Last time I ate Chef Gary’s food, my parents joined my wife and I at Test Kitchen LA for a Vegetarian Feast of epic proportions. Since that night, Chef Gary has left The Hall at Palihouse Hotel to fully concentrate his efforts on finding a space to open his own restaurant, along with his business partner and front of the house manager, Francois Renaud.
Finding the perfect place has taken longer than either expected, so to keep their talents sharp and to tease us with what is yet to come, the two decided to do a pop-up restaurant at Olive & Thyme on Saturdays and Sundays for the month of May, debuting on May 7.
Chef Gary and Francois have named their restaurant Quartier, which is French for neighborhood, which according to the Facebook page encapsulates their philosophy. They desire to be a relaxed restaurant, committed to the area of town they finally settle in, cooking food that is both beautiful and soulful.
I was able to get reservations for May 7 at 6:30pm and since it was Claire’s birthday week, I was able to surprise her with her best friend, Becky, joining us for the evening.
Amuse bouche: Pressure roasted sweet baby beets, lime, honey, sea salt: So simple yet such a great start to the meal as the natural earthiness and sweetness of the beets really shined. Claire did not know she could enjoy beets until she at this.
1st course: Sweet potato velouté, endive, yogurt: Claire and I both love Chef Gary’s soups. Everything is spot on – the texture, the temperature, the flavors. I do not know how he does it, but I want to learn. The endive was done in a marmalade style with vinegar, which contrasted beautifully with the sweetness of the potatoes.
2nd course: Carrots, greens, shiitake , barley, orange confit: The natural sweetness from the carrots was complemented beautifully by the orange confit sauce (which was simply stunning both in appearance and in flavor), while the shiitake mushrooms and barley grounded the dish preventing it from being too sweet.
3rd course: Asparagus, reggiano 60° egg, brown butter, lemon, parsley: The asparagus were wonderfully tender, with the cheese and lemon acting as natural complements to the flavors. There were also tiny croutons on the plate which not only added texture but were quite tasty as well.
4th course: Halibut, green garlic purée, romaine, blistered tomatoes: The halibut was cooked perfectly – moist and flaky. The green garlic purée added a mellow garlic flavor, while the blistered tomatoes added acidity and brightness to the dish.
5th course: Pork belly, petits pois à la française, potatoes: No words can really do justice to this dish. It was simply put the best pork dish I have ever had. Obviously pork belly is ridiculously fatty, but the fat was just so tasty that we forgot we were eating fat. Everything about the pork was just perfect. Talking with Chef Gary after the meal, he said that he used the belly from a curly-haired Mangalitsa pig from Hungary. Chef Gary wanted to give all the credit to the natural beauty of the product, but it still takes immense talent to do what he did with that belly. The pork belly was so good that the peas and potatoes felt unnecessary in some ways.
6th course: Strawberries, balsamic, fromage blanc, mint: The meal ended with a simple dessert of the four elements listed, and yet it was a great way to end the meal. Light, not too sweet, and refreshing, especially nice after the pork belly.
Cooking in someone else’s kitchen, plus trying to find enough people to wait table, presents its own quirks. Sure there were hiccups, but I knew there would be going in. Yet the hiccups in no way detracted from the evening. At one point, Chef Gary mentioned that Saturday was the first day they had stepped foot into the kitchen. If the meal he delivered is what he does in someone else’s kitchen, I cannot wait to see what he does in his own kitchen.
Another cool tid-bit of information: I will actually be working with Chef Gary this weekend, May 14-15. He graciously extended me the opportunity to work with him and hang out in the restaurant world again. It has been two years since I quit working in the fine-dining world, so I am really interested to see how it feels to go back. Not to mention what I can learn. Stay tuned to read how it goes.