Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Kris Morningstar Resurfaces at Ray's @ LACMA

Kris Morningstar has been a highly regarded chef for over half a decade in Los Angeles, but he may have been better known for his itinerant ways than for the food on his plates; until now.  In the past few years Morningstar was the chef at District, CASA and Blue Velvet but he has finally found a match between chef and restaurant where each is perfectly suited for the other at Ray's, the restaurant part of the new Ray's and Stark Bar at LACMA.  The restaurant has achieved acclaim including a coveted spot on Esquire Magazine's Best New Restaurants list.

I was recently invited to try the tasting menu, paired with wine by sommelier Paul Sanguinetti.  The setting is comfortable modern, a cross between the Jetson's and something out of 2001 A Space Odyssey.  The meal begins on a fun note as the placesettings are hidden in a drawer under the table in front of each diner.  

The meal started with an amuse of Cauliflower with caper and raisin puree and Italian flat leaf parsley. The combination of sweet and savory welcomed our taste buds to the food and wine that was to follow.

The first course was Kanpachi with pineapple guava, serrano chiles and mint.  I found the fish to be on the bland side with the only flavor coming from the salt and the chiles.  The sashimi was accompanied by a Habit Wine Company chenin blanc, a New World chenin blanc from Santa Barbara.

The second course was a Foie Gras and Pheasant Terrine with apple and onion compote and  frisee, roasted pecan and sunchoke salad.  The  foie and pheasant was a luxurious winter game terrine that packed the flavor I had missed in the prior course.  The rich terrine paired well with the sweet compote and the salad served as a suitable palate cleanser in between bites.  This dish was paired with an Old World chenin blanc, which was an interesting "pendant" to the New World wine served with the sashimi.

The third course was Sweet Corn Agnolotti with hen of the woods mushrooms and pine nuts.  This was the most successful dish of the evening, a really delicious combination of savory mushrooms and sweet corn.  If you see Agnolotti on the menu, order them.  The pasta was paired with Bouregard chardonnay from Santa Cruz hills which was aged in oak barrels which gave it a deep flavor which played off the mushrooms.

The fourth course was Wild Salmon, served with elephant mushrooms and a roasted beet puree.  The salmon had a delightfully crispy skin that added a pleasing textural element to the dish.  The wine paired with the fish was a Dolcetto de Dogliani , a smoky Italian red.

For our fifth course and final savory course, Morningstar prepared a Dry Aged Hanger Steak served with forest mushrooms, black vinegar sauce and cream of leek.  The intense black vinegar sauce brought the dish together and again the mushrooms were outstanding.  The paired negrette was earthy and a good match to the well aged steak and the mushrooms.

The meal concluded with two dessert courses: Chocolate Mousse (above) and the Sticky Toffee Pudding (below) with seared figs, goats milk ice cream and English toffee.  The toffee pudding was the winner, a sweet and salty conclusion to the meal that sent us out into the night on a high note.

LACMA finally has a worthy dining destination and Morningstar has a kitchen where he can execute his artistic vision. I look forward to seeing how this marriage evolves.  I have a feeling we'll be seeing Morningstar's menus at Ray's for years to come.  After you have finished up your dinner, where better to walk off your meal than Urban Light, Chris Burden's sculpture of two hundred cast-iron lampposts?  Take advantage of Ray's LACMA setting to truly make an evening of it.  There are few such dramatic restaurant settings in the whole city.

All photos courtesy of TreasureLA

Ray's & Stark Bar: 5905 Wilshire Blvd (LACMA), Mid City.  323.857.6180. | Website

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