A few months ago, we had another exciting dinner sponsored and provided by the good people of FoodDigger. If you don't remembered them, check out my blog post of Giang Nan which was my very first invited dinner by these swell fellas.
This time around, they wanted to introduced a few new additions on their websites allowing bloggers an easier time to submit their reviews. If you have seen some of my reviews with icons on the bottom of some of my restaurant reviews where you get an idea on what I think of the restaurant (besides my grade). The linkback is reciprocated as well from the FoodDigger's website where they sent their readers to the full original contents in my blog. This is almost like getting in on the ground floor of a new website and being part of it very early.
They also have other news that night and wanted to introduce it in a very hot place at this moment in downtown LA. The chosen dining destination is called "Church and State" and was just recently given a 3-stars review by LA Times restaurant critic Ms. Virbila. The restaurant was a great choice as the praise was lavished by Ms. Virbila. To appreciate Church and State's rapid rise from an miserable beginning, you will have to get know the chef in the kitchen.
That chef would be Walter Manzke.
Church and State Bistro had a rough start early on last year where they opened to a solid success, but with poor execution. If you read Ms. Virbila's early summary of the place, you would have assumed the place is a mess. The restaurant itself was located on the ground floor of the ancient Nabisco Biscuit Co. building that is surrounded by factories and dock yards. The location is also only a few blocks away from MTA's parking lot that stored majority of the MTA buses. The best advice anyone would give is to not wandered off too far from the restaurant late at night as the neighborhood is a complete slum yard that only a few places can be considered a beacon of light, dim ones at best.
Given the grim environment around the neighborhood, the owner Steven Arroyo was still unfazed and undeterred in making this restaurant a success. Mr. Arroyo was the brain behind the Cobras and Matadors franchise and partnered up in his new Umami Burger restaurant (he owns half of the share along with partner Adam Fleischman in the new joint remodeled from his old C&M). Just like most of his establishments, it's a cool place to be, but the food is always secondary to the ambiance.
Hiring Walter Manzke was a major coup considering he was the only active head chef in Los Angeles to be awarded three 3-stars in reviews from Ms. Virbila while being the head chef (Patina, Bastide, and now Church and State). To many of his supporters, chef Manzke is a miracle worker that can turn around a restaurant's fortunes in a quick hurry and install a discipline like no others.
Now armed with being in charge of coming up with new bistro menu every other days, chef Manzke have change the perception of the place where it used to be that ambiance and environment comes first. To counter that perception, Chef Manzke is now making the food to be main attraction in coming to this place. It doesn't mean that the place is not going to be hip as witnessed by many of our dining mates. It went from business types to young crowd in a matter of hours (Ms. Virabila described it like a story taken from "Curious Case of Benjamin Button").
Being given an assigned seat, I was able to sit next to Eddie and Marshall from FoodDigger and discussed a few things about the plans and updates about their site. Will, the community manager was welcoming others in our group such as the writers behind the blogs of Gastronomy Blog, I Nom Things, Kat's 9 Lives, kevinEats, Kung Food Panda, LA and OC Foodventures, and Weezer Monkey.
As we get started and waiting for our food to arrive, we were able to munch on some Canapé and a fresh loaf of baguette. As we looked around this festive room now filled with joyous laughter and a few banters about which color of background goes well with your photos (the inevitable and unavoidable blogger talk), some of first dishes started to arrive.
As I was chewing a few bite of this delicious fried cod fritters that was served, I just can't help noticed my fellow blogger companions who have various different set of point and shoot cameras or the emerging SLR hounds. As I was enjoying every morsels of this well battered fritters with a scent of saffron aioli and the scrumptious cod, I just can't helped the fact that everyone was excited on to position the food for their photos. This would not be the first nor the last time that had happened where a big group of photo hounds descended upon the same plate of food.
The iced oyster and the smoked herring were also getting some needed attentions...by my stomach and taste buds. I was giddy when I saw a very fresh sets of oysters neatly stacked for of us to see. There were a bucket on each side of the table. You got to hand it to us photobloggers, we have the patience because I wouldn't wait to swoop in and take my share of the oysters. It hit the spot immediately to satisfy my initial appetite growl. Luckily for the smoked herring which was on a plate by itself for everyone, was almost like a amouse as it can be eaten in one quite bite (according to my mouth).
