Movie Night at RAY'S & THE STARK BAR!

All photos by Jay

If you read my recent Huffington story about the Movie Academy's wonderful Hollywood Costume Exhibit at the future home of the Academy Film Museum, you may recall that I strongly suggested that you end your visit with a meal at the equally wonderful RAY'S & THE STARK BAR (5905 Wilshire Blvd. (323) 857-6180) which is on the patio of the LACMA complex. (They have valet parking at night on Wilshire in front of the lighted Chris Burden art sculpture, but the easiest parking is in the museum parking lot entered at Fairfax and Sixth St. - $12). I visited the fashion show yesterday for my third time, and then took my guests to an early dinner under heaters at the bar area of the restaurant complex. Coincidentally, Joachim Splichal, owner of the Patina dining empire which operates Ray's, was having a dinner party next to us so we had a nice visit with him. (I told my guests of the first time I saw Joachim 35 years ago at a small restaurant in Beverly Hills called Max au Triangle, where he cooked in a kitchen no more than 10 ft. square. He's come a long way since those halcyon days.) These days, until the costume exhibit closes in March, Exec Chef Viet Pham is offering - in addition to his regular menu - four courses tied in a whimsical way to films. I suggest that your party order all four and share family style. The first is a fine starter: The Grape Gatsby (playing off the last of the several Gatsby films which starred Leonardo). It is butter lettuce, grapes, Marcona almonds, with a sherry-garlic vinaigrette.

The Grape Gatsby

The Hanger Games/

Then comes a main called The Hanger Games, which is a wood-grilled hanger steak, charred onions and braised kinchi. The steak is tender, served in small slices, and the kimchi is...interesting, Then came the main course which actually delighted my sensibilities: Mary's Chicken be Poppin'. It was pan-roasted chicken chunks in brown butter, served with squash puree, baby carrots, eggplant, grilled chickories and almond allade. I am always hesitant to order chicken these days 'cause it invariably comes well-done and dry, but here it was flavorable and juicy. Then my favorite main of the night, a dish which I never see on local menus, which is a shame. Under the headline, Collar to America (what movie is that? Probably Eddie Murphy's Coming to America), he served up a crispy Yellowtail Collar, with scallions and fermented black beans. What is yellowtail collar? It's the fatty hunk of the fish just behind the head, and whever I see it in a fish market, whether from salmon or yellowtail, I grab's the most succulent piece of piscatorial heaven, fatty and juicy, a delight.

Mary's Chicken by Poppin'

Collar to America

To match the signature dishes, the smart people at Ray's led by manager Marty Riese have developed several interesting cocktails, and we always order at least four to taste. From Dallas Buyers Club, there is a Roy Woodruff (he's the character played by Matthew Mcconaughey). It's got mezcal, orange bitters, Aperol and Carpano Antica. I actually liked this best. The Wizard of Oz offers up the Evil Flying Monkey, made with gin, fresh lime, and Parma Pomegranate liqueur. Also tasteful. There are six of these interesting drinks from which to select.

Four of the movie tie-in drinks

Chef Viet Pham has been with the restaurant since it opened in 2011, and this spring assumed the exec chef toque when Kris Morningstar left to open his own place on Third Street. In a recent conversation he praised his elite forager, a guy named Dragon, who travels from local farm to local farm picking out the best products at the peak of their season. He also has a garden at the rear of the space where he grows his own herbs. After a visit recently I stopped in for a light bite and ordered his House Charcuterie Platter ($23), with many of the items made in-house: andoulle, pork and duck rillette, mortadella, and truffled chicken liver. The house has a huge wood-burning pizza oven (firing Mexican pecan logs for heat and aroma) and their pies are actually spectacular. My favorite is the Lamb Merguez ($18), with lamb sausage, provolone, red onions, a touch of garlic and pomegranate molasses. They also have a Santa Maria wood-burning grill with its wheel to raise and lower the level of the grilled meats. The restaurant itself has three floor-to-ceiling glass walls to view the museum's park-like surroundings. The outdoor Stark's Bar is comprised of a long bar and lounge area with plush couches and small tables. Lots of heaters.

There's a homemade Chitarra Pasta ($20) made with squid ink pasta, calamari and bottarga (tuna roe), which is delicious. So many interesting lunch and dinner plates here, from an amazing Pastrami Sandwich ($18), a tasty Short Rib Sandwich ($18), and a surprising Benedict Burger ($17).

The Santa Maria wood-burning grill, which can raise and lower the meats.

The legendary Ray Stark.

Ray Stark, would be delighted that the menu here was offering several movie tie-in dishes and drinks. When the bar opened, it offered a beef tendon dish, and I wrote then about an exotic Chinese meal which Ray and I once shared at downtown's Mon Kee which was spicy red-braised beef tendon (cartilage). Ray liked all things Chinese (including an appreciation of beautiful Asian women.) The late Ray Stark was a very powerful and charismatic figure in the movie, Broadway and art worlds for several decades, and I was privileged to be his friend. He loved my Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter and subscribed it to many, many people. His so-smart daughter Wendy realized that her father, who was a LACMA trustee, would not be excited by having another pavilion in his name at the museum, but he would certainly love the idea that he had a spectacular restaurant that is what she arranged through a contribution from the Fran and Ray Stark Foundation.
This is the man who produced Funny Girl on Broadway and The Way We Were, Steel Magnolias and hundreds of other films. Ray's fabulous wife, the wondrous Fran Stark, was the daughter of comedienne Fanny Brice, which led to Barbra Streisand playing her on Broadway and in the film. When the eatery opened, I surmised that Ray would have walked in and roared, "Where is my picture?" It's still not there. Are you listening, Joachim?

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