Address: 503 College St.
Hours: Mon.-Sat., 6 p.m.-midnight
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip: $80
**** (out of five)
By the time it closed earlier this year, Xacutti had lived the full lifespan of an “it” eatery, complete with celebrity sightings and overbooked weekends. When Leslie Gibson left the restaurant she helped found for Los Angeles, it was still on the skyward slope of that cycle, but now she’s back, in the same space, with a restaurant that feels very averse to conspicuous glitz, named after her grandmother; even the décor, with its various earth tones accented with what can only be called “Birks blue” evokes an older relation’s dresser drawer, with its pearls and sundries and jewelry boxes.
“I always loved this space,” Gibson says. “I'm very comfortable in it and it feels very homey to me, so I was glad to come back.” Grace is also seeing the debut of chef Dustin Gallagher after six years as sous chef in Susur Lee’s kitchens. It has to be one of the most unassuming coming out the city’s seen in a long time, as Gallagher has purposefully chosen a menu that’s long on comfort food classics – Gibson and Gallagher use the term “Modern Farmhouse” – and short on the sorts of startling collisions of ingredients and technique for which Lee is famous.
Leading the way is Gallagher’s iceberg lettuce salad, which the staff insists I try. Iceberg is the poor relation among lettuces - long a joke, meant to invoke roadhouse family restaurants and lacklustre Greek salads, but Gallagher puts it unashamedly on the plate, on top of a thick slice of tomato and a dollop of creamed blue cheese dressing, topped with more of the crumbled cheese. Once the rich, tart cheese has done its work, the bright, refreshing crunch of the lettuce somehow remains.
Further down the menu is a port wine steak. The side dishes – crisp green beans and a potato salad full of boiled egg – continue the retro note, but the steak itself comes with a disc of buttery bone marrow inserted in its centre like a confectionary egg. It’s a bit closer to what you’d expect from a veteran of Lee’s kitchens, but Gallagher says that it was an idea he’s been nursing for a while.
“I love bone marrow,” says Gallagher. “It's the poor man's foie gras. I can't personally get enough of it, but at Susur's we never really did it because we thought that people were afraid of it. Especially, there you pay X amount of dollars, you give a lot leeway to the client. He's a big name chef but we held back a little bit. When I had the chance to do it myself, I'm forcing it on people now. Some people get a little queasy about it, but they're unaware or uneducated. They hear about it and they think about transplants.”
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