To get to Ray's, the new restaurant at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, you thread your way through Chris Burden's streetlamp installation, past the outdoor Stark Bar and into a glowing minimalist rectangle that abuts the soaring Ahmanson gallery like a glass shoebox parked next to a refrigerator. The space is designed by Renzo Piano, which makes it the most prominent celebrity-architect restaurant since Richard Meier designed Cut, and the interior, punctuated by vitrines displaying the museum's teacup collection, seems both inside and out, both a building and a secret vantage space. It is not art, but it anticipates art.
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The restaurant itself, run by Joachim Splichal's group, follows the lead of Splichal's Patina, Lincoln, by the Metropolitan Opera, and the Modern, in the Museum of Modern Art, in inserting major restaurants into major cultural spaces. And chef Kris Morningstar, whom we have seen here at Meson G, Blue Velvet and District, has designed one of the most seasonal, farm-based menus in town. In mid-spring, there is ramp risotto, whole roasted fava pods with olive oil, grilled puntarelle with anchovies and English peas with gnocchi, just to name a few things whose seasons can be measured in days. The wild striped bass comes with Jerusalem artichokes, green garlic and chanterelles, vegetables whose seasons coincide briefly; the roast squab is stuffed beneath the skin with the last of the year's salsify and the first of the English peas. Lamb sweetbreads with artichokes? Why not -- Roman spring. Pork belly? Of course, with yellow beets and arugula. Although the menu is vegetable-intensive, it is far, far from butter-free, but Ray's, named in honor of the late film producer Ray Stark, may be the restaurant that this plaza deserves.