View more photos in Anne Fishbein's “Hare Today, Wild Boar Sopes Tomorrow at Bistro LQ” photo gallery.
If I was forced to choose a single favorite dish, it would probably be lievre à la royale, an old French preparation of marinated hare stuffed with its minced innards, stewed in a bath of red wine and herbs, and served with a sauce of reduced wine thickened with an emulsion of foie gras and the animal’s own blood. Wild hare is strong meat: Cooked like this, it develops the divine stink of the woods in fall, of distant gunpowder, of erotic practices illegal in several Midwestern states. I dined on hare 10 times in seven days one November in Paris, and I still have trouble deciding whether I preferred the chocolate-dark traditional version at the ancient, now-defunct A Sousceyrac, the hare under mashed potatoes in the Eiffel-designed dining room at l’Elysees du Vernet, or the magnificent pot pie at Pierre Gagniere, where the perfume unleashed when the waiter broke into the golden crust was powerful enough to snap necks in the far corner of the room.
The dish, of course, is almost impossible to replicate in the United States, where the resale of shot game is illegal (hare has never been farmed successfully here). The game shipped over from Scotland tends to come without its perishable innards, and definitely without its blood. The lievre from even America’s best chefs is barely passable — that’s why fanatics are sometimes forced to ravage Parisian restaurants like ravenous Elmer Fudds.
If there is a center of odd French foods in Los Angeles, it is probably Bistro LQ, the new Fairfax District restaurant from Laurent Quenioux, a madman at the range whose idea of French cooking expands to include ant eggs, wild-boar sopes and baby-goat burritos; who serves frog legs in an American-style barbecue sauce with a peculiar, chunky chutney fashioned with begonias and wood violets; who garnishes his oatmeal with lobster and his eel with grits. Quenioux is the most mysterious of L.A.’s first-rank chefs, a guy who basically disappeared from the scene for almost 20 years after he left the Seventh Street Bistro, re-emerging briefly to cook at a tiny converted funeral parlor in South Pasadena, then popping up now and again to prepare his killer cassoulet or classic pot au feu at the Los Feliz restaurant Vermont.
The bistro, in the space occupied for years by Mimosa, has an air of dissipation, almost randomness about it, a restaurant ruled by the Gallic shrug, as if any show of crispness might take away from the shaggy creativity of the chef. One night, the dining room may be filled with spooning gay couples, the next, with an abnormal concentration of food bloggers who record every strand of tripe and each splash of gastrique. One waiter explains every speck on the supercomplicated plates, another is content to let the kinh gioi and veal-foot jam speak for themselves. When you walk into the restaurant, you are likely to stand in the middle of the room for a while until one of the staff members discovers you are there. In this way, it is more like an actual Parisian bistro, the places out in the 19th where the waiter tosses your overcoat into a pile on the floor, than perhaps any other restaurant in Los Angeles.
Like Matthew Barney, or perhaps Frank Gehry, Quenioux always seems to be knocking against the limits of his medium, perpetually flirting with the possibility of failure. (Tête de veau baked in crisp phyllo? Too weird to live. Mussels on a Provençal socca with the black Mexican fungus huitlacoche? Not quite. Seared scallops topped with discs of chorizo-scented veal-foot in a puddle of basil-intensive vegetable soup? Brilliant.) A colleague confesses that Bistro LQ has been responsible for both the best meal and the worst meal she’s eaten all year, and it is just this wobbly groove, the impression of an artist working at the edge of his abilities, that makes his cooking so exciting.
Like many chefs, Quenioux seems to be inspired by the flavors around him in Los Angeles, but he tends to work them into the context of traditional French presentations, inflecting a skate wing with the essence of the Armenian sausage sujok, serving a tartare of spicy raw venison with little tortilla chips, accompanying a seared, rare duck breast with a cabbage roll stuffed with shreds of confit and a smear of pureed squash scented like Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. Rare salmon is sometimes draped over a chewy chicharrones ragout; a mixed grill may include oxtail smoked over the Arab spice mastic or a poached lamb tongue tinged with star anise. If you order foie gras, it will come three ways, sautéed, poached and layered with quince marshmallow into a surprisingly delicious version of the sweet pastry marjolaine. (Hope against hope that he hasn’t decided to paint the torchon with chocolate that day.) If your rare pigeon breast is arranged like petals around a gizzard confit, is perfumed with Moroccan spice, and is garnished with a scattering of duck hearts, you know where you are.
As for me, I’ll take Quenioux’s hare. It may be Scottish, and it may be adulterated with maple syrup and cotton candy, but the dish is spectacular: tar-black and reeking of autumn, laced with thin, slippery lozenges of jelled blood, a dish with swirling, mysterious depth.
Almost everything on the menu can be ordered in half-portions, which are plated with an elegance belying a $7 price tag, and the short, obscure but exquisite wine list includes some bottles at less than their retail price.
BISTRO LQ: 8009 Beverly Blvd., L.A. (323) 951-1088, bistrolq.com. Tues.-Thurs., 6 p.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat., 6 p.m.-10:30 p.m. AE, MC, V. Beer and wine. Valet parking. Appetizers $7-$18, main courses $12-$34, desserts $9. Recommended dishes: foie gras 3 ways; scallops with basil minestrone and chorizo; Scottish hare; chocolate “composition.’’