Asari/Manila's so this was disappointing. Also my halibut came out lukewarm.

        On the other hand, the service was congenial & not overly fussy. And the portion sizes were decently sized, especially the 1st courses. And they threw in some petit fours for us at the end which was a nice touch. Oh, they've got a diverse wine list with plenty of bottles by the glass to suit the taste of even acid-loving wine geeks.

      2. I took my daughter and her friend to the Tim Burton show in June, and as an end of school treat we had lunch at Ray's. It was till overcast so we sat indoors. I loved the room—the teapot displays (I believe from Max Palevsky's collection) as well as the silverware drawer in the table. We ordered sandwiches—all served open-face, including the burger, which struck me as odd. My softshell crab sandwich was good but the bread was too thick. My kid's Cuban sandwich was just right.
        Service was good but spotty. Our waiter was handling half the inside and then the outdoor patio, which filled up fast as the sun came out.
        My only complaint was that I'd craved a hot drink and didn't realize that they have a fabulous (and pricey) selection of teas, but they are only listed on the dessert menu. So we had lemonade and then tea as dessert.
        In comparison, I went with a friend to the Norton Simon and we had lunch at the food concession there, and it was absolutely terrible—very small selection and very expensive.So I give Ray's a huge thumb's up. Plus it's a definite improvement on the restaurant that was there.

        3 Replies
        1. re: iOnLa

          I did notice online that they had a great tea menu (Patina downtown also has a great tea menu). As a tea aficionado, I'm happy to pay whatever they charge in exchange for getting something other than a tea bag. There is a real cost to a honest to goodness tea program -- individual pots to be brought to table, for example -- and I'm happy to subsidize it.

          By the way, the Patina Group is running a birthday special where if you sign up for their newsletter, on your birthday (and good for 60 days) you get a coupon for $30 off on dinner if you spend at least $30 at selected Patina restaurants, including Ray and Stark's. http://www.patinagroup.com/joinus.php

          My birthday is coming up and I signed up for the deal -- the deal, the fact that Ray and Stark's has free corkage on the first bottle of wine and the good L.A. Times review http://www.latimes.com/features/food/... tipped me over the edge to choose Ray and Stark's for my birthday dinner.

          1. re: omotosando

            not a Patina fan in general, but good to know about the special.
            enjoy your birthday dinner, and if you get a craving for tea (the selection is really unusual), remember to request the dessert menu first!

            1. re: omotosando

              Duh. I'm on 1 of the Patina group mailing lists, but not on the bday list. Thanks for that omotosando. Rectified.

          2. Went tonight and really enjoyed it.

            On a Friday jazz night, the Stark Bar was really hopping, but the restaurant was not. The restaurant wasn't deserted, but wasn't packed. I don't think the restaurant has found its audience yet, which is a shame.

            Loved the room, especially when the sun went down and you could gaze out into the night and the museum plaza through the big glass windows.

            The agnolotti pasta with mushrooms and hazelnuts was divine. Could eat that every night. One friend ordered the hanger steak and another ordered the duck, and while both were fine, I thought the agnolotti was the star.

            You can order the agnolotti either as appetizer or entre size. I ordered appetizer size and with a salad as a starter and a side dish of salted padrone peppers (which reminded me a lot of shishito peppers), the appetizer size was fine.

            The no corkage on the first bottle of wine is a huge plus - very few places in L.A. where you can have sophisticated food with no corkage. The very enthusiastic sommelier saw that we had brought pinot noir and immediately whisked our wine glasses away to replace them with pinot glasses and chatted with us about the wine we brought, which was rather obscure, but with which he was familiar.

            I'm not a coffee drinker, but my friends were very impressed with the French press coffee -- several kinds of beans to choose from.

            The waitstaff was young and enthusiastic. The whole place had a very young vibe.

            Anyone who is a wine collector and who doesn't like paying corkage should definitely put this place on their list. And if you don't bring your own wine, they have an interesting list and a very congenial young sommelier.

            Will definitely return. I hope this place finds its audience. If it wasn't all that crowded on a summer Friday night, I can't help but wonder what it must be like during the week..

