Inside LA’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, an Acclaimed Chef Embraces California Cuisine Again
Chef Ray Garcia would like you to know he’s mature now. Not mature as in old but mature as in intentional. The creative force behind LA’s hip, eclectic Broken Spanish—which received Bib Gourmand recognition in the 2019 Michelin Guide California but shuttered because of the pandemic—is opening his new restaurant, Asterid, at Walt Disney Concert Hall, the landmark home of the LA Philharmonic. Mature, indeed.
“The design [and the building] was sort of a north star for us,” he said. “It led the discussion into something that would feel elegant and artful but still, it’s important to have it feel soulful and grounded and connected. That’s the balance that we’re looking to strike in ingredients, presentation, execution and hospitality.”
To be clear, Asterid is not a grown-up Broken Spanish or its successor in any way. In fact, Garcia hopes to reopen Broken Spanish in the future. (That’s also why you won’t see any Broken Spanish recipes on Asterid’s menu.)
“I feel like [Asterid] is more connected to me and a natural progression for me, as opposed to the next generation of Broken Spanish or an evolution of Broken Spanish,” he said. “I see the two kind of growing side by side, as siblings with their own personalities.”
While Broken Spanish put Garcia’s personal, cultural heritage on display, Asterid harkens back to his earlier cooking, his professional training in California cuisine. He’s revisiting a lot of those techniques and classic ingredients here.
Chicken liver mousse, for example—which appears on Asterid’s menu alongside Kishu mandarins, pickled pearl onions, nasturtium flowers and sourdough—was one of the first foreign ingredients Garcia learned to work with in the kitchen. Risotto (at Asterid, made with Carnaroli rice, red beets, Mascarpone and dill), along with pasta and braises, were foundational dishes that young cooks needed to learn back when Garcia was rising through the ranks.
Asterid is named after a plant category, the one that includes nightshades like peppers and tomatoes, flowering plants like sunflowers and certain types of fruit. They’re the kinds of ingredients native to California, Garcia’s style of cooking and what is commonly recognized as California cuisine.
“I don’t know that there’s a region specifically that we’re looking to showcase, except for the creative and ingredient bounty that is Los Angeles and California,” he said. “I think we really look most of the time at an ingredient and see how it’s best exemplified or manipulated. Sometimes that might be with a splash of yuzu or vadouvan curry, or it might lean a little bit French or Italian.
“Some of it is also just my excitement to reconnect with dishes that I’ve worked with before in the past, but didn’t always fit at Broken Spanish. Some of the cheeses and truffles and caviar and olive oils and pasta.”
Asterid’s menu includes beef tenderloin tartare with black truffles, Kaluga caviar, crème fraiche and focaccia; flour tortillas served with anchovy butter, fried caper honey and Sbrinz cheese; octopus presented lobster-roll style, with Aleppo yogurt and pickled cabbage slaw; sunchoke rösti with strawberry-pepper jam; lamb shank alongside charred eggplant puree, warm flatbread and pickled chiles; and a lemon curd and poppy seed tart.
“I’m a very curious person, as are many chefs,” he said. “I have interest in many different styles, many different cuisines and different approaches even to the same cuisine as seen with Broken Spanish, B.S. Taqueria [also closed] and Viva [in Las Vegas], all being Mexican food but very different. For me, it’s just another way to express something that I’m interested in. Similar to a musician who just doesn’t play one type of music or an artist that doesn’t work with just one type of medium.”
Bar director Chris Chernock (another Broken Spanish alum) mixes up zero-proof drinks like an NA spritz (house-made Italian bitters, sparkling hop water, grapefruit, orange and mint) and full-throttle cocktails like vodka & chile (vodka, carrot juice, green apple juice, orange juice, ginger and chiles) and mezcal & rice (mezcal, lime juice, toasted rice, kumquat vermouth and cacao). Wine and California-brewed beers are also available.
The restaurant is meant to be a gathering place for elaborate downtown meals in the warm, natural oak dining room, or for quick pre-show bites on the wraparound outdoor patio that surveys the concert hall’s stainless-steel exterior. It’s a place to get nourished and energized while staying true to LA.
“LA is my hometown, it’s where I’m from, it’s where I connect professionally and culturally,” Garcia said. “It has its own histories and traditions that I look to celebrate with every plate in one way or another. [Asterid] is going to be an independent, freestanding restaurant that will be interesting and exciting in its own right. The identity is just me, my process and my own creative path.”
Source: Robb Report