The Los Angeles Music Center has added a new venue for changing acts at the newly renovated Music Center Plaza and chefs are the main attraction this time. Abernethy’s opens its doors tonight as chef Shirley Chung inaugurates the new one-of-a-kind, full-service restaurant that will feature a new rising chef and menu every three months spotlighting the diverse cuisines representing L.A.
Together with Music Center boardmember and chair of Abernethy’s culinary advisors Jill Baldauf — a team that included chefs Govind Armstrong, Susan Feniger, Ray Garcia and everyone’s favorite foodie, producer Phil Rosenthal, of Somebody Feed Phil — tasted their away across L.A. to determine the lineup.
In addition to Chung, who brings a very personal menu to the table representing her Chinese heritage, the winning roster of emerging chefs that will pop up at Abernethy’s includes Pla and Fern Kaewtathip from Noree Thai on Beverly and Luv2eat Thai Bistro, Geter Atienza of Broken Spanish, executive chef Ryan Costanza from Freedman’s and the very talented Jason Fullilov from Barbara Jean. Each chef will take over Abernethy’s kitchen and design a limited-time menu of personalized dishes as well as revolving art that expresses their visions and curate their own playlists to help set the tone.
“I thrive on blending modern with traditional in art, music and food.” Chung tells L.A. Weekly from the warm sunset-drenched dining room overlooking the dancing water fountain in the plaza. “In my playlist I’ve incorporated Chinese pop songs with traditional Chinese opera and Chinese rap songs that are becoming part of the culture there. We’ve mixed in a little from Vava as well, the hip hop princess of China .”
An inspirational piece of artwork commissioned by Chung is the centerpiece of the dining room, which represents her story. The Top Chef contestant explains the significance of numbers in Chinese culture, pointing out the number eight in the colorful collage which suggests prosperity and good luck. Five beautiful silk cranes symbolize migration and Chung’s family history which goes back five generations in Southern California. Her great-grandmother was the first Chinese infant born in Ventura County and Chung herself was born in Beijing.
Chung, who proudly admits being the daughter of a tiger mom, is not afraid to break tradition while still respecting her heritage which is reflected in her menu. Blending Chinese with Middle Eastern, there’s a cumin-driven Beijing lamb belly that is braised and pressed into lasagna-like layers with a black vinegar reduction, fermented leek and tahini sauce served with traditional braised Napa cabbage. The entire dish is a three-day process inspired by Beijing street food and the lamb skewers she loved as a child. Her bright radish and citrus salad with assorted shaved radishes, grapefruit and mint is a direct reflection of the cultural artistry that divides the bar from the seating area.
Chung’s very personal Bowl of Hugs is a comforting meat and bone broth with herbal tea and pork ribs, American ginseng, goji berry and mochi puffs.
“We knew our first chef out of the gate had to be Shirley,” says Baldauf of the diminutive pepper pot and her infectious energy. “She had so many ideas in the first five minutes of our conversation and immediate solutions to a lot of our challenges, like figuring out how to bring in a menu that everyone can prepare by the proper standards and then disappear after three months. She knows how to make that magic happen and it’s been a perfect marriage so far.”
While Chung brought some standard favorites like wontons in chili oil over from her Ms. Chi restaurant in Culver City, she is giddy that her menu at Abernethy has no limits. It’s one of the reasons she included an Italian/Chinese crossover of cecio de pepe made with northern China style noodles, tofu and pecorino cream and Sichuan pepper corns with a hint of lemon.
“It’s a dream come true for future chefs who will pop up and have the freedom to express themselves and their cultures,” she says. “They’re given the staff, the budget and the platform to tell their personal culinary stories for three months.”
Another main attraction popping up across the plaza in the Mullin wine bar for the next three months is L.A.’s Best Bar chef, Christiaan Rollich, who has created a cocktail lineup just for the Music Center. In time for fall, there’s the El Rayo made with El Silencio mezcal, pumpkin, cloves, cinnamon and orgeat. But you can still enjoy the warm summer wind on the plaza with a Spice Station of tequila, strawberry and harissa syrup or the Orange Nassau, a mix of Jamaican rum, allspice dram, house made carrot juice and rum Martinique that represents Rollich’s Dutch background.
Abernethy’s, 220 N. Hope St., downtown; (213) 972-8088, abernethysla.com
The Mullin Wine Bar., 205 N. Grand Ave., downtown; (213) 972-8084,