Saturday, March 06, 2010

Church & State (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

Church & State
1850 Industrial St, Los Angeles, CA 90021
Sat 03/06/2010, 10:45p-02:00a

Church & State Exterior
Make no mistake: Walter Manzke made Church & State what it is today. The restaurant only registered a mild blip on the LA dining radar when it opened in September 2008, but when Manzke took over in December, the flood gates opened. Riding off the Chef's fame and acclaim garnered during his tenure at Bastide and elsewhere, as well as his considerable culinary acumen, Church & State quickly became the "it" spot for bistro-inspired food in LA, and helped cement the revitalization of Downtown's dining scene.

But things were doomed from the start. For a chef of Manzke's calibre, a chef who's cooked at Le Louis XV, at El Bulli, at L'Auberge Carmel, and at our very own Patina, mere bistro fare must seem like child's play--how challenging, how stimulating, is making steak frites and escargots de Bourgogne day after day? Indeed, when I chatted with the Chef after dinner service, he remarked that things were "easy" here; the format simply didn't allow him to get creative. That Walter would leave was a foregone conclusion--the only question was: when? Joshua Goldman, Manzke's former Maitre d', stated as much during a dinner at The Dining Room a few weeks back.

As such, it was only fitting to bid Walter a farewell--one last meal at Church & State--the curtain call. And I wasn't the only one here to say goodbye: try a 10:45 reservation or nothing! I actually expected to see more bloggers, but only Jo of My Last Bite, Sarah of The Delicious Life, and Ryan of Epicuryan were present during my meal.

Church & State Interior
Church & State Interior
The fun, festive, felicitous vibe here has always been one of Church & State's selling points. That the place was positively jam packed made things all the merrier.

Church & State Menu Walter Signing Menu
Above is the menu de plats for the final night, signed, naturally. Looking back at my first meal here, I'm amazed at how little it's changed in a year. In fact, I think the only item not still offered is "Asperge à la Tashiro," a dish created in honor FoodDigger founder Marshal. Click for a larger version.

Church & State Drink Menu Church & State Wine List
The night's list of libations. Click for larger versions.

As before, we began with a plate of Gruyère gougères (cheese puffs). Nice, but a bit dry.

Bread & Butter
Bread serviced consisted of traditional French baguette--a prototypical example of the style--served with a light, subtly sweet butter.

Salade Frisée aux Lardons
Salade Frisée aux Lardons [$12.00] | Soft poached egg, warm bacon vinaigrette
What we have here is the quintessential bistro salad: the salade Lyonnaise. The core ingredients at play--egg, lardon, frisée, crouton, vinaigrette--are simple alone, yet stupendous together; the salad never disappoints. There's just something magical about the interaction between the salty pork, light frisée, and luscious poached egg, all tied together by that tangy dressing, that gets me every time.

Salade d'Hargens
Salade d'Hargens [$11.00] | Smoked herring, fingerling potato salad
As good as the previous salad was, I may have liked this even better. As you'd expect, the herring itself was delightfully fishy and smoky. This would've been completely overwhelming had it not been for the potato salad, which, dressed in a mustard-y sauce, provided a perfect offsetting relish. I also enjoyed the fingerlings' fantastically firm, slightly crunchy consistency.

N.V. Renardat-Fache - Bugey Cerdon, Gamay
To go along with the cheery nature of the dinner, we opted to start with the Renardat-Fache, Bugey Cerdon, Gamay [$39], a light, strawberry-tinged, sugary sparkler that went down way too easy. Even one of my dining companions, who doesn't normally drink, poured himself a full glass after trying it! Obviously, this was very comparable to the notorious Jean-Paul Brun FRV 100, poured by Josh Goldman, that I had last time.

Escargots de Bourgogne
Escargots de Bourgogne [$14.00] | Snails baked in garlic and parsley butter
Escargots, of course, were a must try. Manzke does them the traditional way, cooked in gobs of butter and garlic. I really like the use of puff pastry, which acted as a temper in the dish, moderating the richness of the snails. I also detected a slight citric tang on the finish, which I quite enjoyed.

