Art is beautiful and moving and can change the way we see the world if we’re lucky. These days, Museums offer a plethora of dining options but thus far, none quite as adventurous as Ray’s/The Stark Bar at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Ray’s is a restaurant envisioned by Renzo Piano, brilliant architect of the Resnick Pavilion. The restaurant is named after Ray Stark, the late film producer known for such works as Funny Girl and Steel Magnolias, that spouts a sense of fresh and creative fare, an ambiance that boasts both retro and durable, natural and urban space, with the essence of modern art and beauty. The Stark Bar, located outdoors, is something worth venturing over to – red retro chairs, a sort of Jetsons-meets-Urban chic feel with menus resting happily on the white tables promising beverages that will surely tickle your tummy like my pick, the Owl & Pussycat (Rum, freshly squeezed lemon juice, simple syrup, chiles, and strawberries). The restaurant’s architecture, both inside and out, and design can be attributed to an idea born out of the love of art referred to as Designed Dining. Throughout the restaurant, albeit a tiny space, along the walls you will find the Cup Collection by Ellen Palevsky, philanthropist, wife of the late Max Palevsky known for his work at Xerox and as a Film Producer of CinemaX, who have given several million dollars in Scholarship funds to the University of Chicago. The Cup Collection is a rare collection of American ceramics dating back to 1850-1950. It adds an element of playfulness to the restaurant. The furniture and fabrics also reflect the style of designers such as Charles and Ray Eames and Eero Saarinen, whose work is in LACMA’s collection.
This restaurant, much like it’s intention, offers fare that is blossoming with a sense of nature and singing with an overtone of just enough modern. We arrive for a late lunch are are greeted by the General Manager, Ron Carey, who shows us to our table – a simply made eco-friendly natural wood with drawers to your right stocked with linens and cutlery. That, in my opinion, is a clever little surprise. A server comes by and asks if we want sparkling or flat water and we ask for both. She returns with these beautiful glass bottles full of freshly filtered water, the bubbles capped with a cork. She explains the water is infinite. (Now that is innovative!) Soon after, Ron returns with the most beautiful stemware reminiscent of a 1960’s “Modern-Themed” cocktail party, places them on the table, and while fairly impractical, they sit politely as he has a server pour us each a glass of champagne. We thank him, discuss the options for starters, and place our first order:
Heirloom Tomatoes: Oregano, red onion, feta, Persian cucumbers, salami, marinated Castelventrano olives, and hearts of palm
Yellowtail: Sashimi, avocado crema, smoked tomato jelly, caviar, crispy potato chives
The Heirloom tomatoes are good but the salami is lost in the dish and really gets swallowed up and overshadowed by the strong sense of salt and vinegar from the combination of each ingredient. The yellowtail sashimi was quite tasty and while the flavors were happily blended, the greatest part of that dish is the avocado crema – a beautiful dollop of subtlety. We order another round of drinks and we mix it up a bit: we give the Lost in Yonkers a try (Rum, freshly squeezed lime juice, simple syrup, raspberry and cucumber). Unfortunately, the Bar ran out of Serrano garnish for the Owl & Pussycat which took a bit of the mystique away. As we make our decision as to what to order next, we are greeted with a server who places fresh, warm bread laying on a bamboo bed accompanied by butter sprinkled with chives on the white linens. One bite of that bread and – wow! The bread is so divine, we could all eat a loaf ourselves! Our server arrives and takes our entree order:
Truffle Rice: Agnolotti, porcini sauce, chanterelle mushrooms, arugla, and hazelnuts
Farro: Apricots, asparagus, goat cheese, Hen of the Wood mushrooms, pistachio aillade
Porchetta: Grilled pork belly, cannelini bean puree, beet mostarda, baby fennel, and cracklings
Sweetbreads: Baby artichokes, citrus vinegrette, pine nuts, mint, and red onion agrodolce
The Truffle Rice is actually a pasta with a marriage of flavors that fall on the tongue like silk ribbon. The Farro is a myriad of tart and creamy, pungeant and sweet, fresh and full of texture. When you take the first bite, the explosive spill of ingredients immediately send your taste buds soaring. Fresh and healthy, it is a dish that certainly exemplifies that farm-to-table motto of Ray’s. I sneak a bite of the Porschetta and it really is watery pork, perfectly prepared with the quiet hints of beet mostarda and fennel. My guest says, “This is one of the best Porchetta’s I’ve ever had” (this means something because he too is a lover of good fare). After our stomachs begin digesting the incredible plates of inspired cuisine, we decide on one more dish: The Sweetbreads. This was the one plate that was more lackluster than anything else. We pause, take a sip of the remnants of our cocktails and order a latte and espresso.
As our meal comes to an end, I am invited into the kitchen to meet Executive Chef Kris Morningstar. Upon entering, I can see him curing truffles and walking his Sous Chef through a dish. He is actually doing this while on crutches, which in my world, makes him a rock star of sorts. Chef Kris is hardworking and creative and his devotion to preparing and serving food that is farm-to-table fresh with a twist of both modern and tasteful innovation is apparent in all ways. Overall, while I am biased and love LACMA, Ray’s is a fun, new, surprisingly good restaurant that makes dining at a Museum that much more endearing. Thanks to the staff and to the Chef for making this an afternoon worth writing about. For those looking to experience the spectrum of art from the Tim Burton exhibit on now through the end of October, 2011, Photography Exhibit that inspires anyone with vision, to the Modern Art housed in the edgy and architecturally distinguished Resnick Pavilion, give Ray’s & Stark Bar a try.
Tasty Tidbit: Keep in mind the menu changes daily, with a few exceptions.
Start at the Stark Bar, make your way into Ray’s, then indulge in the incredible art on display: Tim Burton, ASCO – Elite of the Obscure, Ai WeiWei, Possible Words , Maria Nordman Filmroom, Teresa Margolles, Edward Keinholz-Five Car Stud, and various Installations