On a nondescript strip of Lankershim Boulevard, next to the former Firenze Osteria, is a dance studio that has been transformed into a secret supper club with a dining room that seats 20 adventurous guests. Michelin-Star Chef Paul Shoemaker is busy in his new kitchen preparing a 12-course elegant dinner every Friday and Saturday evening. This is the newest interactive dining experience of art, music and food called INTRO Art Gallery & Chef’s Table.
A candlelit hallway leads to the main room where two ladies dressed in club-attire greet each guest with a flute of bubbly to sip while admiring artwork by painter Jens Schmidt.
My eyes were drawn to a painting on canvas titled “Hello World”. Schmidt’s art is reminiscent of early 20th century abstract masters, with heavy whimsical strokes in primary colors and secret messages.
Rob Ciancimino is one of the three masterminds behind INTRO Art Gallery & Chef’s Table, along with Shoemaker and Manny Marroquin, multi Grammy Award winning mixer/engineer, and owner of the nearby, famed Larrabee Studios.
Ciancimino transformed the suburban Evolution dance studio into INTRO in about 30 days. He lifted up the flooring, removed the dance mirrors and painted the walls dark gray. “While removing the linoleum, we discovered wood flooring and reused the boards to make this long dining table in the center of the room,” Ciancimino said.
Music is soft at first, allowing people to introduce themselves and make conversation before guests take a seat to begin their two-hour culinary journey.
There is no menu so you must be an adventurous eater. Shoemaker enters the room with an amuse bouche and introduces himself to diners. This talented chef learned his skills while working with the acclaimed Executive Chef Alan Ducasse and Chef Thomas Keller at French Laundry before coming to LA to work with Michael Cimirusti at Providence. He cooked at Water Grill, Firefly and his own restaurant Savory. Shoemaker received a Michelin star while at Joe Pytka’s Bastide.
The focus on each course is to engage guests and tantalize the five senses. The dishes are very pretty and beyond one’s expectations.
A plate of focaccia with sweet butter arrives. I recommend saving this to enjoy with the pasta course, which comes later in the meal. The first course, presented on a beautiful wood plank, came with three edible cocktails. A white soup spoon was filled with a liquid gold ravioli consisted of bourbon cider foam with the essence of mint, lime and slight carbonation. A tiny martini glass filled with gin and tonic made with silver and gold fizz was garnished with green apple crisps. The last was a shot glass filled with a pink foam of sparkling champagne, beet juice, caviar, a raw oyster and passion fruit fizz. These three palate cleansers definitely awakened my senses.
Ciancimino introduced two wines chosen for the evening’s menu, a white and a red. Wine bottles are left on the table for guests to refill when desired. “The wines selected allow the food to speak,” Showmaker said.
The next course was a salmon amuse layered with complexity. A bite sized salmon skin was topped with smoked salmon roe and a dollop of creme fraiche. Next to this was a cone filled with whipped citrus cured salmon, honey and Meyer lemon. On top was a sprinkle of Togarashi spice mixture for a slight bite of heat.
The most unique course were two foie gras bites. The first was an edible “dime bag” made with translucent Japanese rice paper filled with powdered foie gras, cocoa nibs and puffed rice. I experienced a breakfast cereal essence, as the rice paper melted on my tongue. The second offering was whipped foie gras with apple butter that was topped with bubbly foam.
Another innovative dish was the bone marrow ravioli with black pearl and truffle mousse capped with shaved Parmesan Reggiano. Again, the one bite delivered a kaleidoscope of flavors.
The maple-enhanced, smoked pork belly had been cooked for hours to melt away the fat. It was dazzled with pumpkin puree, whipped crème fraiche, maple syrup and candy cocoa nibs.
Chef Shoemaker is originally from San Diego and now lives in Malibu. He has a friendly, surfer culture appearance, yet his dishes are classic French technique, fused with flavors from all over the globe.
The butter poached Maine lobster was purposely undercooked. “[That’s] the way lobster is supposed to be cooked,” Shoemaker said. It was served with ground basil and coral colored roe. Another seafood dish was one fresh scallop that was lightly torched and slicked with a housemade ponzu that took four days to ferment. It’s served with an avocado mousse and smoked black sesame seeds.
For a salad, Shoemaker transforms three variations of red beets into a visual work of art with red beet tartare, beets with whipped goat cheese and a slightly sweet beet macaron enhanced with passion fruit.
Halfway through the dinner, there is a ten-minute intermission to stretch your legs, visit the restroom, admire the art, or engage with someone at the other end of the table. Wine glasses clink, as diners are ready to sit back down for five more courses.
Remember earlier I suggested saving the focaccia? Now you can enjoy it with al dente pasta covered with a luscious truffle fondu sauce and shaved truffles. The bread is ideal for dipping in the luscious sauce.
For a surf and turf component, a beautiful slice of monk fish arrives with micro greens and a cocoa reduction with ginger sauce swirled on the plate. A butcher’s cut, prime hanger steak is perfectly cooked with a Bordelaise glaze and the most tender, cheesy potato fondue gratin. Absolute perfection.
The final two bites included a pour of Fonseca Bin No. 27 Port. The first plate had a nugget dusted in gold powder that resembled the consistency of Laffy Taffy. It’s made with passion fruit, ground macadamia nuts and a strawberry saffron gel.
The last sweet treat was a chocolate “Dead Tree” dessert prepared by pastry chef Raymond Morales. It’s a visually stunning dish made with Gianduja ganache, brown butter and handmade chocolate shaped trees.
INTRO is a multi-sensory dining experience that reinvents the craft of food, art and music every Friday and Saturday evening from 7:30 to 10 p.m. Reservations are required with a 24-hour cancellation policy. The chefs will do their best to accommodate any food allergies or alcohol restrictions if communicated in advance upon making a reservation. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. The first course is served promptly at 8 p.m. The menu changes seasonally and often, due to the availability of the finest ingredients.
To make reservations visit http://www.ExperienceIntro.com 4200 Lankershim Blvd.