The most memorable part of a recent meal at Le Comptoir wasn't the flaky, if slightly dense, biscuit with sweet butter that inaugurated the meal or even the plate of a dozen or so seasonal fruits and vegetables individually cooked and pickled al dente. Rather, it was one of the four chefs behind the kitchen counter with a tiny heart tattoo beside his right eye, and that sums up Le Comptoir: Gary Menes is one of the few chefs in this city who is truly following his heart. In a passion project of love, chefs hunch over a handful of plates with the utmost concentration, tweezers in hand, artfully composing dishes and feeding a little more than two dozen diners a night at this 14-seat space.
It seems fitting that chef Menes, who helped open the now defunct Palate Food & Wine in 2006, has returned to the same Glendale space, but, this time, he's doing it on his own. Formerly at Tiara Café, Menes' pop-up now occupies the Wine Vault, taking over a moderately-sized space that resembles a storage room with a central, U-shaped bar.
Thursday through Saturday, Le Comptoir offers two seatings with a five-course, $55 prix-fixe menu of ingredients sourced that day from local farms. A 72-hour braised Snake River short rib is a beautiful, perfectly cooked specimen of pink marbled layers of fat alongside an unexpected puddle of orange jus and wedge of orange.
But other dishes revealed an overall inconsistent meal. The "Hen Egg" would have benefited from an even distribution of Parmesan and the accompanying toasted bread—squishy in the way of the artificial variety sold in supermarkets—seemed almost an afterthought. And why serve flavorless cherry tomatoes beside an overcooked John Dory when tomatoes are clearly out of season?
While Menes is clearly cooking from the heart, usually taking great care in sourcing product and cooking with obvious technique—he, an alum of the French Laundry and Patina—the plates at Le Comptoir are overly precious and sometimes lack flavor.
What to eat: A five-course daily changing prix-fixe menu is on offer here.
Where to sit: The best seats are at the kitchen's bar, positioned along the farthest ledge of the counter, where much of the plating takes place.
What to drink: Either BYOB or go with the $24 supplemental wine pairing. Finish off your meal with a mason jar of expertly brewed, locally roasted Trystero single-origin, pour-over coffee.
Conversation Piece: As is the case with many temporary dining engagements, Menes is currently in the process of launching a permanent brick and mortar.