Ray Stark's Exciting Restaurant Opens at LACMA

Ray Stark would love the food at the new Renzo Piano-designed Ray's Restaurant & Stark Bar. The Mediterranean-inspired menu is a very exciting mix of the traditional and yes, the unusual.
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Ray Stark would love the food at the new Renzo Piano-designed Ray's Restaurant & Stark Bar which opened this week at LACMA (Los Angeles Country Museum of Art). Beef Tendon ($9) as a bar dish! He and I once shared a plate of spicy braised beef tendon at Mon Kee in Chinatown, a much more Chinese version of this delicious bar dish, which has morsels of red-braised tender tendon (cartilage) with mushrooms, mustard fruit, broccoli. For those of you who don't know the name, the late Ray Stark was a very powerful and charismatic figure in the movie, Broadway, and art worlds for several decades. I was privileged to be his friend and acolyte, for he loved my Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter.

His so-smart daughter, Wendy Stark Morrissey, realized that her father, who was a museum 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 there... so that is what she arranged through a contribution from the Fran and Ray Stark Foundation. It's the final element in the museum's utilization of the brilliant talents of the renowned architect, with the Broad Pavilion and the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Pavilion, both of which he also designed, across the plaza. (I do suspect that if Ray walked into the new bar and eatery, he would roar, "Where's my picture?" And so, Wendy, perhaps an easel in the restaurant with a great photo or caricature of your dad would be appropriate.) This is the man who produced Funny Girl on Broadway and The Way We Were and Steel Magnolias (and hundreds of other films.) Ray's fabulous wife, the wonderful Fran Stark, was the daughter of comedienne Fanny Brice, which led to Barbra Streisand playing her on Broadway and in the film. (Mr. Stark and I once developed a movie called The Deep Freeze Girls, based upon the novel about a group of spoiled rich girls in a posh boarding school in Switzerland. It was never made when we could not get a suitable script.) Wendy, Los Angeles' contributing editor for Vanity Fair, hosted a pre-Academy cocktailer here for the magazine on opening week.

Manila Clams with spicy meatballs is one of the more unusual and delicious starters.

Arctic Char is a wonderfully-cooked piece of fish, soft and melting on the tongue.

Ray's & Stark Bar is at LACMA (5905 Wilshire Blvd, (323)-857-6180); valet parking on the north side of Wilshire a block east of Fairfax ($8), in front of artist Chris Burden's Urban Light sculpture. Patina Restaurant Group is operating the restaurant, and they were so smart to bring in the gregarious, enormously talented Kris Morningstar as Executive Chef. In the tradition of hearty, boisterous and enthusiastic chefs with vast experience, he proudly showed off to me the new wood-burning oven (firing Mexican pecan logs for heat and aroma), and the Santa Maria wood-burning grill with its wheel to raise and lower the level of the grilled meats. Ray's features three floor-to-ceiling glass walls from which to view the museum's park-like surroundings, with a fourth wall of corrugated cement. The outdoor Stark's Bar is comprised of a long bar and smart lounge area (think plush couches and small tables).

When you visit (and you will!), say hello to the charming General Manager, Ron Carey.

The Stark Bar will be a hot spot as soon as the weather warms up.

The new restaurant-and-bar menus were designed by Kris and Patina group founder Joachim Splichal. (Boy, do I go back a long way with him, to a small upstairs place in Beverly Hills, Max's Au Triangle, some thirty years ago.) They have brought in the very experienced and cordial Ron Carey (Nick & Stef's, Sona) as General Manager, with talented 29-year old Josh Graves as pastry chef. Michael Dozois is the able bar manager and cocktail expert.

Kris Morningstar is the Executive Chef, a veritable genius in the kitchen.

The Santa Maria Grill can raise and lower the food being grilled.

The Mediterranean-inspired menu is a very exciting mix of the traditional and yes, the unusual... reflecting the chef's (and my) passion for (that awful word) offal. Marcy and Ed Gross, major contributors to the museum, had dinner pre-opening and told me they enjoyed their ribeye steak ($38) and striped bass ($27), both of which my reviewing group and I enjoyed last night. The bone-in steak, one of the very best in the city, comes with sea peas, grilled Benton's bacon (artisanal, from Kentucky, delicious), wilted romaine and Nantes carrots, while the fish -- which had been oil-poached -- had artichokes, veloute, and pistachio-basil aillade.

The bone-in grilled ribeye steak is one of the best, most succulent in the ciry.

At a recent dinner, I zeroed in on some of the more exotic items, while my companions stuck to the tried-and-true. Imagine: veal kidneys ($13-22), crispy nuggets with semolina gnocchi and guanciale (pork cheek). And beef tongue ($11), corned beef style, grilled onions and crispy potatoes. Grilled octopus ($14), with shishito peppers and coppa ham; this version quite tender while chewy. Squid ($15-26), with squid ink tonarelli, calamari, bottarga (tuna roe). Wood-roasted chile ($12), with chorizo, dates, goat cheese and almond sauce, amazingly tongue-tickling succulent (order one.) Manila clams ($12), with spicy little meatballs, chickpeas, kale. Very Portuguese in concept and taste. Other starters: prawns ($16), grapes ($9), house bread ($12), tuna ($11), mushrooms ($16-24), English peas with lobster ($18-27)... nothing conventional about that spread. Main dishes include another steak, hanger steak ($25), this beef with smoked marrow compound. Cornish hen ($23), grilled and juicy. Oh, my, local duck breast ($26), with mushrooms, faro, black vinegar-shallot reduction. Yes, there is even pork belly ($22) with porchetta, mustard greens and pork cracklings. Perhaps the best version of this popular dish I have had in the past two years. The loaf of crusty bread is baked in-house, and served with a chive-and-salt butter which accentuates the incredible flavor of the country bread. Josh's desserts (all $9 or $10) astonished us all: I am not a fan of rhubarb, but this was astonishing, streusel topping with vanilla ice cream. A dark chocolate mousse, black cocoa tulle, Korova cookie crust, with kumquat puree, perhaps the best chocolate dessert I have had all year (and I have had a few!) There is a coffee pudding, with LA Mill smoked caramel, expresso granita... and also strawberries with vanilla panna cotta... this pastry chef deserves all of the accolades he will get. Lunch service starts on March fifth, and they will have a hamburger which defies belief.

Josh's chocolate cake dessert was the best this year.

Josh Graves is the 29-year old pastry chef.

I am in awe and wonder at the imagination and execution of the delicious, quite fabulous dishes on this menu. My kind of food, yes, but this chef is an absolute genius. So my thanks to Joachim, Kris, Josh and Ron... and to Michael Govan, CEO of LACMA, for their help... and especially to Wendy Stark for making all of this possible. (Just put up a picture of Ray and all will be perfect.)

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