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Martin Riese Considers One Year at Ray's & Stark Bar

<a href="http://elizabethdanielsphotography.com">Elizabeth Daniels 6/12</a>
Elizabeth Daniels 6/12

Ray's & Stark Bar started off as a somewhat veiled restaurant and bar tucked away off Wilshire on the LACMA campus. Initially, management flaunted the eatery's famous architect, Renzo Piano, and while aesthetics were on point, Angelenos wondered whether the food would live up to the design. But this is a Patina concept, so it did. From day one chef Kris Morningstar has put forth thoughtful, creative, farm-to-table plates and over the past year the denizens of LA have taken note. Last year SIV cast two and a half stars, Equire named Ray's & Stark Bar one of the best new restaurants of 2011, and in February pastry chef Joshua Graves was nominated as a Food & Wine Best New Pastry Chef. Since inception Morningstar has cultivated a backyard garden, sommelier/drinks guy Paul Sanguinetti continues to experiment with crazy cocktails, and here now GM Martin Riese on the future.

What's the history here and how did Ray's & Stark Bar come to be? Joachim Splichal, chef and founder of Patina Restaurant Group, has always been a long term supporter of the arts and specifically LACMA. Within the portfolio of Patina Restaurant Group, there are multiple venues located at cultural art centers which clearly displays his devotion. When the opportunity arose to partner with LACMA, it was a perfect match. It is our hope that Ray’s & Stark Bar is seen as the ultimate meeting spot for Angelenos, especially those who delight in experiencing high design and great food simultaneously.

As for the physical opening, what was the build like? Ray’s & Stark Bar were the final elements of Renzo Piano’s overall design for the western side of LACMA’s campus. He created a simple, modernist architecture imbued with the character of its surroundings such as nature, urban spaces, and LACMA’s own collection for the backdrop of the dining experience. A collection of teacups from the Ellen Palevsky Cup Collection are displayed in the restaurant; the textile inside the restaurant was based on a textile design by Bernard Kester, from LACMA’s collection; and video art is displayed on the monitors behind Stark Bar, both from the permanent collection and commissioned exclusively by LACMA.

Did you have to make any changes after the first month of biz? Nothing significant. We were overjoyed with how welcoming the Los Angeles community was to Ray’s & Stark Bar. The only small changes that occurred was the planting of our first on-site garden located behind the restaurant. While it may seem like a small adjustment, the garden holds a huge place in the restaurant’s day-to-day operations. Menus change daily based on what is flourishing out back.

What changed six months in? Upon my arrival at Ray’s & Stark Bar in September 2012, my first course of business was to enhance the professional fine dining service techniques into the relaxed environment. It was also important to me to foster each server’s personality in order to display a knowledgeable person for diners to intact with during their lunch or dinner experience. Service has always and will always be a pivotal focus of Ray’s & Stark Bar. In terms of the physical space, only minor changes to Ray’s & Stark Bar within the first few months – some furniture changed, and the carpet was changed, but nothing significant.

How would you describe the menu? Farm-to-table, Mediterranean Californian cuisine with bold flavors.

What percentage of diners come from LACMA versus outside of LACMA? In the beginning we mainly had LACMA visitors dining. Now a year later, more and more people are coming to us just for the experience of the restaurant. We changed from museum restaurant to a destination restaurant which is great for both sides; LACMA and Ray’s & Stark Bar.

Are you surprised by all the success and positive press thus far? When you put a lot of passion into a project it’s great when you receive positive press. With that being said, it is even more important for me that every single customer feels taken care of and has a great culinary experience at Ray’s & Stark Bar.

How has the menu evolved over the past year? We change the menu every day and thus provide something new to explore each time patrons visit. The great thing about chef Kris Morningstar and his team is that they have so many ideas and are constantly coming up with innovative dishes on a daily basis. That creativity and drive is one of the most exciting aspects of my job. I am always energized to see what they come up with next.

Which dishes do you feel most represent the kitchen here? There are so many, for example: hamachi sashimi with aji amarillo vinaigrette, pickled mushrooms, cilantro, black sesame seed crumble and kumquat; wood grilled King Squid with cranberry beans, piquillo peppers, yellow wax beans, baby artichoke and rouille.

Does it feel like it has been a year? For sure not. Every day is different and exciting here at Ray’s & Stark Bar. That’s the beauty about the restaurant business!

What else is coming up? With Paul Sanguinetti as the sommelier and barsmith and Kris as executive chef, I have two creative people on my team. Paul is doing great with the wine and cocktail program. It is always great fun to see his process of creating cocktails and hearing his crazy names for each one. Ask him to explain the back-story on the names next time you are in. With summer upon us, he is sure to introduce a summer cocktail list that continues to utilize the on-site garden. Kris too will continue rocking in the kitchen and as I mentioned before present daily seasonal dishes inspired by the daily produce. With great cocktails, great wines and great food, we are just missing the perfect water program. It is my hope to create a water menu with 15 different mineral waters presented as perfect pairings with the food. The concept of water menus are fairly new to the United States and it is a hope that Ray’s can help lead the charge here in LA. Additionally, in July we are starting a dinner series called Cur-ATE in collaboration with LACMA and Artbites which includes a guided gallery tour with a focus on food in art and a themed dinner by Kris Morningstar. We are excited to meld fine art with culinary art. On a fun note, Paul and I are big music fans. During our one year anniversary party, we were proud to be the resident DJs for the evening. Ultimately we would love to find a way to spin again at the restaurant but nothing confirm as of yet.

·All One Year In Coverage [~ELA~]