As you enter the newish downtown restaurant Industriel [sic], two giant faces greet you at the door. The man and woman stare out at Grand Ave., the man wearing a kerchief and hat, the woman wearing her hardscrabble life with weary beauty. You know without having been told that these are dustbowl folks -- and indeed, the images were purchased from Getty: Closeup of Kansas Farmer, Circa 1939 by Margaret Bourke-White.
It's unclear what these photos are supposed to represent. Are they there to make us uncomfortable? To remind us that these are absolutely NOT the type of folks who would have eaten "faux gras gravy" (made with duck liver, just not the illegal kind) on their 16-oz market-price ribeye? Or to remind us that it's folks like these -- the Okies who settled here, the farmers who still toil in the sun -- that make our dining experience possible? (If that's the case, some close up pics of migrant workers might be a touch more relevant these days.)
From the ridiculous misspelling of the name (Industrial Urban Farm Cuisine becomes "Industriel ɜrbən fɑrm kwɪˈzin") to the decor inside (accents include a cascade of honey bears hanging by string from steampunk pipes over a claw foot bathtub) to the marketing language ("the style of cuisine served up by your grandmother in her farmhouse in Provence, France, with one little twist: Your grandmother has sleeve tattoos"), Industriel has taken the entire concept of farm cooking and industrial chic to an extreme so outlandish, it comes across as a parody of itself.
Owner Armen Hakobyan and chef Joseph Antonishek also operate Green Street Tavern in Pasedena. The food at Industriel is far more ambitious, and the menu is rife with ingredients like marrowbone, tongue, rabbit and goat. There's also chicken and salmon and the like for the less adventurous.
At lunch, a single sardine fillet comes draped across a bed of undressed watercress. It is highly pickled in palm vinegar and lemon, and the grayish flesh becomes weirdly mushy as a result. It has neither the oily funk of a good cured sardine nor the sweet white flesh of fresh sardine. It's only $3, and barely two bites of food, but it's sad to see a dish which does nothing to lift up the reputation of such a misunderstood fish.
A braised goat sandwich, served on ciabatta, fared better. It was all sweet and moosh, with eggplant and dried fig caponata, more of that watercress, and gooey goat cheese. Once more I felt that the flavor of the main ingredient -- in this case the goat -- was obscured by its accompaniments more than it was enhanced. The sandwich was a touch sweeter than is my preference, but all in all it worked as a kind of tawdry fun.
In the entrance foyer, a group of office workers became louder as they became drunker at the large communal table, and the 1930's Kansas farm workers stared in, nonplussed. A woman from the group was up, picking up and examining the jars of jams and preserves set up as props and product on a rustic wooden piece of furniture.
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There's a lot on Industriel's menu that warrants further exploration, and I hope the food rather than the concept will prove to be the most interesting thing about this restaurant.
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