My Top dineLA Restaurant Week Lunch Picks for Summer, 2013: July 15 – 26

RivaBella’s Nidi di Rondine

This summer’s dineLA Restaurant Week commences today and lasts 10 days – over two weekday stretches and one weekend. And since we’ve had a few of these by now, it’s probably time we got smart on maneuvering through the multitude of menus. The trick with dineLA prix fixe is that it may get people through the door, but it may or may not be quite the deal you had in mind. The danger is that you might just be stuck with fewer, albeit recommended, choices for about the same price you’d normally pay.

May I propose lunch? They tend to be better deals than dinner – often true between both offerings of the same restaurant – because there’s more incentive to increase lunch traffic with dinner reservations filling up more readily. So whether you’ve got a 9-5 in the area or are in a certain neighborhood for an audition or client appointment, there’s probably a great dineLA power lunch strategy wherever you end up.

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Garden-To-Table Dinner at Ray’s a Delight at LACMA

Pork Belly | Golden watermelon, black vinegar, opal basil

I’ve always been a fan of Stark Bar.

What’s not to love? Great cocktails made with fresh ingredients and spectacular, savory bar bites are yours to enjoy within one of the most cosmopolitan confines in Los Angeles. Ray’s and Stark Bar bring purpose and focus to LACMA‘s outdoor scene. It’s the stalwart at the center of a free-flowing patio in which the art is in the food and cocktails – a scene I’m readily available to insert myself into as I’m a new LACMA member!

Granola | Savory, Candy Stripe figs, pears, baby greens, sweet goat cheese

But I wasn’t completely sure how much of my favor for Stark Bar would translate to the dining room at Ray’s (or if any of it would). Well into the second course of our media dinner party, it became clear that all those Stark Bar’s bar bites I’ve become familiar with really are a mere introduction to the depth of Kris Morningstar’s cooking.

There were some amazing flavors to be had from one course to the next. It’s easy to see why Ray’s and Stark Bar are one of the representative Best New Restaurants in Esquire Magazine’s recently published 2012 list. It’s no detail that the cocktails, by Michel Dozois, were a delight. The ones served (the names of which I irresponsibly didn’t record) were refreshing and particularly complementary to the dinner.

As was a theme during the meal, Kris masterfully integrated his garden ingredients into the original design of his dishes. We have all had an heirloom tomato salad, but I was floored by his version, which came topped with charred local squid, shiso and Bottarga vinaigrette. The Granola, a wholly imaginative dish in itself (who serves granola for dinner?), had such complexities that each bite made for an evolutionary tale til the very last spoonful. It was refreshing, yet savory, yet sweet and herbal…you will just have to try it before the end of the season, yourself.

Peach | Roasted peaches, almond financier, Lady Plymouth geranium ice cream

The Pork Belly was a crispy, delicious slice, as coupled with a sweet cube of golden watermelon. The black vinegar and basil brought everything together while delicately balancing out the sweetness of the other two. The Sonoma Lamb was a savory masterpiece and tender as as can be with Butter beans, corno di toro peppers, baby artichokes, oregano and rouille – more evocative of the bar menu I’ve become accustomed with.

The dessert, which was a sweet and savory delight cooked and packaged in an iron skillet, was such a nice nightcap. It was the perfect amount of sweet with just enough savory breading, and I devoured every inch.

With Ray’s, it’s apparent that museum restaurants in Los Angeles have finally moved beyond the obligatory watering hole and feeding quarters for art patrons. Instead, the space has itself become a viable destination for those looking for solid cocktails and bar bites or, what’s more, an inspirational meal. Since this makes for an overall exciting time to be at LA’s representative art institution, it really is something all Angelenos can be proud of.

All food, wine and cocktails were hosted.

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Lunch

12 – 3 PM (11:30 AM on weekends)

Dinner

5 – 10 PM

Closed Wednesdays

Ray’s at LACMA
5905 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
323.857.6180

Ray’s & Stark Bar: A Dining & Cocktail Destination Within LACMA

Beef Tendon | Red braise, mushrooms, mustard fruit, broccoli ($9)

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.

Ray's and Stark Bar at LACMA

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.

Chile Relleno with Chorizo, Goat Cheese, Dates, Almond Sauce ($12)

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) inspirational (truffle cheese, fontina, mushrooms) 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.

Burrata with Tapenade

Feeling the beef tendon was too tame? 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, tangy carrot piccalilli that accompanies it gives the plate a good kick. 

And if you’re in the mood for a French classic, the Croque Madame, with its sunny side up egg on top, 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.

Dr. Blinker | Rye, freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, raspberry syrup ($11)

And the cocktails…oh, the delicious cocktails. Michel Dozois, whose 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 him 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 with juices made 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.

Morning Glory Fizz | Scotch, Absinth, egg white, freshly squeezed lemon juice, simple syrup ($10)

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.

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Ray’s

Lunch: 12 – 3 PM, Dinner: 5 – 10 PM
Closed Wednesdays

Stark Bar

11 AM – 11 PM
Closed Wednesdays

Ray’s & Stark Bar

LACMA
5905 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
323.857.6180