Reason #291 why I love Los Angeles: we are spoiled with great museums. Many of my recent Saturdays have been spent exploring a selection of the 69 Pacific Standard Time exhibitions that celebrate the LA art scene between 1945 and 1980. My favorite thing to do after immersing myself in a museum exhibition? Grabbing a drink with a friend and unpacking what we just experienced.
After reading every single didactic at the Norton Simon’s Proof: The Rise of Printmaking in Southern California exhibit, I made my way to the excellent cocktail bar 1886 in Pasadena’s Raymond restaurant. After MOCA’s unfocused and disappointing Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974 – 1981, I was able to armchair quarterback with a flight of beers at Little Tokyo’s Far Bar.
I don’t think it’s controversial to call LACMA our city’s best museum. And it’s definitely not controversial to call Ray’s the best museum restaurant in LA. Hadley Tomicki of Grub Street, Jeff Miller of Thrillist, Lindsay William-Ross of LAist, Lonny Pugh of Urban Daddy, and Kat Odell of Eater all gave shout-outs to Ray’s as one of the best newcomers of 2011.
Four reasons why I love Ray’s and Stark Bar:
4. Kris Morningstar knows what he is doing
The area surrounding LACMA is not exactly restaurant paradise. After working up an appetite exploring the seven-building, 20-acre complex, there are few places worth walking to for a bite. With Ray’s, not only is it unnecessary to leave the campus, but it’s a place you’d want to come for dinner even if you don’t care about Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the US. How many museum restaurants can you say that about?
The Renzo Piano-designed restaurant and bar is smartly located in the central BP Pavilion near Chris Burden’s Urban Light piece (you know the one – 10% of your Facebook friends have a profile picture of them standing among the streetlamps). Ray’s features subtle but delightful design embellishments, such as your silverware being hidden in a drawer in your table.
The adjacent Stark Bar currently tops my list of best atmosphere for a cocktail. Sitting outside at dusk (my favorite part of day), a cold drink in my hand, people watching (I talked to Jesus while he enjoying a tea on one visit), periodically catching people doing silly poses in front of the Ai Wei-Wei zodiac sculpture – it’s a little zen oasis in the center of a part of town I’m not particularly fond of.
The cocktail menu was created by Sommelier Paul Sanguinetti and despite being fairly extensive, it’s one of those places that I’d be happy to close my eyes and simply point at the menu. The current cocktail menu is conveniently split up into sections: On the rocks, collins, stirred up, shaken up, champagne, and seasonal – which currently features a selection of hot cocktails. They also have an impressive list of cordials and bottled beer.
While I’ve been pleased with my drinks so far, it’s not a place I’d suggest asking for off-menu cocktails. The couple bartenders I’ve talked to didn’t have the experience necessary to riff on sudden cravings, but with a menu that has something for everyone, it’s not really necessary. Plus, these cocktails will kick your ass a little.
4. Kris Morningstar
Chef Kris Morningstar knows his way around the kitchen. He’s been honing his skill’s all around Los Angeles: AOC, Patina, Grace, Meson G, Blue Velvet, District and Mercantile. My experience with the chef’s tasting menu was everything you’d expect (and hope for) from an acclaimed Patina kitchen: fresh and seasonal ingredients, interesting but not necessarily bold choices, and able execution. Since the “Taste of Ray’s” features items not on the constantly changing menu – “The chef will cook for the whole table a menu of our freshest ideas” – it’s not very helpful if I point out which dishes stood out. Instead, what’s important to note is that the food doesn’t disappoint.
Every time I visit a museum, I try to leave time to stop by the café for a cappuccino and a pastry. Next time you plan a trip to LACMA, be sure to leave plenty of time to soak up some sun and atmosphere while sipping on a stiff drink at Stark Bar. As for Ray’s, that is worth a visit whether or not you are planning to enjoy a hot-wheel recreation of a bustling city.
Ray’s and Stark Bar
5905 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Note: This meal was hosted