REVIEW w/pics: The Best Counter Dining I Ever Had Was at Chef Gary Menes' Le Comptoir
- pleasurepalate Mar 7, 2012 08:15 PM
With our love for food, it's only natural that Filipinos have entered into all facets of the culinary world, whether it's as a food business owner or as a chef. In fact, please check out my Filipino Food Love Page to read about some of them who are based in LA. This particular post is all about Chef Gary Menes, whose food chops are definitely impressive, starting with his first job at the Patina Restaurant in LA to his stint at the world-renowned French Laundry with Chef Thomas Keller in 2000.
After French Laundry, he returned to Los Angeles and earned 2, 3 and 2-1/2 stars successively from the LA Times for when he helmed the Firefly, Palate Food + Wine and the recently closed Marche. Currently, Chef Menes is running his own pop-up restaurant at Tiara Cafe in downtown Los Angeles. The name, Le Comptoir, is French for The Counter and refers to one's dining experience which involves sitting at 1 of 12 counter seats, which allows a bird's eye view of all the action.
What's interesting is that given all his time in Los Angeles, my very first time trying Chef Menes' food was at Le Comptoir. When it comes to dining at Le Comptoir, it's a 5 course set menu; however, 3 of the courses could be swapped out with a different dish for a supplemental fee. Luckily, my dining partner and I ordered both the regular and the supplemental menu so that we could share everything.
It started with us eyeing these beautiful loaves of bread sitting in front of us. Eventually, those loaves were sliced and served throughout the meal. They were perfect vehicles for dipping in whatever was left on our plates. After getting our bread, the rest of the meal commenced.
Our something amusing aka our Amuse Bouche was a French Cheese Puff filled with fromage blanc, gruyere and chives. Chef Menes mentioned that the flavors would remind us of ranch dip and that was definitely spot on. As for the cheese puff itself, it was light and airy.
Next up are the first course and the supplemental first course. The first course was an Okiwanan sweet yam veloute with pickled chanterelles, yogurt and farinette. I enjoyed the soup's smooth and silky texture as well as the sweet-earthy flavors of the ingredients. The presentation was also a nice touch.
The supplemental first course was a French foie gras terrine with a preserved cherry compote and barrel aged vinegar. Sitting at the counter gave us a good view of Chef Menes slicing the foie gras terrine for us. As for this dish, I really appreciated how the tart-sourness of the cherries and vinegar cut into the sweet richness of the foie gras.
The second course was a multi-step process. First, you were presented with a plate of greens, herbs and herbed butter as well as a very hot stone slab. Soon a small cast iron pan arrived with a sunny-side egg. We were then instructed to add the butter, then the greens and as little or all of the herbs and mix everything together. The herbs and sorrel added a nice hit of "spice" and overall, it was quite tasty.
Next was the third course and the supplemental third course. The third course was a "veggie platter"with musque de provence squash, mustard frill, fennel, bermuda onion petal, beets, brussels sprouts, warren pears and grapes. This was one of the best plate of vegetables I've ever had. I don't even know how to describe how good everything tasted. The textures were perfect and how the individual flavors of the various ingredients played off of each other was sublime.
As for the supplemental third course, it was house made fettuccine with parmesan-reggiano cheese and burgundy black truffles. Simply, it was rich, cheesy, earthy and delicious.
Following our third course(s) came the fourth course and the supplemental fourth course. Our fourth course consisted of heirloom shelling beans "pot roast", romano beans, young celery, smoked scallions, sultana raisin-pistachio relish and truffle froth. The heirloom shelling shells had a lovely "meaty" texture which went well with the crunch of the beans and the celery.
The supplemental fourth course was a j&j grassfed strip loin with hearts of romaine, tomato marmalade, barbara's (of Windrose Farms) potatoes and parsley vinaigrette. The strip loin was cooked perfectly, red and juicy. It went well with the herbaceous parsley vinaigrette which reminded me of a chimichurri sauce. The tomato marmalade also added a nice acidity.
Finally, it was dessert time and what we got was a "lemon lush", graham cracker, chocolate, sour cream and vanilla tuille. Unfortunately, this dessert was the weakest part of the meal for me. The "lemon lush" had a nice lemony taste to it, but didn't have the luscious, creamy texture that I was looking for. I also found the vanilla tuille to be a bit hard. While the meal didn't end strongly with the dessert option, everything else up to that point was so good that it didn't detract from what I thought was one of my best meals of 2011.
Overall, this was truly a delicious dining experience and although better late than never, I left there kicking myself that I didn't get to experience any of Chef Menes' food earlier. All I can do now is make sure that my first experience will not be my last.
To see post complete with photos, go to:
127 E 9th St, Los Angeles, CA 90014
$52 prix fixe looked good initially until you realize you *have* to get the $8 meat supplement and $20 truffle pasta course. That puts it squarely at $80pp for 5 courses which is a bit pricy for a pop up. Delayed my res until the Friday after this weekend and sticking to Hatfield's chef's tasting for about the same price and twice the number of courses for this coming weekend. Will report back then.
Yeah, I think his idea is to make it possible to dine completely vegetarian here. He did mention that he changed his diet a few years ago and focused on treating vegetables with as much care as he did with meat. The price of the tasting menu has slightly increased since the start as well. It kinda bugs me as well that a meat option is not included with the set price.
Mmm... Jingo! I love Jingo! How do they prepare it here? Roasted? Seared? :-)
Seriously, the pop up and the personal nature of it does clearly influence the experience. In my opinion, hugely. But there is definitely value in that, more for some than others. How much of the meal cost is "worth" that portion of the experience? YMMV.
I also think the personal experience in the pop up is what makes loyalists out of what would be simply diners or that random 4 top in any other setting. We spend $$, sometimes $$$$. I love getting more than great food for that. It's amazing to me how a pop up can generate these champions.