As you will know if you read Jonathan Gold's most recent review, the Test Kitchen has been up and running for a few weeks now, featuring a rotating group of chefs like guest performers in a how-do-you-get-reservations-for-this game of musical restaurant chairs. Jordan Kahn (Red Medicine) was moving the pots around last week. And for the past two nights Walter Manzke has been behind the stoves, assisted by his wife Marge Manzke, who was the pastry chef at Bastide during her husband's tenure there as executive chef. The Manzkes will be at Test Kitchen tonight and tomorrow, before Ricardo Zarate (Mo-Chica) takes over, then Neal Fraser (Grace, BLD).
As for your Manzke update, there is this. The Los Angeles restaurant project is still in the works, coming along just fine, thank you, and he'll give us all details when they're ready to be made public. Be patient, etc. etc. He's still consulting for Lettuce Entertain You, which means he flies out to Chicago every month to work on projects there. “No, I'm not moving to Chicago.” For more on Manzke's Test Kitchen menu, a few pictures, and the Manzkes' fall plans, turn the page.
Last night's dinner was like a sudden déjà vu for anyone who remembers Manzke's beautiful tenure at Bastide, as the chef's six-course tapas and five-course pre-fixe menu bore more resemblance to the food he was cooking there than it did to his menu at Church & State. Local calamari, grilled and fried, with arugula and black aioli was followed by bread and foie gras butter; hamachi with avocado, green apple, yuzu and jalapeño; loup de mer with Sungold tomatoes and mole verde (Manzke says he got pointers for the mole, which he'd never made before, from Rivera's John Sedlar); and a blissful Thai curry-coconut soup with Maine lobster and coconut tapioca. There were other dishes (check the website) as well as gorgeous cocktails from Matthew Biancaniello, Julian Cox and Joel Black, and a disarmingly lovely dessert of crème brûlée with strawberry sorbet. The menu will be the same, more or less, for tonight and tomorrow, though Manzke says he's changing up the tapas a bit.
After their four days at Test Kitchen, the Manzkes are heading to Europe, where they've scored reservations at El Bulli, after which they're embarking on what might be called an R & D trip to Barcelona, Paris, and London. But it was the El Bulli stop that Manzke was seriously happy about when we talked to him this afternoon, the before-service pots clanking in the Test Kitchen, a background copper symphony rehearsal. Yes, okay, wouldn't we all be happy about that, but for Manzke it has a certain significance: he staged at the restaurant 10 years ago, but has never been able to formally eat there — until now.
In other words, the chef is enjoying himself, with or without a permanent restaurant, and the gig at Test Kitchen is allowing him to enjoy himself on even less sleep (“We were up til three this morning doing orders. I'm fried.”) than usual. As for Test Kitchen, Manzke says that it's a pretty cool experiment. “You feel the business changing, it's so driven by the internet and all these young kids following the chefs. [Test Kitchen] is kind of like starting up a new restaurant every few days. It's really amazing to be a part of it.” It's pretty amazing for the rest of us too.