The Renzo Piano-designed space at LACMA is a light-filled showcase for Kris Morningstar's big-flavored technique. At brunch he browns a Monte Cristo to a golden crisp so that the Gruyère wraps around the currant mostarda. He'll serve up a bowl of birría for a celebration, but his strength lies in tiny calibrations in which a smidgen of rutabaga beneath beef cheeks picks up the richness of a braising jus.
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Kris Morningstar sears his scallops so deeply, they acquire an almost meaty intensity that's set off by a garnish of mushroom-strewn grits. His lamb's tongue with beans and niçoise olives is a crunchy evocation of carnitas, while his farro salad is spared the vegetarian blahs by a dice of turnip and crushed pistachio. The peregrinations of the 33-year-old chef have led him from a downtown boutique loft building to a Hollywood watering hole. Anchoring one side of the courtyard, Ray's has the elegance of a destination restaurant and the energy of an urban boîte. There are flaws in the Renzo Piano-designed space (what is that stale smell by the entrance?) but not enough to detract from Morningstar's mastery of robust flavors. You sit in the glass-enclosed room like a character in Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, only without the alienation. Here comes a freshly made peach financier, satisfying and warm.