Restaurant project construction delays are nothing new for Los Angeles chefs. Appliances and materials get back ordered. Inspections take forever. The wait can be excruciating. Just ask fans of Gary Menes, who have been waiting for the opening of his new Le Comptoir location in Koreatown at the Hotel Normandie.
It is an opening that was first announced more than a year ago. But when Le Comptoir opens in mid November, Menes will finally be up and running in the first permanent location for what had been strictly a traveling restaurant concept.
At the Le Comptoir at Hotel Normandie he plans on serving 10 diners each night at two seatings at 6 and 8:30 p.m. from Tuesday through Saturday nights. The six-course prix-fixe menu will be $67 per person with an additional wine pairing for $39.
Menes, who has lived in Long Beach since the third grade, when his Coast Guard father was stationed there, has only left his hometown for stints at The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco and The French Laundry.
He and his wife, Rosa, are raising their four children there. His Long Beach roots run even deeper. Nine months ago, he took over the Gladys Avenue Urban Farm from oceanographer Charles Moore. Now this tiny farm, an eighth of an acre in East Long Beach, bursts with the produce Menes has been nurturing for his new Le Comptoir menu.
Menes makes his decisions about what to grow with one simple determining factor, “It all depends on what I want to cook.” Describing his cuisine as hyper-seasonal, currently Menes is harvesting black-eyed peas, purple romanesco broccoli, cheddar cauliflower and filet beans as well as Musquee de Provence pumpkins and blue Hubbard squash.
In another section of the farm, Menes shows off his prized Hokkaido squash. “I am going to roast them whole, cut tranches and serve them like steak with herbs and sage rosemary and butter, then put that on top of wheat berries with an onion jus. It will have that mouth feel of meat, of something substantial, more than ‘a plate of vegetables.’”
Menes plans to grow as much as half of the ingredients for his news menus at the farm. “I plan to spend 50% of my time here and 50% at the restaurant. All of the cooking starts here now. On the plate is just the end result.” Menes will share the farm space with his staff, who will each be responsible for harvesting produce for the restaurant there at least once a week.
Tasting the fruit of Menes’ labors will begin next month at Le Comptoir. He will continue to source additional ingredients from his favorite farms including Weiser and Rutiz. He'll source seafood from Stephanie Munz of Santa Barbara and pork from Cook Pigs Ranch and Tails & Trotters.
He plans to bake bread for Le Comptoir with his own 19-year-old sourdough starter and to make fresh churned butter as well. The sourdough starter will also make an appearance in the dessert course, when Menes pairs doughnuts with coffee from Trystero and his other favorite coffee roasters.
Walking out of the farm, Menes stops to admire his Chioggia sugar beets, albino rutabagas, and to pick and taste a few tiny Alpine strawberries. He is counting down the days until he can bring the fruit of Long Beach into the heart of Koreatown.
Even though Le Comptoir’s opening has been delayed, Menes says he sees the extra time as a gift. “With the time I have been able to source things and do research. These ingredients are special to me. I want to present them honestly and truthfully.”
Le Comptoir at the Hotel Normandie, 3606 West 6th Street, Los Angeles, www.lecomptoirla.com.