Monday, August 16, 2010

Church & State at Industrial & Mateo

I went to Church & State with my good buddy BC to see and taste what the hype is all about and I must admit it was an experience. Church & State is a restaurant smack in the Los Angeles industrial/art loft/underbelly district East of Downtown by the river. Just getting there is an adventure. Heck wandering too far from the well-lit front of the place will cause you to shift into an alert defensive frame of mind. But the location can play into the adventure of the evening too. You’re not just going out to dinner; you are going to distant dark and potentially dangerous lands. OK, not really very dangerous, but work with me here.

Church & State has its own quirky personality. It is trying very hard to have a New York hipster in-the-know vibe, which it does a good job of mimicking. It is a loud, well designed post industrial looking restaurant filled with young suits from downtown, girls in tight fitting dresses, the occasional apparently successful artist, and a good sprinkling of affluent out-of-town tourists there to have “the experience.”

Big, loud, post-industrial, crowded, and yes, kind of fun.

What’s French here? Just the menu. Nobody in this place speaks or seems to have any connection to France other than via food. (They are not even trying to pretend to be anything close to French, which I kind of like, because I really hate it when non-French staff speak with a fake accent then have to embarrass themselves when you talk to them in French and they have to admit they're from Texas and have no idea what you just said.) The lack of French ambiance is totally OK because the surprisingly impressive French menu has items you just don’t see very often, such as Mœlle de Bœuf (Roasted marrow bone) – the last time I had this was in Paris. We enjoined a number of appetizers including the Mœlle, foie gras served in a jar of duck fat with 3 different homemade jams (oooh yes), a delicate anchovy pastry (wow!), a well-varied assiette de charcuterie, and more.  Too many appetizers really, and all of them were good to sublime. The disappointment only came when the entree we ordered and planed on sharing came. It was suppose to be a classic choucroute d'alsace and instead was some funky nouvelle cuisine thing with almost zero choucroute and mediocre associated meats. It was really the only thing we could complain about. Note: The menu changes regularly -- visit the website to see what’s serving this week.

The service from the waiter was good though not extraordinary, but the host was quite pleasant, making sure we were happy, stopping by at just the right moments, recommending drinks and basically making us feel special – which really is the sign of a good host.

This is not a cheap night out. Expect to easily spend $75 to $100 per person. And I recommend you do so by just ordering 3 or 4 great appetizers per person and sharing.  Also, I suggest you get your reservations in early. When I went to make our reservations for a Saturday night 3 days before, everything between 6 and 8pm was already booked, and for the 3.5 hours we were there, rarely an  empty table to be seen until after 11pm. Another plus: they held our table for us, which I appreciate. Some places consider a reservation simply to mean you get to go to the top of the list when you arrive.

Church & State = a French Menu + New York atmosphere + industrial downtown Los Angeles location. Yeah, like I said, it’s an adventure, but a good one.

A vos amour,Le Capitaine

The restaurant's website: Church & State