A coat rack by the door and a gourd on the walnut counter constitute the look of this tiny restaurant in the Hotel Normandie. Le Comptoir would be the height of understatement if the prix fixe six-course menu Gary Menes offers twice nightly weren’t so luxuriously conceived. The Patina and French Laundry alum harnesses the vitality of fresh produce he grows himself in a Long Beach community garden to create thrilling renditions of classic preparations. “Velouté” might mean silky cauliflower poured over fried bread crumbs in a locally handcrafted bowl. Rather than a slice of venison, the “tranche” is a deeply roasted crescent of butternut squash scattered with wheat berries. As a cook fills your glass with Anderson Valley pinot noir in the open kitchen—he’s your waiter, too—you glance at the K-Town traffic rushing by on 6th Street, reminded that what’s unembellished is often what’s best.
The Vibe: It doesn’t get much more intimate than this. You’re face to face with your cooks, and elbow to elbow with your fellow nine diners. That’s not to say it’s awkward or stilted, but there’s definitely a sushi-bar air.
The Crowd: Everyone here is looking for a special experience. That means food obsessives, vegetarians celebrating an anniversary, and those rare, well-heeled types exploring Koreatown.
The Must-Have Dishes: Well, they’re all sort of must-have dishes. As in, have them all. But not all of the pricey supplements are essential (you can live without the steak; truffles are truffles). Do spring for the lobster if they have it.
The Drinks: There’s a $43 wine pairing available, but you can get a single pour by the glass if you don’t feel like making a night of it. They also do a hard sell on the $18-a-cup fancy coffee.
Getting a Table: Buy a spot for one of two seatings (6:30 or 8:30) online. You’re charged $45 per person at the time of purchase, but the fee is later deducted from your final bill. Seeing as there are only 20 spots per evening, it’s best to book early.
Insider Tip: Don’t underestimate the bread! Menes makes it daily using a 20-year-old starter. It might be the best course of the night. – LBS
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