I’m feeling a bit deflated today. Recently I discovered that my column shares the same name with a right-wing, conspiracy theory, political blog (I’ll leave out the hyper link here, because you don’t need to waste your time with all that. Ok never mind, freedom of speech yaddi yadda, here you go).
So just to clarify this week’s post is not about one of the biggest debates in our country, the long standing argument between the born-agains, pinko-commies and everyone else in between, but the restaurant that bears the same name: Church & State.
Located in the radtastic, completely underrated section of downtown Los Angeles, Church & State reminds me of a cross between an area in San Francisco I’ve always wanted to live on a quiet Sunday, Spring night in New York City. The surrounding streets were quiet for a Friday night, however, the restaurant and the adjacent bar were full of people, music and commerce. Dimly lit, Church & State has a familiar ambiance created by the glow of tea lights and dark wood. Its patrons were good looking and fashionable, as was the wait staff, which was (shockingly) awesome.
The menu features traditional French brasserie food, with the standard, frisée salad, modified version of brandade de morue, and duck confit. I was looking forward to some more adventurous dishes, as I recently heard about the "little toasts with white bean puree topped with uni” but that wasn’t on the menu, so we went for the full-blown frog dinner instead. (Frog like berets and baguettes, not like Kermit and Disney princes).
We started with the homemade charcuterie plate, which included eight different homemade meats and pates.
The waiter kindly described them to me but I didn’t pay so much attention, only noting which was the headcheese and which was the salami. That being said, four of the eight were awesome, including the salami, and the other four were bland and tasteless, particularly the headcheese.
Next we ordered the herbed goat cheese, served with crostini and homemade lavender honey, which was really good. Not only do they serve a healthy amount of cheese and crostini, but also they didn’t mind bringing me an additional side of the lavender honey. (For me, it doesn’t get much better than cheese and honey; the only thing I like the taste of better is foie gras).
As a general rule, I try to order foie gras at every restaurant that serves it-- providing it's not too cost prohibitive-- the same way as a kid, I used to order crème brulee at every restaurant I went to. You can’t know which one is best unless you try them all, right? Served with dates and toast points, the foie gras terrine is presented like Thomas Keller’s terrine at Bouchon (which is literally like a mouth orgasm served in a jar).
This precious jar of force-fed, duck-liver goodness, topped with the traditional duck fat, made me salivate. Presuming the rich flavor of the dish, I paired it with a sweet sauternes, to cut the taste of the fat. I scrapped the fat from the terrine, wiped the knife on my toast point, applied a healthy serving of the foie, topped it with salt and closed my eyes to take my first bite. HOLD YOUR BREATH...
...It was totally underwhelming. The foie was tasteless and the consistency was fairly dry and flaky, which suggests that it was served a few days past the “best served by” date or suffered the sad death of spreadable-item-hypothermia, which happens when anything that is pushed to the back of the fridge too close to the cooler. It’s a depressing fate for the decadent duck. But it happens.
Despite my lack of enthusiasm for some of the food, I was really enjoying myself and still optimistic about the forthcoming bone marrow, which I’d heard about because the bones are served cut down the middle, horizontally, as opposed to the way I’ve seen it, where the bones are served upright, cut vertically. Two hefty bones, sliced down the middle provided an easy access to the fatty, gelatinous awesomeness.
I opted for the sea salt as opposed to the oddly paired shallot-parsley pepper mix that accompanied the dish. I’m not so much of a fan of the accouterments the chef served these particular bones, I did like the flavor of the marrow itself.
Obviously we were eating on the lighter side, so we also ordered an a la carte dish of beets roasted with bacon lardon and cheese (asiago I think). The flavor was amazing, but the beats were under cooked and that overwhelmed the rest of the dish.
I soaked some of the extra, toasted and butter marrow bread, into the beet infused, bacon cheese mush which was obviously incredible. My amateur suggestions is to serve this dish as a mash, crostini-type thing, or blend it down to an artichoke dip style spread.
Another great thing about this place, is that in New York, or San Francisco even, it would be filled to the brim with annoyingly stylish people spilling over into the street waiting for tables. And while I’m sure the management would welcome the influx of business, the at-capacity – but not over – feel of this place contributed to the warm and comfortable ambiance. We were seated on time and left alone to sit and leisurely sip the remains of my cocktail well after the bill was paid.
The meal was not perfect, but it seems Church and State is working hard to do things better. Everyone appeared to be happy, the food was good enough and people seemed to enjoy being there together, sharing the atmosphere and experiences of the restaurant, one I would be happy to go to again. The polarizing politicos permeating the media might learn a thing or two from Church and State, and instead of blindly aligning with partisan agendas, start supporting those unique and reliable policies that benefit the greater good and make life a bit more comfortable even when things aren't so great.
*Photos by Thomas Young