Test Kitchen Returns: Testing ... 1, 2, 3
Liberty Farms duck from Walter Manzke at Test Kitchen
Test Kitchen was born in August 2010. Located in the lower level of Townhouse, the restaurant that would become Sotto and Picca, it was a culinary experiment, a rotating pop-up that featured different chefs and menus every night. During its 2010 run, from August to December, Test Kitchen held dinners featuring more than 50 chefs, including Walter Manzke, Alain Giraud (Maison Giraud) and Ricardo Zarate (Mo-Chica, Picca). There, L.A. got its first taste of Red Medicine.
Since that time, Test Kitchen has popped up here and there. In September 2011, there were two anniversary dinners on the same night in the original space. This past February, Test Kitchen held a burger-themed dinner at Short Order.
If you connect the dots, the common denominator is Bill Chait. One of the founding members of Test Kitchen, his projects -- Sotto, Short Order -- have provided much of the fodder for the project.
An undeniably cool concept, Test Kitchen is also a brilliant marketing coup, creating huge buzz around projects and chefs that are about to launch with new material. Such is the case with the latest iteration, which runs through Nov. 11 (it's possible it will run even longer) at Bestia, a new restaurant expected to open downtown soon.
Last week, a dinner on Oct. 16 featured Ori Menashe (the chef at Bestia), Neal Fraser of Mid-City's BLD, and Walter Manzke, who soon will be opening Republique in the Campanile space in partnership with -- you guessed it -- Bill Chait. The atmosphere was as raucous as a rock show. Tables were packed, people stood two deep at the bar, and the babble of voices was cacophonous. In the open kitchen, photographers jostled between chefs and cooks, shooting the food with the fervor of paparazzi on the red carpet.
But while the name of the project is Test Kitchen, in this case it maybe should have been Test Service. The food the kitchen delivered was pretty flawless: charcuterie from all the chefs; charred grilled octopus over warming lentils from Menashe; pan-roasted turbot over a lush sunchoke purée with seabeans from Fraser; a stunning tourte gibier (duck sausage made from meat and giblets wrapped in buttery pastry), with duck breast from Manzke.
The general feeling on the floor, though, was of complete disarray -- runners wandering around with plates of food and no idea where they were going, insane waits between courses, waiters who would rush by your table avoiding eye contact because they were so in the weeds. In our case, the $68, five-course meal took four hours, while other tables around us came and went in under three.
"It's called Test Kitchen because we're really trying to figure out how to make this work anew every night," our waiter offered at one point, as an apology of sorts. "It's a test, you know?"
The final week of this run include appearances by Micah Wexler of Mezze, more from Neal Fraser (along with Sang Yoon of Father's Office), and others. You're unlikely to find an evening out with more raucous energy. But bring a pocket full of patience with you, just in case that's what ends up being tested.
Chefs Walter Manzke and Neal Fraser at Test Kitchen
See also: The Return of Test Kitchen
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