            1. On the strength of these recommendations, my wife and I celebrated our anniversary by playing hookey from work at LACMA today. The second Tuesday of every month is free, so we took advantage and splurged on lunch at Ray's.

              In short, everything was wonderful. We had a cute redheaded waitress with a great booty who was very attentive and started us off with complimentary champagne and some warm and crusty rustic bread. Nice!

              We ordered scallops for our appetizer, which turned out to be served raw. The dish wasn't my taste, but it was ok.

              My wife's entre was a squid ink pasta, and mine was hanger steak. Both were excellent. We enjoyed those with a couple cocktails:

              SECRET COCKTAIL
              Bourbon, Applejack, egg white, freshly squeezed lemon juice, grenadine

              STEEL MAGNOLIAS (Champagne cocktail)
              Rum, freshly squeezed lemon juice, simple syrup, strawberry,

              Finally, the desserts were a knock-out. We had:

              Dark chocolate mousse, black cocoa tuile, korova cookie crust, kumquat purée

              LAMILL coffee pudding, smoked caramel, espresso granite, cigarette

              We were very satisfied with everything. We got out the door for $125 including tip.

              Ray's and Stark Bar
              5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036

              2 Replies
              1. re: 8Gr8N8

                Was it busy? One of the reasons I haven't been back, although I liked it, was because it was so dead on a Friday night and thus lacked "life."

                I think unless you are going to the museum, it's off the radar for people. Plus, we are so lazy in L.A. and it's a bit of a hike from the valet (or a long walk from the museum's parking lot) and the valet was a fortune.

                1. re: omotosando

                  pretty busy when i was there on saturday night

              2. Checked out another of LACMA's great jazz concerts last friday and tried a sausage flatbread from Ray's...it was very good...the crust was much better than expected and, for this picky pizzaphile it was quite enjoyable...funny thing though...i asked my waitress why they called it flatbread as it seemed like a pizza to me...she came back w/ word that the "ex chef" didnt think people would know what neapolitan pizza was so they called it flatbread...lol! well worth returning for whatever they call it...and there are still 2 months of great free jazz fridays to go!

                1 Reply
                1. re: lapizzamaven

                  I nursed an Aperol spritz for two hours at Stark Bar after the pie contest yesterday and I saw multiple sausage flatbreads coming out—they looked great but I was so full I couldn't deal with the concept.

                2. Went Saturday night. No problem getting a last minute reservation - restaurant about half full.

                  Had the agnolotti pasta with mushrooms again, but this time with Oregon truffles. Very good and paired perfectly with the wine I brought. (No corkage! I love no corkage!).

                  Very nice enthusiastic young wine steward. My dining companion hated the wine I brought, (even though it was divine - what can i say, chacun à son goût) and the wine steward immediately brought him something much more to his liking.

                  Lovely cheese plate for dessert. I'm not sure it's on the menu for Ray's (as opposed to Stark Bar), but I asked and they brought us a cheese menu with no problem.

                  I think the room is magical at night, looking out on the sculptures and the Renzo Piano building.

                  1. hate to rain on everybody's parade.
                    I thougth it was ok. The agnolotti which I ha the first time i went were excellent. However, the sides were silly ( the peppers really so) - loved the setting, loved the fixtures, teh drawers fro the silverware. Service was attentive and yet a bit amateurish - pretty at the very least.
                    The price point is a bit high for the quality and quantity. For the same price once could eat at jiraffe or la botte or la farm and eat quite well. Still, if you're at the museum, and want a light meal and a great cocktail, it's perfectly. I wouldn't make a special trip. but it's not horrible.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Jerome

                      I agree that the peppers are disappointing.

                      I can't comment on Jiraffe or La Botte, but I think Ray's is a much nicer atmosphere than L.A. Farm and I found the food at LA Farm pedestrian. Plus, L.A. Farm has expensive corkage.

                      Went to Bouchon tonight and have to say I thought the cheese plate at Ray's was superior to the one at Bouchon.

                      The other thing I like about Ray's is that it is a real wine oriented restaurant. If you order (or bring) a pinot, they will bring out pinot glasses.

                      Jiraffe Restaurant
                      502 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90401