Los Angeles Magazine Chef of the Year Gary Menes has opened his latest pop-up restaurant in the historic Bekins Storage building on South Brand in Glendale.
Some may remember Menes from his days at Palate Food + Wine, which used to inhabit the front space.
Le Comptoir is housed in the Wine Vault around back next to a decadently large free parking lot. The somewhat hidden entrance is deliberate, suddenly confronting patrons around a darkened corner with the delicious sights and smells of the unique space.
At designated times, a limited number of guests are seated around a three-sided counter, or comptoir, and served a five-course prix fixe meal. Food is prepared inches from guests in the method of sushi chefs, except this food is sauteed and baked and poached.
It's a marvel to watch three cooks, one waitress and one attendant feed fourteen expectant people using what looks like a hot plate and a warming oven.
I'm a big fan of the “sit down, shut up and eat this” credo. So I happily acquiesced as plate after plate of exquisitely combined flavors and textures arrived. First was the night's amuse-bouche, a pillow of cauliflower and corn polenta with a shaving of lemon on top that was, well, amusing. Then came the most exquisite course, in my opinion: sweet potato veloute (literally “velvet” soup) poured over a crispy, slightly burnt-tasting farinette (a sort of savory pancake) topped with Greek yogurt, herbs and dehydrated corn. The combination of creamy, crunchy, earthy and sweet was sublime.
About this time, the first in a flight of four French wines appeared, a young, crisp Chateau les Arromans Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon. This would be followed by a creamy Rouvre Saint Leger Grenache Blanc, a fruity Domaine du Fresche Cabernet Franc and a dusty Morgon old vine Gamay.
Menes' specialty, the 63-degree egg, arrived next. An impossibly creamy, slow-poached hen egg is surrounded by browned croutons and roasted king trumpet mushrooms, then topped with a feather-light lemon-Reggiano sauce. I was beginning to understand the chef's philosophy by now, the stories, or better yet, paintings he was creating with his plates. They matched the free jazz on the house sound system that seemed to keep him focused. Menes' aesthetic coalesces in his vegetable and fruit platter, a carefully arranged assemblage of warm and cool bites from local gardens. Warm squash, beets, celery, and baby turnips coexist ecstatically with cool persimmon, grapes and pickled onions. The dim lighting only amplifies the fun of this oral experiment — who knows what the fork will deliver next? By now, you trust completely.
Roasted kabocha squash and peppery mizuna on pomegranate-studded wheat berries retrain the palate to the bitter and sweet, preparing it for dessert, a spongy angel food cake with berries, chocolate and a quenelle of hand-whipped heavy cream and creme fraiche.
You may be asking, as I was at the time, where is the animal protein? Apart from the egg, there isn't any on the standard prix fixe menu ($55). For supplemental fees of $12 to $20 per course, one can enjoy Menes' take on diver scallops, truffle risotto, Berkshire pork belly and San Julian beef.
Le Comptoir is a foodie's paradise but may turn off those who can't tolerate pretension. The menu, for instance, must be pulled up on your smart phone because they are “going paperless.” A chalkboard would have been fine. The bunker-like space and novel dining concept may also not be for everyone. It's ultra-cool and though it simulates being in a friend's kitchen, it lacks the warmth of a real party with friends.
But any way you slice it, this guy can cook. And for at least another two months, this pop-up incarnation of Le Comptoir is right here in Glendale.
LISA DUPUY has reviewed more than 100 area restaurants. She welcomes comments at LDupuy@aol.com.
What: Le Comptoir
Where: 929 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale
When: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; seatings at 6 and 8 p.m..
Cost: Five-course meal, $55 (plus supplemental fees for specialty dishes); wine pairings, $24
More info: www.lecomptoirla.com, reservations strongly recommended