The sun is out – when June Gloom isn’t in, that is. But when the high of summer arrives, you’ll bet it’ll be time for that picnic. Whether at The Hollywood Bowl, Cinespia or Barnsdall Art Park, picnicking in Los Angeles has become more than a rite of passage. It’s now an act of communal expression, with everyone in the party bringing their own contribution to the portable, potable feast.
With The Foundry in the middle of an overhaul and Chef Eric Greenspan’s neighboring grilled cheese operative still under construction, the only place that Angelenos can get a piece of his comforting cooking is ironically in the middle of one of the best 360 degree views of the entire city. What better occasion than Independence Day to take advantage of not only the views but an affordable all-you-can-eat extravaganza?
Back in the Fall, I made a little getaway to a familiar area (no, I won’t use that word that begins with “stay” and ends with “-tion”). It was a welcome chance to really explore what I already thought I knew, and the Hotel Wilshire was the perfect home base.
The Hotel Wilshire is walking distance to LACMA, but also to Petersen Automotive Museum. Both museums are the venues of so many cultural events, which makes the hotel seem like a great place for out-of-town visitors to establish their base or for locals to crash after a nearby gala. The rotating exhibits make it perfect for locals to visit time and time again.
It may be commonplace for a museum to have a gift shop and furthermore, a restaurant, available within its walls for the convenience of its guests. The quality of Ray’s and Stark Bar, however, serves to make it a viable rival as far as being a destination in itself.
Upon approach, the beautiful but complementary decor and setting of Ray’s and Stark Bar (so-named after the late film producer and former LACMA Trustee) expertly enable the restaurant and bar to blend in with its surroundings on the museum’s middle patio. But nothing about it dwindles in comparison to even the largest campus of the largest art museum in the western United States.
Certainly not the food menu, curated by Kris Morningstar (District), and certainly not the cocktail selection – which currently runs 25 deep – by Michel Dozois (Neve Ice). The treats are just as savory as what you’ve found on Chef Morningstar’s menus past – thank god – and at first taste during a media cocktail party, just as delicious.
The charcuterie, pates, rillette and cheese are all top-notch. You’ll find your standard selections of meat but also a decent selection of rarer cheeses available to start your evening off on the right foot.
The beef tendon – whether or not you’ve ever particularly been a fan of connective tissue – is a must-order as it stands one of the most tender meat dishes on the menu. The chile relleno, with its fillings of chorizo, goat cheese, dates and almond sauce, is such a uniquely rich rendition – it’s no wonder the (venison) version Kris left back at District is one of Alan Richman’s top five eats of 2010 in GQ Mag. This is also an essential item in your visit.
The flatbreads are no slouch, either, thanks to their wood-fired oven and apricot wood upon which they are cooked and browned. The pie crusts bubble up around the edges and are finished off with that charred crisp only an oven like that can achieve. The combination of toppings are simple (tomato and oregano)Â inspirational (truffle cheese, fontina, mushrooms)Â or plain thematic (goat shoulder and goat cheese). Truth be told, though, the real danger is letting these fill you up and thereby preventing you from exploring the rarer treats on the menu. Even their burrata is given a not-so-typical treatment with delicious, savory olive oil and tapenade.
FeelingÂ the beef tendon was too tame?Â Try the blood sausage, which comes dressed in pea tendrils and pickled cippolini onions. Or, you can order the crispy, fried head cheese as another savory treat. The mustardy, tangyÂ carrot piccalilli that accompanies it gives the plate a good kick.Â
And if you’re in the mood for a French classic, theÂ Croque Madame, with itsÂ sunny side up egg on top,Â is cooked to perfection in all its rich glory. You’re best sharing one of these sandwiches unless this eye of the egg is what you particularly crave.
And the cocktails…oh, the delicious cocktails. Michel Dozois, whoseÂ cocktails headline Ray’s and Stark Bar and whose Neve Ice keeps said cocktails chilled, said he was given the task of coming up with 100 cocktails yet was able to convince the higher-ups to allow himÂ whittle it down to 25. You will find yourself paging through that still-large selection not able to quite make up your mind and even quite possibly throwing up your hands. No worries, because Michel will be happy to help you discover the cocktail exactly to your liking.
It’s not that the recipes are complicated; to the contrary, they’re quite simple. But the selection of spirits, combined withÂ juicesÂ madeÂ in-house, make for some very vibrant cocktails. Even Smokey and the Bandit, which employs Laphroaig, made even the band-aid-ish Islay single malt taste refreshing.
If you’re looking for a light, airy treat, try the Morning Glory Fizz – with Scotch, Absinth, egg white, freshly squeezed lemon juice and simple syrup. And though I love rye, I wouldn’t have guessed I’d enjoy it with grapefruit juice as in Michel’s Dr. Blinker. If you’re looking for something sweet and spicy, try the Owl and Pussycat, made with rum, freshly squeezed lemon juice, simple syrup, chilis and cherries.
Truth be told, there are really just so many cocktails and treats – not to mention mains – to try on this menu. I was just lucky to get a peek. In all, though, it was a great window into what promises to be an interesting and exciting place to explore all the corners of your palate. Art on this block has indeed transcended above and beyond to include the other senses, making the kitchen at Ray’s and Stark Bar an essential and rich (in multiple ways) LACMA experience.
All food and cocktails were hosted.
I first stumbled across Cowboys & Turbans after a show at the El Rey. I was with my girlfriend and of course, we needed up to sop up the overpriced vodka tonics in our bellies with some grub. We ended up discovering the joint immediately next door, with lit-up signage labeling it simply, “Diner” and banners adorning Cowboys & Turbans’ correct name.
Diner food it is not, Indian street food it is. Nothing like a little spice to spruce things up before diving into bed. We ended up sharing a shrimp burrito for $9 and at the time, it was worth every penny. There’s a decent amount of shrimp in the burrito (despite what the picture may depict) and they keep a variety of 3 sauces with which to drizzle your tacos or burritos. I could come back to this taco stand.
And during a lunch break at work, I sure did. I ordered the same thing since it was “safe” – and found out the lunch menu on average is $2 less per item than their late-night “show menu.” But now I’m ready for some more. Thank goodness for Twitter; I got recommendations from Abby of PleasurePalate who got to sample more of their menu. The potato samosa, fish taco and apple samosa for dessert are next on my list!!
Know in order to go:
I love KCRW! KCRW members get 10% off which provides even more incentive. Also, the storefront serves as an El Rey box office during its business hours. So if you are feeling wallet-savvy and don’t want to give Ticketbastard any more of your hard-earned money with convenience and venue charges for a show at the El Rey, stop in while you’re getting tacos and buy tickets for any show that’s upcoming.
Lunch menu (11 AM – 6 PM):
Naanwich (chicken or tofu) $5.99
Chicken tikka $5.99
Tofu or spinach Masala $5.99
Tandoori quesadilla (chicken, chicken jalapeÃ±o or tofu $5.99; shrimp $6.99)
Tandoori tacos (chicken or tofu $2, fish $2.50, shrimp $3)
Tandoori burritos (chicken, tofu, spinach tofu, breakfast burrito $5.99, shrimp $6.99)
Chips and masala (large $4, small $3)
Basmati rice $2
Masala fries (large $4, small $3)
I want a report back on all the menu items! Enjoy. 🙂
Cowboys & Turbans
5515 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036