I’ve lived in France twice, once at age 18 when my parents deported me for the summer (long story) to Royan, and the second time when I was in college I (sort of) opted to take a term abroad in Rennes. Fond memories include eating crêpes with nutella and banana on the beach, and my 5-year-old French “brother” Etienne downing cidre with lunch (a traditional alcoholic apple cider popular in Brittany). From living and traveling though parts of France, and many great NYC French restaurants (like Bouley), I’ve developed an affinity for French fare. I don’t discriminate, give me bistro or haute cuisine, I am in.
And then I moved to LA. The French food scene is dismal at best, and I don’t appreciate overpriced bills on average food at places like Anisette, or just all around bad food at La Cachette. And then came Church & State. I checked out the menu online and it seemed pretty standard with dishes like steak frites, croque monsieur, les huitres (oysters), soupe à l’oignon…you get the idea. However, unlike most LA French spots, all the food on this menu was very reasonably priced with most entrees under $20 and appetizers in the $10 range. At that point I would say that I was interested but not enthralled, and passed on the first opportunity to check out the resto with a bunch of friends. However, it stayed on my radar, and I finally made it Downtown about a week later to check out this alleged gem.
The night before my dinner reservation, I found out that C&S was owned by Steven Arroyo, owner of the popular pseudo-chain Cobras & Matadors, another restaurant I do not appreciate. Americanized Spanish tapas? No thanks. If he can’t do Spanish right, how is he going to do French right? My expectations lowered as I imagined more bad French fare to add to my list.
Nonetheless, my boyfriend and I trekked Downtown to a forlorn industrial street seemingly in the middle of nowhere (but hey, all of Downtown is a mystery to me), and located a retro building with cars packed (and parked) in front.
C&S looks pretty cool from the outside with huge glass window that span floor to ceiling and a hip graffiti-eque logo (out of place for a French bistro) painted onto the door. And when you walk inside you realize that, while this may be a French bistro (note dimly lit with bistro tables and chairs), it is equally modern-chic with exposed brick galore, exposed ceilings and an overall uber industrial feel. C&S has this interesting old school French bistro meets industrial hipster vibe, and somehow the second I stepped in the restaurant, I knew I was going to like it. It sometimes happens to me when I walk into a restaurant, before I try the food or even sit down, I just know I am going to like it. For example, this also happened to me at Gjelina, and actually both Gjelina and C&S have a New York-ish vibe going on.
We sat down and were presented with menus that were significantly longer than the menu available online (apparently the chef had just that day added a bunch of new items). I glanced at the short cocktail list and it seemed like the bar was trying to pull a Varnish and serve up old school cocktails using all fresh juice and top shelf liquor. I went with a bartender’s choice and provided some guidance, but my cocktail was a disappointment. Drinkable but nowhere near Varnish levels.
Our meal kicked off with light and airy cheese gougères, crisp baguette, and room temp. butter (sea salt is available on everybody’s table). My dad once said to me that you can always judge a restaurant based on the quality of bread and butter it serves, and that sentiment as proved itself right again and again. And in this case, again.
For our first course we tried the most amazing melt in your mouth escargot served in mini ramekins with some golden brown puff pastry, making the dish as a whole look like a bunch of little mushrooms. The trick here is to dunk the puff pastry into the buttery parsley garlic commotion in the bottom of the ramekin. Unbelievable, and I am not even a huge escargot fan. However, I think this dish has made me a believer. Another fun tip is if you have fries on the table, dunk them too! So, we did have fries on the table from the moules marinière, very tasty dish with a lovely white wine broth and fresh mussels, a version of which I made at home.
Our sort-of second course included the French onion soup, a dish I would recommend if you are feeling under the weather or looking for comfort food. A rich nutty-oniony broth topped with the requisite ooey-gooey cheese (gruyere was it?) atop toasty bread. We also tried the beet salad with hazelnuts salad, which was fine but nothing too interesting. Throw around some red and yellow baby beets, mixed greens, toasted hazelnuts, some chevre, and a light vinaigrette and you have yourself a nice little lunch, French style.
Course number three (at this point we were both become quite stuffed) included fall-off-the-bone-soft duck leg confit served atop potatoes and topped with unnecessary raw cabbage. The duck leg itself was delicious, with richly flavored dark duck meat, and the fingerling potato slices were nicely crisp and saturated in duck jus. The cabbage was a little bit out of place, and the crunch and flavor didn’t add anything for me. And obviously, we had to try the steak frites. Since we had already tried the fries, we subbed in some asparagus and brocolini. The steak was tasty and lean but we had asked for it to be cooked medium-rare and it was served to us medium. Veggies were nice, crisp, and buttery.
Since I believe there is always room for dessert, I opted for an apricot tart after I was presented with an array of sweets on a tray. The tart was solid, not too sweet (I hate overly sweet desserts), but nothing revolutionary.
Although the dessert didn’t win me over, the rest of the food did, as did the service, the prices, and our particularity attentive and personable waiter, Mel. Go back for the best (and reasonably priced) French bistro fare in LA, and say hi to Mel.
Church & State
1850 Industrial Street