The newest restaurant on La Brea already has quite a following of oenophiles, foodies and Francophiles. Many remember esteemed Michelin starred French chef Christophe Émé when he was at his previous restaurant Ortolan on West Third Street.
I’ve already been twice to KASS since it opened this month in the former Wilde Wine Bar. The first time was right before it opened to sip a glass of bubbly Reveries Rose’ while sampling a few French appetizers.
The second time I visited was before Valentine’s Day. We were led to a table next to the big open kitchen with shiny black subway tiles to observe him and his skilled culinary team in action. This affable chef wears stylish black rim glasses, and artfully prepares seasonal appetizers and entrées depending on the availability of fresh, seasonal ingredients from the local Farmers Market.
Taking in the newly renovated space designed by Annie May of Kuskin/ May Designs, I noticed all of the six spaces at the stylish Wine Bar were taken. This is an ideal spot to share a cheese or charcuterie board, along with oysters and a glass or bottle of wine. Wine consultant Taylor Parsons (Whole Cluster Consulting, République, Spago, Mozza, Campanile) curates a list comprised of seventy percent French wines, with an emphasis on the Loire Valley in honor of chef’s home region. The remaining thirty percent make up varietals ranging from other regions in France, Europe, and California. Wines by the bottle begin with sparkling wines in two significant categories: Champagne and Not Champagne. There is an organic Vinca Minor, Carignan Rose’ from Sonoma County and white wines categorized as Energetic, Fruity, and Muscular. Red Wines are organized on the list as Bright, Juicy, Earthy and Plush.
Sitting in the sophisticated, yet comfortable 40 seat dining room, I brushed my hand along the plush velvet charcoal colored banquette and adjusted a comfy pillow. The natural wood tables are close together, almost like New York seating, with low back sable colored leather chairs. Another nice touch includes the stylish black slate cutlery.
Throughout the evening, I enjoyed watching Chef Christophe strategically apply micro greens and flowers on his imaginative beet salad. It’s a work of art on a transparent glass serving plate filled with decomposed granite inside. The dish arrives with spread of tiny black pearl lentils that look like caviar, and two colored beets cut in quarters. For sweetness there is a handful of sliced green grapes and whole blackberries. A pleasant surprise was thinly sliced Comte’ cheese medallions. This unpasteurized cow’s milk French cheese balances the earthiness with a touch of saltiness. It’s a stunning salad in appearance and flavors.
Periodically Chef Christophe came out of his kitchen to welcome guests and see if they were enjoying their experience. While stopping at the table next to us, I overheard the couple tell the chef how they were so happy to see him back in a restaurant. They used to frequent Ortolan often.
After cooking in a variety of kitchens in France, Chef Christophe arrived in the United States as the Executive Chef at L’Orangerie. In 2005, he was honored by Food & Wine as one of the “10 Best New Chefs” and earned a Michelin star in 2007. He became known for lightening up classic heavy French cuisine by focusing on the true flavors, using fewer ingredients, emulsions and natural jus.
The complexity of his cooking was appreciated when a warm bowl of his creme de champignons was delivered in a striking ceramic Portamsa textured porcelain bowl. I learned this plateware is made in Portugal, and the pattern look similar to the surface of the moon with little porous craters. A thin line of bright green parsley and chive oil offers a pop of color to the earthy and silky warm mushroom puree.
Another surprising dish was the grilled octopus that arrived cut into bite sized pieces on a Shichirin Hida Konro. This miniature Japanese table charcoal grill arrived with a plate of grilled baby fennel, sliced Yukon potatoes and a pour of red bell pepper coulis. Our server Alex told us to pierce with a fork a piece of grilled octopus, potato and leek before swirling it in the bright orange coulis. The grilled leeks and coulis enhance the flavors.
Be sure to order the chicken supreme en croute d’argile and ask if you can crack it open once it’s ready to be served. It’s Old School cooking where chicken is wrapped in parchment paper and then covered in soft gray clay. It’s put on a rack in the oven and baked for 40 minutes until the clay starts cracking. Chef Christophe had me come up to the kitchen’s counter to hit the baked clay with a wood mallet. Then he peeled back the paper to reveal succulent chicken cooked in its own jus. It’s served with green asparagus spheres and beautifully flavored goosebump-like textured morel mushrooms, one of the most desired wild mushrooms in the world. Back at our table, the woman next to me said – “Honey I want to use the mallet, I’m getting the chicken dish.”
We finished with a plate of three different cheeses that included Flour du Marquis and Secret de Compostelle from France, and Rogue River Blue from Oregon. Slices were served with thinly sliced bread and a few raspberries. Next we split a tarte au pommes that is big enough for two. It was accompanied with the same clear glass serving plate that had tiny stones inside, yet this time it was filled with ice cold water to keep the scoops of vanilla ice cream from melting.
While leaving, we noticed people sitting in cozy woven nest chairs next to low tables out front on a small patio. On warm evenings this will be a popular spot for guests to settle in with a glass of wine, before a splendid dinner.
Welcome Chef Christophe to the neighborhood as he creates savory and artistic French food that takes years to master. $$-$$$.
Be sure to make a reservation. Dinner service is every Tuesday through Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m., and every Sunday from 6 to 9:30 p.m. The KASS Wine Bar stays open until 10 p.m. on Sundays, and midnight every other evening except Monday. 320 S. La Brea Ave. (323)413-2299.
This review was featured in the Beverly Press