Some of the best new places to eat in L.A. are less restaurants than notes toward a restaurant, intricate sketches that may or may not end up as permanent establishments with fixed addresses, walk-in refrigerators and menus that don’t necessarily change because it’s Tuesday and the chef is feeling radishes. So in a way, Tasting Kitchen, which crawled into the handsome AK space on Abbot Kinney the way a hermit crab might wriggle into an empty cowrie shell, is at once both strange and familiar, a restaurant with an expiration date, at which point its principals will presumably move, settle in, or flee from whence they came, to Oregon. (Chef Casey Lane arrives from Portland’s clarklewis, a restaurant itself famous for shape shifting.) Does this make it more of a summer crush than a permanent destination? It kind of seems that way.
Everything about Tasting Kitchen is quirky, oddly rumpled and lovable, from the crisply fried chicken wings to the slug of bacon in the succotash accompanying the grouper; from the G&Ts made with extra-potent, homemade tonic water to the tiny, mostly Italian wine list offering choices between frappato and grillo, Longanesi and niederra — grape varieties that probably don’t even show up on masters of wine exams. Organic, sustainable everything you’d expect, as well as the usual Northwest-chef hazelnut fixation, but there is also an emphasis on dishes dependent on grilled bread, including spreadable white cheese with balsamic-roasted figs; thin filets of arato, a mildly oily Mediterranean fish obscure enough to have escaped Alan Davidson’s definitive books on European seafood; and a cool heap of juicy, intensely porky rillettes that were by far the best I have ever tasted outside the Languedoc. The menus are encrusted with a thickly painted number indicating the day of service — which reminded me of a convict counting the days left until his parole. If this sounds like your kind of place, I’d probably make a reservation now. (Bring money — it’s expensive.) And do it by phone — the Web sites indicate that Tasting Kitchen is open nightly for dinner, but if the surf’s up, your Open Table reservation may lead you to a shuttered dining room and a date with the food trucks that park up the street.
Tasting Kitchen: 1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 392-6644, thetastingkitchen.com.