Gary Menes, the talented and peripatetic chef has alighted for a spell at Tiara Cafe, hosting his pop-up restaurant Le Comptoir during dinner service when the restaurant is otherwise closed. The 12 seats at this restaurant are at the counter, hence the name of the pop-up. The experience of dining at the counter is intimate as you can watch the chefs prepare your meal while you sit side by side with your fellow diners.
I had first heard of Chef Menes from Jo of My Last Bite who raved about his cooking. I never made it to Marche or Palihouse when he was there and finally managed to taste his food for the first time on a recent Friday evening at Le Comptoir. The menu is 5 courses for $46 and is vegetarian. Diners have the option of swapping out one course for foie ($18 supplement) and another for meat ($5 supplement).
The meal began with an amuse of beet above lime pudding.
The house-made bread was excellent; this is not a restaurant for carb-phobes, as the bread is all but irresistible with a great crust.
1st course: Corn soup: sierra gold potato, french shallot, corn veloute, farinette, yogurt, celery. The corn veloute was remarkable. One of my favorite dishes of the year. I love corn and the consistency of the soup was wonderful with the sweetness of the corn shining through. The tableside service of the pouring of the soup was also dramatic and reminiscent of restaurants like Jean Georges. The best soup I have had in a very long time.
The alternate selection for the first course is the foie gras terrine. It was rich and spread nicely on the bread but given a choice between having the foie or the soup, I'd choose the soup. I never thought I'd say that corn soup wins over foie, but Chef Menes has a way with vegetables and soups and it would be a shame to miss whatever soup he makes that evening.
2nd course: A signature dish at the pop-up is the Sunny Side-up Egg with young lettuce, herbs and sorrel jus. The lettuce and butter arrive first and then a hot pan sizzling with the egg inside. We were instructed to add the butter then the herbs and lettuce and mix together. I enjoyed this but I found that by the time I added all of the ingredients, the yolk had solidified due to the heat of the pan. I am not sure if that was the intent or not, but I recommend mixing up the yolk when this dish arrives so you can experience it still runny.
|Lettuces, herbs, butter|
|Egg in pan|
4th Course: Wagyu filet and 72-hr braised short rib, hearts of romaine, carrots, forbidden rice, currant relish. ($5 supp). The charred romaine had a great texture and the wagyu, both filet and short rib was dripping with intense flavor and richness. The carrots added a note of sweetness to the dish and enlivened the plating as if they were monoliths on the plains of my plate.
5th course: Sourdough donut holes, cinnamon sugar, nutella, candied walnuts. I didn't love the sourness of the donut but did enjoy the nutella. Again the plating is just so.
There is an optional four course wine pairing for $24 and otherwise your only other decision is whether you want the soup or the foie, and the meat or the vegetable, which on the evening I was there was blue hubbard squash, brussels sprouts, dried cherry marmalade, smoked scallions, santa barbara chanterelles, spanish padron peppers.
Le Comptoir is open Thursday - Saturday and has three seatings nightly, at 6 pm, 8 pm and 10 pm. Reservations can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Chef Menes on Twitter @garymenes
It has already made Jonathan Gold's 99 Essential Restaurants. Le Comptoir may be ephemeral, but it is well worth finding. Get while the getting is good, else you will have missed out.
Tiara Cafe: 127 E. 9th Street, between Main and Los Angeles Sts., DTLA