Magical Mystery Tour
To the small, food-obsessed population of Angelenos who know the difference between a sliver Jabugo ham and a chunk of mere jamon serrano, Bastide is the Montrachet-slinging equivalent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, with Space Jam auteur Joe Pytka, its mad proprietor, taking the place of the estimable Mr. Wonka.
When Bastide opened half a decade ago, its chef, Alain Giraud, redefined what California-Provençal cooking might be, only to be replaced abruptly by Ludovic Lefebvre, who introduced molecular gastronomy to the Los Angeles kitchen. The all-French wine list was of unmatched depth. And then, as suddenly as it opened, Bastide closed, and many months went by while French design star Andrée Putman tweaked her postrustic minimalist interior to include treasures from Pytka’s art collection; Walter Manzke, an ex-Patina chef who had become a locavore cult figure in the Monterey Bay area, took over the range, and Pieter Verheyde, the former sommelier at Ducasse in New York, assumed control of the wine list. It was the most famous nonoperating restaurant in America.
Pytka opened the doors last week, and the former customers began to creep back — dinner may start with a glass of Champagne in an empty garden, the music of Louis Armstrong drowned out by the noise of steamrollers, before you are ushered into an equally empty dining room decorated with tchotchke-laden leafless birch-tree trunks (by Russian artist Nicolai Ovtchinnikov) as a few more people trickle into the restaurant.
The menu is prix-fixe, $100 for seven courses. There is as yet no wine list, so for the moment matching wines are poured with each course, and unless you are the type of connoisseur who claims familiarity with Hungarian Királyleányka, there will be things you have never tasted. The servers are dressed to the nines, as if dinner were one of those parties in Eyes Wide Shut; the music toggles between Cole Porter and Fleetwood Mac.
As in the last incarnation of Bastide, the food wobbles on the edge between familiarity and utter weirdness, things like a shot glass of clear, salsa-flavored tomato water, a sliver of tortilla chip, an espresso spoon of lobster, a squidge of guacamole and a scoop of salty lime sorbet in a shot of tequila — a deconstructed Baja lobster taco. Or tiny squares of sliced hamachi laid out in a mosaic, each dotted with numbing sancho pepper, dusted with salt grated from a massive Peruvian rock and served with a sake-oyster slushy: a take on a Peruvian tiradito. Tomato salad is moistened with tomato water for extra intensity. A Thai plate includes creamy corn soup poured from a press coffee pot over a bit of Alaskan king crab, a fresh spring roll and a remarkably spicy crab-peanut salad. Warm shavings of abalone are garnished with shaved raw shiitake mushrooms, potato gnocchi and brown butter, an improvisation from the school of Joachim Splichal. Lamb — is, well, lamb, but a remarkably luxurious version of itself, probably cooked for hours at low temperature. Many, many cheeses. Dessert. A fifth or sixth glass of wine, probably a vintage port. And then out on the street, wondering exactly what you had been doing over the last three hours. 8475 Melrose Pl., L.A., (323) 651-5950.
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