You've probably heard some rumblings of the stellar work chef Gary Menes has been putting in after-hours at downtown's Tiara Café — the former Patina, Palate, and French Laundry alum has quietly been reviving the art of counter-side dining at his pop-up restaurant, which has been running weekend dinner services since late last year.
Although the five-course menu looks rather condensed when you are staring at a handwritten page of paper, an evening at Le Comptoir unfurls at the kind of deliberate pace which hints that months of intense preparation are culminating in the span of a few hours. Even the warm loaves of crusty bread — made from a starter that's almost old enough to vote — is worthy of its own entry.
But Menes has always saved a special reverence for produce — his dishes often read like Nigel Slater books and he speaks about vegetables in a way that's suggestive of the Ernest Hemingway character in Midnight in Paris. (It was a good carrot because it was a honest carrot.) It makes sense that in a town with no shortage of Michel Bras-inspired takes on gargouillou, a mosaic of individually cooked vegetables that has become a virtual hallmark of modernist cuisine, the version at Le Comptoir is the truest and purest of the lot.
Eating Menes' “veggie and fruit platter” is probably the closest analogy to visiting one of those rustic farms on L.A.'s rural peripheries you've heard so much about at the Sunday farmers market — and it doesn't require strapping on a pair of mud-crusted boots. There's a bit of everything seasonal here: roasted yam, sweet pickled onion petals, carrots, bits of cauliflower, turnips, purple kohlrabi, beets, roasted fava beans, confit tangerines, artichokes, celery, and poached pears — each cooked and seasoned to its own specific requirements. You might feel a bit self-conscious if you think too deeply about the layers of work involved. Were you supposed to eat that dark cube of beet right after the celery? Did you affect things by eating the tangerine and crispy potato in the same bite? It's hard to focus on such questions when you're watching the little balls of sourdough plucked from hot oil and tossed in cinnamon-sugar a few minutes later.
Even better news? Menes is currently looking for a space to expand Le Comptoir's concept into a full restaurant. Soon we'll be able to use his produce platters to track the seasons more accurately than we can with our homemade sundial.