Tarte de Saumon Fumé
Tarte de Saumon Fumé [$14.00] | Smoked salmon, leeks, lemon crème fraîche
Again, very classic flavors at play here: smoky salmon paired with a tartish crème fraîche, and jazzed up by the vegetal zest of leeks. There was a nice, lingering briny aftertaste from the fish, but my favorite part was actually the wonderfully crisp, cracker-like crust.

Boulettes de Brandade de Morue
Boulettes de Brandade de Morue [$10.00] | Fried salt cold, asparagus, saffron aïoli
Without a doubt, this was some of the best salt cod I'd ever had. I loved the boulettes' unabashedly salty, briny sapor, and their soft, fluffy consistency. They were fantastic alone, but also delicious with the paired saffron aioli.

Rillettes de Porc
Rillettes de Porc [$9.00] | Berkshire pork, prune confiture
Pork rillettes, a dish in which pork is cooked in its own fat and shredded, came served with cornichons and toasted baguette points. I would've liked a stronger, "porkier" flavor, as the overtly saccharine confiture tended to overwhelm the meat. The tanginess of the gherkins, however, did go very well with the dish.

Terrine de Foie Gras
Terrine de Foie Gras [$20.00] | Port-wine gelée, toasted brioche
As far as the pots de maçon went, this foie gras fared better. It had a smooth, creamy, mousse-like consistency with a strong, focused, strident foie gras flavor, punctuated quite nicely by the port wine gelée. Toasted brioche to accompany, naturally.

Huîtres Glacées Huîtres Glacées
Huîtres Glacées (½ dozen) [$19.00] | Iced Kumamoto oysters
Given the frenetic pace of the meal, our oysters got lost in the fray, and were served mid-meal rather that at the beginning. They were worth the wait, however, as the Kumamotos turned out to be some of the best that I'd had in a while. The mollusks were impeccably clean and crisp, with a subtly briny essence and just a hint of sweetness. To top things off, the tart smack of the paired red wine mignonette took the oysters to an even higher level. To make up for his error, our server even gave us complementary glasses of the 2007 Domaine Pierre de La Grange Sur Lie, Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Melon de Bourgogne [$8] to pair with the dish. The wine's crisp, dry, mineral-tinged flavor went quite well with the oysters.

Mœlle de Bœuf Mœlle de Bœuf
Mœlle de Bœuf [$13.00] | Roasted marrow bone
Bone marrow was roasted and seasoned simply with salt and pepper. As you might expect, the marrow was overwhelmingly oleaginous on its own, and one of my dining companions even likened it to eating beef-flavored butter. Thus, the zest of the parsley and radish salad was absolutely crucial in moderating the marrow's unctuousness.

Jo & Lazy Oxen
Jo, in between in two chefs from Lazy Ox Canteen.

Bitburger Select, Czech Rebel Lager
Time for beer: two bottles each of the Bitburger Premium Pilsener [$7] and Czech Rebel Lager [$7].

Bouillabaisse (Petite assiette) [$16.00] | Provençale fish soup, prawns, mussels, clams
Our first main was Manzke's version of the classic Provençal fish stew. What struck me the most about this was how well the dish preserved and conveyed the briny essence of the sea. Each item was distinct, delicious, tied together by the overarching tang of the tomato-tinged soup. The potatoes, meanwhile, did a great job in tempering the savor of the seafood.

Sole à la Fôrestiere
Sole à la Fôrestiere [$29.00] | Dover sole, morel mushrooms
A lovely filet of sole here, with a delicate, slightly sweet flavor, accented by the earthy tone of the morels, and a firm, somewhat spongy consistency. The fish was good enough on its own, but much better when paired with the perfect astringency of the spinach.

Loup de Mer
Loup de Mer (Petite assiette) [$17.00] | Sea bass, Big Sur chanterelle mushrooms, English peas, lemon confit
The loup de mer, or seabass, was excellent--we all greatly appreciated its tender, yet flaky texture and finespun, yet profound savor, augmented by the weight of the chanterelles and deftly countered by the vegetal tang of the peas.

