Monday, January 16, 2012

It's Not a Shame about Ray's

Too often instead of thinking "Hey, the people who come to us love art, so have an aesthetic sense, so want to eat good food," museums seems to reason, if their cafes/restaurants can be taken as evidence of some thinking, that "these folks are captive, let's give them whatever means we make the most ducats." That might be changing, though. Obviously right here in Santa Barbara we have Brenda Simon doing fascinating, delicious things at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, if only: 1) it was open longer hours, 2) there was a direct State Street entrance, 3) if she had a real kitchen, there (well, maybe 3--the absence of one has led her to do some wonderful raw dishes, and SB could use some of those).

But this post isn't about the joys of the Santa Barbara Museum Cafe. It's about the new-ish and very exciting Ray's and Stark Bar at LACMA. We headed LA-ward this past weekend doing one of those culture-jam one day visits: two places to eat, one museum, a tiny bit of shopping, and a play in 8 hours. Since we were Father's Office-ing later, but not much (as the play's curtain was 7 pm), we decided to bar snack it at the Stark Bar, which is anything but (it's not named after the adjective but rather Ray Stark, Hollywood bigwig and longtime LACMA supporter). They've got Bar Bites for you, mainly flatbreads and a variety of cheeses, but also things more surprising for a mini-menu, like bone marrow (I'm still trying to figure out how to convince my pescatarian partner that marrow isn't really an animal product so we can share) and shisito peppers, although theirs were much zingier and longer than the ones I've usually had; be sure you've got your water service before digging in, with the surprising heat, the lovely sea salt, and light dose of sesame vinaigrette all driving you to drink.

Not that you won't be able to drink drinks, too, but these cocktails are too good to down merely as fire extinguishers. I enjoyed a Smokey and the Bandit (guess the film's producer?), a brilliantly balanced concoction of Laphroaig 10yr Cask Strength, honey, orange, and lemon peel, perfect for a LA wintery day. Actually, the heatlamps blasted, so I might have cooked my neck a bit, but I certainly wasn't well chilled, like my cocktail. Chryss opted to try out one of the seasonal hot cocktails, a very adult variation of a hot chocolate called a Oaxacan Holiday made with dark rum house-infused with cocoa nibs, crème de cacao, chocolate chili bitters, freshly whipped cream, and grated nutmeg our divine bartender Microplaned with intense precision. There are plenty of other items we didn't get to--this was a mid-day drinking with craft beers in our near future--with a wonderful display of garnis, from mint leaves on ice to star anise, across the bartop, all ready to finish off each exacting cocktail.

In addition to the peppers we shared a sage flatbread, pleasantly puckered and offering sage grown right behind the restaurant (the localest of LA herbs), Sottocenere truffle cheese, and maitake mushrooms.These are perfect light lunches, especially with the liquor kicker. (The wine list looked wisely chosen and fairly priced, too.)

Culture can be so civilized, this way.

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