Industriel, it should be mentioned, is a restaurant that can leave a certain kind of person sputtering with rage. It is decorated in a kind of Depression chic, for one thing. Walls are paneled with old wooden soda crates. Banquettes are upholstered in a gold vinyl you may have never seen outside cocktail lounges attached to ancient Midwestern bowling alleys. And the not-unplentiful homeless people on the street outside are confronted with the enormous blowups of Dorothea Lange's photographs of starving Depression-era migrant workers that flank the doors.
A rusty block and tackle hangs near the hostess station, and the main dining room is dominated by an arrangement of glowing, bear-shaped honey containers, many dozens of them, dangling over a rusted old bathtub. A billboard-sized vintage nude in the barroom upstairs has the unsettling presence of a photo stolen from your great-grandmother's Instagram feed. Even the restaurant's name, written in French for some reason, is aggravating — especially when you consider that the name of the website is "industrielfarm.com," although I suspect the image they wish to evoke is that of vintage tractors rather than of vast battery-chicken sheds.
Is there artfully peeling paint? Recycled factory stairs? Rows of hand-canned pickles and jams for sale arranged on an artfully battered cabinet? You would expect no less. Industriel wants to be your crafty steampunk friend.
Perhaps you would like to begin with a cocktail. If a 30-ingredient Bloody Mary isn't your thing, perhaps you would like to try the Deliverance, a thick mulch of moonshine, muddled mint, and cucumber sourced from farmers market standby Beylik Farms, that tastes a little like new-mown lawn.
Like every other restaurant opening these days, Industriel charges for bread and butter as if it were an actual dish, but the presentation — damp focaccia, plus a chunk of something that must have once belonged to a baguette — will remind you that you really should be cutting down on your carbs. The menu, typed on what was probably once your great-grandmother's Underwood, includes a bit of almost everything that has been bopping around the Los Angeles restaurant scene this year.
Marrowbones? Sure, there's a dish of grilled marrowbone with beef-cheek remoulade called "Skull and Bones" that I would bet anything was concocted, like the chicken liver-intensive "faux gras," mostly because of the way it sounded. Pig's ear? It's shredded, fried and replacing the bacon in a pretty standard version of frisée aux lardons, if you discount the chunks of pickled strawberry. Grilled octopus tentacles? Of course. They're coated with something that is tart and charred — sumac? — and served with tough little pea tendrils that have been briefly smoked over a grill. Jars of housemade pickles as bar snacks, kale salad with bacon, quinoa salad, gooey sous-vide eggs — Industriel doesn't miss a trick.
We have seen this chef, Josef Antonishek, before. He went from a widely praised term at the l'Ermitage Hotel to the culinary circus that was West Hollywood's O-Bar, and after that, the odd small-plates menu at Minx, the gargantuan lounge-restaurant that hovered over the Verdugo foothills like a purple UFO. He is imaginative, apt to commingle culinary references in a slightly different way from most of L.A.'s fusion chefs. I could be wrong about this, but I suspect Antonishek's cooking resonates most the closer it comes to Russian cooking, to the world of tarragon, mushrooms, smoke, vinegar and bread-thickened sauces.
The best thing I have ever eaten at Industriel has been a house-smoked sturgeon served under a scattering of finely julienned red and yellow beets, which gave the dish both a crunch and a subtle, elusive sweetness. Pelmeni with rabbit and mascarpone was obviously intended as a Piedmont-inflected take on Russian dumplings, but the brassy musk of truffle oil and the quiet meatiness of shredded rabbit combined to give the dish a whiff of the steppes, as if the mascarpone were basically a turbocharged sour cream. That faux gras, a cool, dense slab of chicken liver and pounded poultry breasts, actually did have a bit of the melting richness of the duck liver, like something you'd find on a particularly good zakuski plate.
Cider-brined pork loin with roasted onion and a thick burnt-bread sauce sounds like a perfected Sunday roast, like something out of one of Simon Hopkinson's cookbooks (although I believe the burnt-bread sauce was an invention of Jean-Georges Vongerichten at his New York restaurant Jean-Georges), but it also has a dark, brooding flavor that could as well be Russian.
But then you come across something like the "goachetta," a log of rolled goat meat and herbs meant to evoke the Tuscan pork dish porchetta; or the dead-rare duck breast served with a hibiscus jus seemingly chosen as much for its ability to resemble hare blood as for its tartness — dishes possibly brilliant in conception that just don't come together on the plate.
Antonishek will have an idea, say, of reinterpreting a bowl of steamed mussels as bouillabaisse. The broth will have some of the intensity of bouillabaisse, and the mussels will be fresh and firm. But where tradition would dictate it be topped by a thin, crunchy sliver of toast smeared with the spicy pepper-garlic paste rouille and sprinkled perhaps with a few shavings of Gruyère, Antonishek includes a split chunk of baguette oozing with melted cheese and a ramekin of creamy red-pepper sauce. What he's serving tastes fine, but the purpose of a rouille toast is as a jolt of intensity to the soup, and grilled-cheese-sandwich richness has the opposite effect, wearying the palate instead of refreshing it.
Serving snapper with a stodgy millet souffle and an almost random scattering of the briny sea vegetable called samphire actually makes the nicely cooked fillet taste fishier, less good than it would without the complex accompaniments. Antonishek, although clearly talented, may be trying a little too hard. It will be interesting to see what Industriel could become if he settles down.
Desserts, from ex-Campanile pastry hand Meadow Ramsey, include a chocolate caramel tart with a crust of crushed pretzels and a scoop of tonka-bean ice cream that tastes like a riot at the perfumer's shop. If your idea of a perfect after-dinner drink is a bottle of extra-dark stout, this may be the dessert to have.
Joseph Antonishek's Industriel serves up steampunk on a plate.
609 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, (213) 488-8020, industrielfarm.com
Snacks, $3; salads, $11; small plates, $14; larger plates, $19.
Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday, 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Credit cards accepted. Full bar. Difficult street parking (One Wilshire lot is nearby).Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times