Steak au Poivre
Steak au Poivre [$26.00] | Prime beef filet, wild mushrooms, baby spinach
Steak au Poivre is perhaps the most well known preparation of steak out there, and this was a shining example of the style. We're talking about a beautiful texture and a perfect "beefy" sapor, punctuated by the piquant pungency of the pepper. The spinach added a further counterpoint, but I could've done without the mushrooms. Nevertheless, easily some of the best steak I've had in a while.

Cassoulet de Toulouse
Cassoulet de Toulouse [$27.00] | Duck confit, pork belly, sausage, white beans
Cassoulet refers to a southern French slow-cooked stew of white beans and various cuts of meat, in this case sausage, pork belly, and confit of duck. I really appreciated this course's hearty, rustic essence. The meats were as they should be, with my favorite being the sausage (a specialty of Toulouse), but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the beans, as well as the offsetting carrots.

Meantime London Porter, Duchesse de Bourgogne Sour Ale
Our second round of beers consisted of the superb Duchesse de Bourgogne Sour Ale [$9], which I had recently at The Dining Room (paired with Michael Voltaggio's signature Pastrami Pigeon), as well as the subtly savory, chocolaty, coffee-tinged Meantime London Porter [$8].

Les Tartes de Jour
Les Tartes de Jour [$8.00]
Church & State usually offers up several tarts each day, but by the time we were ready for dessert, this cherry-pistachio version was the only variety left. I'm not complaining though, as I rather liked the sugariness of the Kirsch-soaked berries and their boozy finish, while the hint of nuttiness from the pistachios and almonds was a nice touch as well.

Pot de Crème au Chocolat
Pot de Crème au Chocolat [$9.00] | Valhrona chocolate, caramel, hazelnuts
A prototypical example of the French custard--a rich, but not overwhelmingly sweet, chocolate flavor, balanced by a bit of savoriness courtesy of the hazelnuts.

Crème Brûlée
Crème Brûlée [$8.00] | Caramelized vanilla custard
A classic crème brûlée: a nicely caramelized top over a lightly chilled custard, teeming with gorgeous notes of vanilla.

Mousse au Citron
Mousse au Citron [$8.00] | Lemon mousse, tangerine
A mildly tangy mousse, accented by a tangerine granita. The overall effect wasn't too far from that of an orange Creamsicle!

Last time, I wrote that:

"The format of Church & State necessarily limits what Walter is allowed to do ... I still yearn for a stage where he can cook with the inexorable flair, unbridled enthusiasm, and relentless ingenuity that I know he has in him--time will tell whether or not my hunger is satisfied."

In light of recent events, those words may seem strangely prophetic. Walter Manzke has made his indelible mark at Church & State, and the burden of working under his shadow now falls upon new top toque Joshua Smith, former Chef de Cuisine at Anisette. Before the year is through, hopefully we'll all get a chance to experience what Manzke was after all this time--a restaurant to truly call his own. You can bet that I'll be first in line, in true kevinEats fashion.

Chef Walter Manzke & Tequila


Blogger MyLastBite said...

P A R T A Y!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Nosh Gnostic said...

I'm going out with you guys next time!!! Damn, you know how to do it!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010 8:50:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Jo: Are you're the life of it. ;)

tflemingo: Yes, we do. ;)

Saturday, March 20, 2010 6:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Rosa said...

Oh I love Duchesse...such a great beer.

Man, that roasted marrow looks to die for...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger stuffycheaks said...

OMG!! the cassoulet looks amazing, with that pork belly and duck confit. Really hard to find good cassoulets in LA. Thanks for sharing!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010 1:23:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Rosa: I've been craving that Duchesse ever since I first had it at The Dining Room!

SC: Indeed, that was the first "real" cassoulet I've had in the City!

Thursday, March 25, 2010 12:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Marc said...

Bravo les artistes !

Monday, August 10, 2015 1:42:00 PM  

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