Sunday, March 9, 2014

Republique: Power to the (Food Loving) People

With the pedigree that comes from working in the kitchens of some of the world's greatest chefs, from Alain Ducasse to Ferran Adria, and rising to fame locally with Patina, Bastide, and Church & State, AND the longstanding community connection that comes with one of the most beloved, beautiful and historic venues in LA, Walter Manzke had the burden of great expectations riding on his shoulders in opening République.

The bistro with a focus on 'casual elegance', highlighting local ingredients elevated with a global approach, took over the space that once housed Charlie Chaplin's office, then the original La Brea Bakery, and Campanile: and we were glad to see that the breath-taking rustic grandeur of the space is preserved, with just the right amount of personal touches by the Manzke husband and wife team to make it their own (black and white floor tiles, furniture built by chef Manzke's father...).  They even kept the lovely fountain from the La Brea Bakery/Campanile era, but moved it appropriately outdoors.  A night out at Republique still feels like an intimate event, in some neighborhood gem of a restaurant in some off-the-beaten-path, yet ever so familiar venue that could just as well be in Italy/Spain/France.

Mims, not usually a fan of sea urchin, was so enthralled by the place that she agreed to check out the Eggs on Toast ($16) Santa Barbara uni, soft-scrambled eggs, with me.  Perfect tongues of fresh Santa Barbara sea urchin laid gently over fluffy chicken eggs scrambled with chives, which in turn sat atop crisp, freshly baked slices of baguette*.  The concept of egg on egg is not groundbreaking, but it's an absolute stroke of genius to pair uni (sea urchin gonads) with scrambled eggs - why didn't everyone do this?! Simple, yet brilliant. The dish also definitely turned Mims into a believer in one bite.

*Oh, don't miss out on Margarita Manzke's awesome bread - to avoid food waste Republique has a policy to only bring the complimentary bread to your table on request.  Whatever you do, if you're a lover of a good pre-dinner carb-loading - make sure you request this!

We can never resist a good beef tartare, and jumped when we saw one on the menu: Grass-Fed Beef Tartare ($18) tarragon aioli, pickled red onion, potato chips.  While this isn't the only place in LA to serve beef tartare with potato chips (Flores does it too), it's pretty much the best iteration we've tasted, with the crispy, fresh fried chips the perfect foil for the tender, velvety bites of beef - barely dressed to let the lovely natural flavors shine.  Also loved the plating: the way they stood the potato chips up made them look like some fantastical underwater forest.

Every dish so far had gotten our vote for some of the best things we've ever tasted...and then came the Charcuterie Board ($24) - which simply says "serves one to four" but with the generous portion sizes, we were convinced would actually feed 6 average sized adults.
We got pretty 'food-drunk' on the delirium-inducing deliciousness of every single element on this board - all house made - so much so that we couldn't even remember what the server said each item was - I only vaguely recall venison and liver somewhere in the charcuterie.  Trust me though, every single bite on this board was amazing.

If I had to choose a best of meal, however, my pick would be hands down the Duck Liver Mousse with pickled asian pear.  I don't think I've ever encountered this pairing - and it's absolute genius. This may be as close to the richness of foie that we can get in the city after the ban.  And loved how the soft juicy crunch of the asian pear balanced perfectly with the earthiness of the mousse - and how that ever so slight element of acidity helped to cut through it all without overwhelming the delicate flavors of the pear and duck liver.
We didn't want the charcuterie board to end, and seriously stuffed ourselves to the outer limits of human stomach capacity.

Yet we still had coming up: Risotto Nero ($19) with aquerello carnaroli, mediterrenean octopus, manila and razor clam.  This was a gorgeous presentation of vibrant pops of seafood against a stark backdrop of black rice.  The octopus, clams all tasted as if they were just recently plucked from the ocean.  Our only reservation about this one, was that it wasn't as full of flavor as we had expected - though it may have something to do with this being overshadowed by the flavors of the incredible charcuterie.  If we had had the risotto first it might have been possible that this would have also made our list of favorites.

All in all, République lived up to the hype for us: they have our vote as a great new place for 'special occasion dining' without the stuffiness. 

I also loved the bakery counter, where you can just get some of Margarita Manzke's pastries or delicious desserts (the ones that don't come with ice cream anyway) to go.  That's what I opted for one night when it became apparent that there wouldn't even be room for a single diner to slide up to the bar (but GM Christian was incredibly nice and apologetic about it, a rarity for a LA 'hotspot' - a manager who actually cares about every customer! After hearing that I'd driven from West LA in the rain, he did his best to accommodate, personally packing my dessert to go, and even throwing in a free baguette - and no, I absolutely never once mentioned the blog and never asked for anything extra.  This level of care made me even a bigger fan of Republique than I was after the first visit!).

***Much has been made about the 3% "Healthy LA" surcharge tagged onto every bill - which will go towards health care coverage for restaurant staff.  Whether it would have been more customer friendly to work that into food prices, versus bringing something that's usually 'behind the scenes' into front of house, will likely continue to be a topic for debate - but suffice to say here that you can, if you feel strongly about it, as stated by the restaurant take the 3% into account when calculating your tip (taking it out of your total tip).

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites  
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience -  6.5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100% 

624 S La Brea Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90036
Ph:  323.938.1447


Republique on Urbanspoon

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