Some of my favorite dishes of the night were well seasoned Santa Barbara prawns which got great flavors from other ingredients of Lemon juice and olive oil and the Main Lobster that was named after one of our very own FoodDigger host, Marshall. I think the lobster is probably the best of the night even though I think a ringer was install in this plate, but you get a variation of different lobsters whenever Chef Manzke presented in his menu. Coupled with the asparagus from Hog's Farm in Salinas, California made this an attractive pair due to wonderful coupling of fresh vegetables with the Maine Lobster. The prawns was absolutely a winner as well as it was delicious.
The escargot baked in garlic and parsley butter in a small porcelain bowl was massively raved by our LA critic, Ms. Virabila as the "don't pass up" when you can get a chance to order. I didn't understand her rave until I dip the snail in the rich butter sauce under the cloud of a chicken pot pie. First, the baked escargot was one of the best escargot I ever had, but to dip in this rich and savory sauce that tasted like a rich broth soup was just unfathomable. I truly wanted to steal Marshall's bowl because he wasn't eating it initially and because it was that good. Seriously, "don't pass up".
Right now, there is something that people were excited about. The charcuterie are freshly prepared by Chef Manzke daily and cut for our enjoyment. As you can see from the picture below is the various meat that is on display at a slab of a cutting board (noticed how many cameras are getting positioned to take this photo?). Chef Manzke also had a jar filled with pork rillettes where he freshly made with pork made from pork fat with prunes and Armagnac. There was a special treat with a jar of rich foie gras sauce and a basket of brioche for the charcuterie.
This I thought was the end of the evening and the charcuterie would send us on our way....but a big pleasant surprise came from the kitchen.
We were treated to a few more dishes to end our evening. Very unexpected I think.
One of the big dish that was very popular in this bistro was the flammenküche. It is essentially a pizza without tomato sauce and topped with Caramelized onions and bacon. Very light, not greasy with Gruyère Cheese that was very delicately baked to perfection. Better than your average Papa John's pizza and an easy item to satisfy anyone. It's not to going to compete with the best gourmet pizza of the world (like Pizzeria Mozza), but it is one of the more satisfying interpretation of a delicious easy pizza to make.
I got carried away when we saw the Moelle de Boeuf, the roasted bone marrow in the frying pan presented coming into our table. At this point, I was already satisfied and stuffed, but I just couldn't resist a bite of the bone marrow. That turned into a gorge of half of the bone marrow all by myself. Tender and moist with a bowl of crouton breads to make a small bite size finger snack was all I needed to make it a very memorable night.
It was hard to eat the steak frites because of the huge amount of food at this point, but the fries was too hard for anyone to stop eating. LA and OC Foodventures and I was just mowing the fries down as we both gotten addicted at this point. So far nothing have worked to stop us both from stuffing ourselves into a lifesize pinata. The steak was not bad, but it was the fries that carried the top billing in that duo.
The dessert platter was just over the top. It put us all in culinary ecstasy where we can now all know we die very happy after this meal.
As we look back, I would like to thank FoodDigger for inviting us and treat us to one of the best feast we ever had. It seemed like everyone enjoyed the food and the company of the evening. One weird episode to conclude the night.
Not sure if it was a blog follower or a Yelper that knew a few of us (mostly Kung Food Panda and I), where this person came from the table next to us and proceed to give Kung Food Panda a few stomach poke and atta boy shoulder pat to me. Very surreal and frightening at the same time. It didn't exact freak us out, but we got to tell that dude to calm down (too much drinkie perhaps?). Big fan of Kung Food Panda and Pepsi Monster? Perhaps.
Check out the new icons and other layouts below and at FoodDigger to see what we thought of Church and State. Here's the link to the review of the place given by some of the participants on that evening.
Church and State
1855 Industrial St
Los Angeles, CA, CA 90021