An amuse of one perfect mussel with ginger on soft polenta.
French-born but L.A.-based for many years, Chef Laurent Quenioux hasn't been able to really flex his tongs for a while now. By all accounts, (I never made it there) he turned out some startlingly innovative dishes from the tiny, liquor-licenseless Bistro K in South Pasadena, which closed around two years ago. Then he did a series of dinners and consulted on the menu at Vermont, which certainly classed up their stodgy menu, but it wasn't really his restaurant.
Skate wing is topped with a tomato tart, spring vegetables, sujok and sumac powder.
Delicately-flavored sea urchin tapioca pudding with an oyster in yuzu gelee
We got there just a day or so after the liquor license came through, so the restaurant was able to activate the interesting wine list divided into categories like "Sexy Flirt" and "Love and Passion." I was meeting up with friends there, including winemaker Stephen Blum. Bistro LQ is the first restaurant to carry his just released 2006 Sylk Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, and while it's still young, it's a thoroughly delicious cab that's light-bodied enough to work with either seafood or the more strongly-flavored meat dishes. Blum also said that some of the wine is priced much lower than in other restaurants, so there are some real bargains to be found.
Chanterelles, veal sweetbreads, loukoum
Quenioux has turned down the strange factor just a touch -- there's no ant eggs on the menu at the moment, but he continues to be a fan of ingredients like goat, sweetbreads, duck hearts, head cheese and tripe. Animal was called a nose-to-tail restaurant when it opened, but in fact Bistro LQ is much more offally adventurous. But unlike Animal's lusty dishes, Bistro LQ's compositions are restrained and artistic, with all the ingredients carefully calibrated so no matter how unaccustomed you might be to that particular organ, it's not going to overpower. In some cases, the several components of the dishes can seem distracting -- I'm not sure exactly what a piece of loukom candy adds to an earthy chanterelle/sweetbread dish, or whether nicely-cooked salmon with delicate bone marrow custard benefits from being paired with sliced, cooked abalone and extremely salty pork skin cubes. But this is an ambitious restaurant, and it would take several visits to experience all the nuances of the tea service, the cheese condiments, the macaron flavors, the dessert tasting...and the foie gras three ways, with roasted unagi and violet bitter chocolate! So consider this an early taste, rather than a full meal.
In addition to a tasting menu of six courses for $65 with a vegetarian tasting menu available, there's the option of ordering half courses.
One of my favorites was a Nice-meets-Mexico dish of mussels with a deeply flavored sauce of Mexican saffron, epazote and huitlacoche, topped with a chick pea pancake.
They require three half courses per person if you do it that way, but it's a good way to create your own tasting menu, and it was just the right amount of food for us. Desserts are also fascinating architectural compositions, even if beet espuma (like a mousse) doesn't taste quite as good as it looks. Even if you're not a dessert person, they're worth trying since they're not very sweet and really work more as an herbal/vegetal finish to the meal. My favorite was the chocolate ganache shotglass that came out unbidden with an espresso. We ate too much to try the cheese cart, but it looks worthy of a cheese-focused meal on its own, with numerous condiments, gelees and mustards served with the cheese.
Rice pudding with goat milk, cassis sorbet and beet espuma
Verdict: This is beautifully-designed food that that for the most part matches up in the taste department. Personally, I prefer a more informal approach to dining, but right out of the starting gate Quenioux is giving the likes of Sona some formidable competish, as we say at Variety. There are photos of several more courses available on my Flickr page.