With its loud, irreverent atmosphere, Petty Cash Taqueria (see previous blog) couldn’t be a more different experience than Walter Manke’s other Los Angeles restaurant, République.
République has lofty ambitions, starting with the fact that it fills the former space of L.A.’s celebrated Campanile/La Brea Bakery, which were unceremoniously evicted a few years ago. The building dates to the 1920’s and was built by Charlie Chaplin. Yes, there’s a lot of history here.
To be fair, we were big fans of Campanile and were sad to see it go. But, we understand the world goes on and we must make room for the new. After delaying the inevitable (République did open December 2013 after all), we set out to see what the fuss was all about.
The space has been extensively remodeled and remains beautiful. The redesign creates several unique-feeling spaces – a dark dining room in the back, open atrium-like area with hi-top communal tables in the middle, and a small, but lively bar area up front. Oddly, the entrance is to the side where the cheese and mussel bar live; the space is extremely tight and not that inviting for a restaurant with so much room to spare.
The French-inspired food is approachable. The cheese plate delivers with a choice of well-curated cheeses. You really can’t go wrong here. Like most L.A. restaurants, the cheeses are costly for the portions compared to the sort of cheese plates one would find in France and Italy for the equivalent price.
Along with the cheese came one of the best parts of dinner – the bread. It appears they do charge for bread, but not in our case. Perhaps, it comes with the cheese or the entrees. We never did understand. Either way, it’s worth getting. Walter’s wife, Margarita Mankze, handles all of the pastries and baked good. The bread is perfect, made only better by the soft, salted butter with which it’s served.
The best course of the night was the spring pea agnolotti. A luscious, bright pea puree filling with a butter sauce, more peas, shaved parmigiano, and mint with perfectly cooked house-made pasta was one of the best pasta dishes we’ve encountered in a while. Fresh ingredients highlighted by expertly executed preparation is what one expects from République.
Unfortunately, the steak frites did not deliver. Our table actually ordered two of these – one cooked medium-rare and the other medium-well. The medium-well turned out even more rare than the medium-ish medium-rare. A restaurant of this caliber should nail something as basic as meat temperature every time. We did mention it to the waiter at the end of dinner and it was removed from the bill. While we appreciated the gesture, it certainly wasn’t the reason we brought it up. Rather, we assume a restaurant – or any other business for that matter – would want to know what they could do better.
Mr Smith especially was excited for dessert. Not only does Margarita have a stellar reputation as a pastry chef, the one thing from her so far in the evening – the bread – was superb. Unable to decide on just one, we tried two: a deconstructed brillat savarin cheesecake with strawberry-rhubarb puree and graham cracker ice cream and the salted caramel chocolate cake. Both desserts tried to put new spins on a couple of restaurant standards. While each good, they left us wanting more.
République has joined the unsavory trend of serving food “as it’s ready.” This means you get plates in whatever order the restaurant wishes as opposed to well-planned and executed courses. Our waiter explained that, in this case, it’s because they have four kitchens. It’s hard to fathom how this un-orchestrated approach to dinner best serves the customer. Presumably restaurants see it as one less thing to manage. Hopefully, this trend will be short-lived. Unfortunately, by then kitchen staffs may have well lost the art of timing.
The pressure to be more has seemed to result in being less. There is no doubt chefs Walter and Margarita know what they’re doing. They have two fine restaurants in Petty Cash Taqueria and République. But, whereas Petty Cash succeeds because the basics don’t succumb to the adventurous, at République the desire to elevate, twist, and deconstruct dinner has overtaken the art of simply preparing a delicious meal to be enjoyed by family and friends.