Ray’s and Stark Bar
LACMA, Los Angeles, California
It’s comforting to know that as you leave the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, you can now free your mind from trying to determine if those were supposed to be body parts in that Dali landscape with an artistic cocktail and bar bites from the newly opened Stark Bar on the premises at LACMA. Although the museum gives art patrons the bum’s rush around 8 P.M., you can still enjoy signature cocktails designed by Névé Ice creator and Stark Bar barsmith Michel Dozois until 11 P.M. In addition, you can order “bar bites” off the menu from adjacent Ray’s restaurant. Both establishments are named for LACMA trustee and film producer Ray Stark. The Hollywood angle is apparent in the names of Stark Bar’s drinks, such as the Italian Stallion, Jack Rose and Steel Magnolias (one of the films Stark produced). The decor is retro, a place where the Jetsons could kick back and discuss whether or not a picture of a Campbell’s tomato soup can is art; if you’re lucky, you’ll get one of the red cloth-over-chrome potato chip chairs, but the sleek bar is just as comfortable.
Since Dozois is the artist responsible for the creation of the drinks, it stands to reason that every cocktail would feature Névé Ice. Prior to freezing, the water is double filtered and the density of the finished product results in a cube (or cylinder, or sphere) that melts slowly (in the same manner as glacial ice). I ordered a small glass of Cynar to complement the Andouille sausage and pickled artichoke flatbread; the drink arrived with a perfectly square ice cube almost the size of the glass which stayed that way until the Cynar was gone. Cynar seems to be featured in quite a few of the beverages, including the Italian Stallion (featuring Scotch, Cynar, Carpano vermouth and Sylvester Stallone sweat – probably). The Steel Magnolias is an orangey concoction served in a martini glass with a single basil leaf raft plying the waters at the top; although signature drinks are available from a menu, you can still order anything from their reasonably stocked bar.
Ray’s “bar bites” menu was designed by Chef Kris Morningstar (formerly of Blue Velvet Restaurant, Casey’s Bar and Grill and Meson G Restaurant) and features snack-sized tapas that appear to be designed to soak up alcohol. One odd little tidbit is the fried head cheese; breaded and deep-fried, the gelatin that suspends the porcine bits together melts away in the fryer leaving the core of the fried balls full of loose pig parts. While tasty, it almost defeats the purpose of head cheese in the first place. Another in the “I don’t know if it’s art but I like it” category are the mislabeled “spicy meatballs”; the meat was perfectly cooked, the sauce was nice, there didn’t appear to be a great deal (if any) filler, but Mama mia, that was NOT a spicy meatball. As life often imitates art, so apparently do flatbreads imitate pizza. Categorically, they were flat and slightly crispy, but with the familiar crust on the outside you’d expect on a fine pizza pie. I won’t argue with the taste – they were outstanding and in a city lacking in good pizza joints (with a few exceptions) I’d have these again in a heartbeat. A savory sage, fontina cheese and mushroom flatbread was outstanding; although the Taggiasche olives on another gave another maybe a tad extra saltiness, the addition of ricotta cheese and green chiles toned it down.
With a nod to the proliferation of gastropubs in Los Angeles, Ray’s features their own charcuterie plank although it only features three or four items – the truffle chicken liver hinted at a nice pate, and the Andouille sausage evoked the flavor of a nice pepperoni, but the slices of smoked pork were slightly dry. A razor thin sliced ham selection (also on a plank) offers three nice cuts, including an obligatory Iberian variety – served side by side the two boards provided a decent selection of meats. Stark Bar is loose and loud, and a nice place to intermingle with artists, desk clerks, actors, IT specialists, writers and tour guides; on the tail end of the media event I attended, a crowd that had previewed the film “Black Tulip” filed out and helped those of us remaining close the bar.
Art is truly in the eye of the beholder, and after a few drinks and some light fare from Stark Bar, you will be better prepared to discuss why if Christo can wrap the Reichstag and call it art, you should be able to do likewise to Los Angeles City Hall.
NOTE: This cost for this event or meal was provided by the venue, restaurant, event coordinator or public relations firm. The content provided in this article was not influenced whatsoever by the organizer of the event