Not so long ago in Los Angeles, there was a wonderful haute French restaurant called Ortolan. It was the quintessential “night out” restaurant, where food melded with art, and finesse met glam. But despite Ortolan’s outward shiny façade, Chef Christophe Emé also walked the walk in the kitchen with his bold cooking and flawless execution. This guy can ball. The French-inflected dishes which emerged from Ortolan’s kitchen rivaled (and often bested) that of any other top L.A. restaurant, including Ludo Lefebvre’s stints at Bastide and L’Orangerie. Despite never having served its namesake dish, Chef Emé nonetheless garnered a loyal following (myself included). And the accolades kept coming at Ortolan. Ultimately, the Michelin Guide awarded this relatively young restaurant a well-deserved star.
And then suddenly, Ortolan shuttered. And his fans were bereft.
In the few years after the closure of Ortolan, Chef Emé spent time with his family, and occasionally did pop-ups in South Pasadena and also Hollywood. However, it appears that this chef missed the restaurant scene, because much to my delight, Kass by Christophe Emé has just opened along La Brea Avenue near Hancock Park!
In contrast to the extravagance that was the hallmark of Ortolan, Kass can be thought of as more of an intimate wine bar with really great food. Its menu is relatively compact, and all fits on one page. But with a chef of Emé’s caliber, the menu need not be expansive. I think the tight menu at Kass reflects a desire on the kitchen’s part to get everything right. And it does.
Opening night: It appears my colleague @PorkyBelly represented the FTC early evening shift. I showed up after 9PM for the later FTC shift.
Parking: Valet available, and also ample street parking along La Brea and neighboring side streets.
Décor and ambiance: The front seating area is a comfortable, cozy place to sip some wine and chat. Further inside, the dining room offers muted colors and low music in the background. The well-lit bar seats eight, serves the full Kass menu, and in addition a selection oysters and olives. For those who prefer less sonorous restaurants, the ambient noise level Kass is very amenable to conversation. Bathrooms: Two non-gendered washrooms (documented well by PorkyBelly).
Burgundy: Domaine Frantz Chagnoleau Macon-Villages Le Carruge 2016… Very drinkable table wine!
Bread & butter (beurre de baratte, Bordier, France)… Really great bread to showcase the incredible butter.
Kushi oyster with mignonette… Really lively; the hint of tartness from the mignonette really whets the appetite!
Crème de champignon is a two-fold joy to experience. First the aroma wafts to the nose and entices the diner. And when its earthy goodness is savored, it is in the essence a lesson on why we crave mushrooms in the first place. Bite (sip?) of the week!
Tagliatelle with braised organic Beeler pork ragu… Scrumptious. This just shows that the Italians don’t hold a monopoly on how to prepare a great plate of pasta.
Poulet suprême en croute d’argile, with morels and white asparagus… Superb. There is a nuance to the au jus, which brings even more life to the chicken. And the chicken tastes fantastic - like chicken ought to taste. No fancy garnishes here (none was needed), because this is just tremendously solid cooking. (Note: This requires 45 minutes of cooking time.)
Tarte aux pommes, with vanilla ice cream & Canyon Press Ethiopian dark roast coffee… A magnificent dessert. Thoughtfully restrained from becoming an overly sweet confection, the apple was truly the star of this show. Really nice. (Note: This requires 30 minutes of prep time.)
Signed menu on the opening night…
Near closing time (half past eleven), and no one was feeling rushed…
Service was on point, and the FOH is keen to making sure guests are comfortable and enjoying themselves.
On this debut evening at Kass, I had walked in meaning to show restraint in simply ordering a light late supper. But when the food tastes this good, I just had to try more dishes! The entire experience at Kass reflects a confident chef who simply wants to satisfy each customer with a solid meal and wines to match. The deft preparation, precise technique and skilled presentations gave me a glimpse into just how experienced a restauranteur Chef Emé is. It’s great the see the master back at his craft, and I heartily welcome his return.
Kass by Christophe Emé
320 S.La Brea Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036