The opening of Auburn heralded a change for LA dining, with one of the city’s most talented chefs at the helm and a total remodel of an iconic space. Add in the return of the Michelin Guide, and suddenly Auburn is the talk of the LA restaurant world. LA Times critic Bill Addison raved about chef Eric Bost’s innovative, polished cooking, calling it the “most exhilarating restaurant of the year,” while the Michelin Guide overlooked the new tasting menu restaurant likely due to its short tenure. While there’s still time for Auburn to capture national recognition, the nearly six-month-old restaurant is just finding its identity.
The iconic space was once Michel Richard’s Citrus restaurant in the late 1980s before turning into Meson G, Red Pearl Kitchen, and eventually Hatfield’s for many years. Bost and the Auburn team took over in early 2018 hoping to produce an ambitious tasting menu. The 12-item menu works like a choose-your-own adventure where diners select four, six, or nine courses, which are priced at $85, $115, and $160, respectively. Eater sits down with Eric Bost to discuss how the restaurant came together, its first few months of operation, and what changed during its early days.
On Bost’s background and how it shaped his first-ever solo restaurant: “I worked for Guy Savoy for eight years [in Las Vegas and Singapore], and I’m using the same approach and techniques. One of the things about Guy Savoy’s approach is how do you take three Michelin-star food in Paris and move it to another location while still maintaining quality?”
On why Eric Bost opened a restaurant in Los Angeles: “My wife (who is French) and I found a beautiful property in Champagne, France and planned to open a restaurant there. We could never push it over the finish line, even with tons of local and government support. That got me to looking into other places in the world that could sustain a similar dining style, and potentially more investment. Champagne was beautiful but it was rural. Here in LA, it’s a coastal city, with amazing farms, an educated dining public, lots of disposable income, upward growth. I started a conversation that led me to team up with Walter Manzke at République. I joined République in 2016 and eventually became executive chef. Walter was the one that introduced me to LA’s dining and restaurant culture.”
On adapting to the Angeleno palate: “I grew up in North Carolina, with pork, vinegar, and pickles. It’s very flavorful food. I wanted to cook food here that highlights the product without denaturing it. For oysters, it’s supposed to be about the oyster. I want to make something taste more of itself. You look for harmony and balance. The morel dish that we have is earthy and comforting, but you add a bit of cream and a touch of dijon mustard to bring acidity. For sweetness, you fold in oysters at the end. So you get creaminess and butteriness without fats. It’s a relatable flavor, like chowder or mushroom soup because you get all the tones.”
On Auburn’s unique kitchen design and putting together a solid team: “A month before, we already had the leadership team in place, but we were running behind and struggling to get construction done. Of course, everyone runs into delays. I had my executive sous chef and pastry chef in place. We were here, cooking, training, visiting farms, eating around town, and doing everything to make sure the team was cohesive. We had a clear vision of this unique menu format. We weren’t sure about how the kitchen was going to handle how people order. That was the biggest challenge. We had to get food out as fast as possible and design a kitchen that could deal with the flexibility of the menu.”
On going beyond the plate and creating a complete dining experience: “Food is only one-third of what we’re trying to do. We want to provide educated, enlightened service that feels delicate and effortless. The space is beautiful and we wanted to build something that was sustainable in the long term. We wanted something that draws people back. We’re continuing a story and integrating what we are doing into something that already existed.”
On making adjustments after the first few months of service: “We’re improving every day and changing the menu. We’ve gotten into a rhythm of how many days to work on an idea. This is the third restaurant that I’ve opened and I’m used to high expectations of myself and the team. I was comfortable because I knew the product we were serving was good. But the question was, can we do this for everyone there? We controlled the books and pushed what we needed to do while still making everyone’s experience enjoyable. The first few guests we had were from République, so it was great to see familiar faces. The first bottle of wine we sold was a Gaston 2008 vintage champagne, which interestingly, was produced by a friend of mine. It was a good omen to see that on the first table, and it made me smile.”
On setting up a quality restaurant team: “Right now we have a really good team. The company culture is phenomenal. We’re not military-style or oppressive. We’re open-minded with the team. The kitchen we have is atypical, operating more efficiently than a traditional setup with meat, fish, entremet, and hot appetizer stations around a center line. The problem with this is that things bottleneck, which is when people get overwhelmed with volume and make compromises. It means quality isn’t as good. If we do 100 covers, that’s 1,000 plates to put out, maybe up to 1,500 plates a night. It’s a large volume. We even have a husband and wife dishwasher team. There’s a lot of polishing and upkeep.”
On the more popular dishes on the menu right now: “I don’t want to have signature dishes per se, so it’s important that we have techniques that are fundamental pillars of the way we’re approaching food. Sometimes it’s a preservation technique. Or a combination, like the oysters at the bar or the crab and tomatoes. Right now the black cod, crab and tomato, and yogurt dessert are the most popular dishes. We want to use products that people can identify, but we still want to surprise and keep it interesting.”
Auburn continues to receive high praise, including from the Hollywood Reporter and LA Magazine. The restaurant will serve upwards of 140 people on weekends, including the bar, which now offers the entire tasting for those that couldn’t get a seat in the main dining room. In addition, Auburn is now open seven days a week, which means it’s the rare fancy LA restaurant that serves on Sunday and Monday evenings. As the season transitions from summer to fall, Bost will take advantage of a bounty of new ingredients, weaving them into LA’s most exciting new tasting menu.
Auburn. 6703 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
- All Auburn Coverage [ELA]