Viet Pham, the new executive chef (and previously sous chef) at Ray’s & Stark Bar, names as his influences Joachim Splichal, Thomas Keller, and his mother—especially his mother. This, of course, isn’t big news. After all, many cooks and chefs are inspired by dear mom. However, it’s not too often customers get a chance to taste a dish almost directly adapted from the chef’s mom’s original recipe.
That’s about to change at Ray’s & Stark Bar. Starting now, with chef Pham’s grabbing of the baton passed to him by former Ray’s & Stark Bar exec chef Kris Morningstar, Pham has already begun putting his favorite childhood dishes cooked by his mom on the menu.
One of the outstanding mom nom creations is the Manila Clams ($15) with spicy pork meatballs. Ironically, clams were not used in his mom’s Vietnamese dish, but he smartly tosses them in for an added dimension of flavor and texture. Chef Pham recalls, “My mother had a big family growing up: four sister and five brothers. Cooking was a big part of life.” The spicy pork meatballs were an easy way to feed many mouths.
Ginger, garlic, loads of pork fat, Fresno chiles, and fish sauce are some key ingredients found in the pork meatballs. Manila clams are simply steamed and then carefully set in a broth of what is essentially a Thai tom ka soup made of a vegetable stock and seasoned with more chiles, ginger, clam juice, coconut milk, fresh curry leaves, cilantro, then finished with lime juice and fish sauce. At last the supple, savory, and spicy orbs are artfully placed in each clam as if they were porky pearls—that is, if clams could produce pearls—or pork.
Other Asian influenced plates include whimsical Pork Belly ($15) cubes rich in anise flavor, intermingled with pressed red and yellow watermelon in a checkerboard pattern and accented with mint and opal basil.
The Santa Barbara uni Spaghetti ($25), a thick, deep yellow, house-made spaghetti coated with a dashi uni-butter glaze, is itself a work of art worthy of display at LACMA. Dainty borage flowers and translucent orange smoked trout roe charm the eyes and mouth.
If you’re a fan of the Morningstar era, don’t worry. The Ray’s & Stark Bar menu still offers old faves like the Frites and Agnolotti Del Plin. But, if you’re looking for some fresh and exciting eats, seasoned with motherly love, check in with chef Pham once in a while, just like you should with your own mom.
Ray’s & Stark Bar, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-857-6180