Saturday, August 08, 2009

Bistro LQ: Laurent Quenioux's creations are offally good

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.

Now Quenioux has his own real restaurant with Bistro LQ in the old Mimosa space. Smack in the middle of the Beverly/Melrose/3rd St. hot restaurant area, it's probably the best place to be to attract people who can really appreciate and afford his inventive, sophisticated food. The room is light and uncluttered, with modern art on the walls and French fashion model-type waiters. It's a bistro in name only -- the minimalist decor shows no traces of the former Frenchy Mimosa, and the preparations are French-influenced, but with Mexican, Asian and Middle Eastern ingredients and a post-modern culinary slant.DSCF4019
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.DSCF4017
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.DSCF4031
Rice pudding with goat milk, cassis sorbet and beet espuma

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.

Bistro LQ on Urbanspoon


HerbyN said...

looks a little "fancified" for my rustic tastes, but the food does look lovely. it's just that i have a bit of ambivalence for food that seems like it might be more appealing hanging on a museum wall than resting in my belly...

SinoSoul said...

But the room is casual chic, as are the servers. LQ came out to say hello, the FOH guy was a total gent, I was so relaxed even tho they treated us like royalty (for no good reason). Did you see the condiment platter for the cheese plate? Now that is formidable.

Pat Saperstein said...

Herby, that's exactly what I was trying to get across!
And Tony, Laurent didn't come out at all when we were there, even though the winemaker knew him from Bistro K...apparently usually he's rather shy.

carter said...

Was Gregg Greenbaum there? He put the wine list together. Did not know whether he was working shifts, or just consulting.
Must get here asap.
One of LA's top top chefs, period!

Food, she thought. said...

I have been wanting to hit this up since opening weekend. I may wait just a little while longer, just to make sure they are in stride. But from your review it sounds like they are firing on all cylinders.

Unknown said...

I think we may have been there at the same time on Friday night. My wife and I tried the 6 course tasting menu. I was more like an 8 course menu when all was said and done. We normally don't challenge ourselves when we go out, since it is a treat for us, but this time it was well worth it.
We liked almost everything that we tasted. The staff was terrific - helpful, not pushy and very well informed about the food they were serving.
My highlights were the Pea Composition and the Stuffed Zucchini flower.
The cheese plate condiments were dizzying, but the blueberry jam with blue cheese was spot on.
The couple next to us ordered the dessert tasting menu and had 4 full size desserts appear. It was almost comical watching them cope with an approaching LAX departure and a mountain of beautiful desserts.
I would go again, but come hungry if I wanted the tasting menu one more time.

Anonymous said...

This was a very sub-par experience. I was with a table of 2 chefs. We ordered tasting menus and had some special requirements that were addressed with the server specifically before we ordered and asked if the kitchen would do a tasting menu accommodating. The comedy of errors that followed was interesting. First they took the order wrong and sent 9 courses instead of 6 and charged for it. Second, one of our guests who had special needs was ignored and sent three courses she could not eat. 2 of the guests at the party ordered vegetarian tasting menus and were shocked to see three courses highlighting fava beans and peas. The dishes were not bad and sometimes tasty, but it was truly a disappointment to see the ingredients repeated in a tasting menu. When I order a tasting menu I expect to be shown a multitude of ways the cook can prepare food. This was a major disappointment. I have a heard a lot about "LQ" and his innovative cuisine, but this was a real let down. The service was awful. The cheeses were read off the purveyor descriptions at the table.... Could just be some growing pains, but I am not convinced. This is the worst opening month I have been to in a long time. Really sad I didn't have nicer things to say. The lobster and oatmeal was pretty good the first time they served it to me in the same tasting menu.

Anonymous said...

I ate there 2 weeks ago. While some dishes are quite good, the food is more about style than taste. I would prefer food that is less pretty and more flavorful. The Hanger Steak and the desserts were subpar at best.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Pat,

Thanks for the review. I was curious about this place. Looks like there are some worthwhile dishes to try. :)