Chef Gary Menes, who took over the kitchens at Palihouse back in May, is stepping down at the end of the week. He is planning to open a new restaurant with business partner François Renaud. Previously, Menes has cooked at Patina, The French Laundry, Palate Food + Wine, and the now-closed Marché.
"I'm leaving the Palihouse at the end of the week and I'm going to concentrate my efforts of finding a space for a new business venture," Menes told us this afternoon by phone. Menes's goal is to open a, "casual counter space that everyone wants to go to," with a focus on produce-driven food.
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Currently, the only obstacle seems to be finding an adequate location. "What would be ideal for us would be to find an old bar or something like that, where you can hang out, have a wonderful glass of wine, and get something seasonal with up-to-date techniques." He and Renaud are aiming for a 35-seat restaurant made mostly of counter and bar seating, with no reservations. "That's our dream," he told us. They are currently looking in areas like Silverlake, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Echo Park, and Atwater Village. "We're looking at more Bohemian parts of town," said Menes. "We want to spend most of our money on product, not on rent."
Renaud is a sommelier and general manager, previously working at Cafe Stella, and Palate Food + Wine. Said Renaud, "my specialty tends to go toward Southwestern France, which provides outstanding value." The wine list will have a concentration on organic and biodynamic wines.
As for the food itself, Menes told us that he plans to put a lot of effort into making sure that high-quality, farmers market vegetables are given the attention that they deserve. He talked about the difficulty a vegetarian (like his business partner Renaud) often has when trying to sit down at a restaurant for food and wine. "It's very protein driven," said Menes. "And if you want a vegetarian dish, the chef gets pissed, or just gives you a plate with grilled vegetables and olive oil." As an example of what a vegetarian may find on his menu, he mentioned, "72-hour braised carrots with wheat berries and an orange emulsion. Really digging deep down inside and making the carrot the protein, so to speak."
As for the timing on finding this new space, Menes was not specific. "That could be anywhere from 24 hours to two years." But nonetheless, he seems certain that it is time to move on. "I think everybody who was involved knew I had to park myself a little bit before I gathered all my thoughts and all my resources together. But all my efforts need to go into doing this. It's a dream that needs to be realized, ever since our premature closure of Marché. That one hurt. That one hurt a lot."