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Church and State’s charcuterie board.
Photo: Jet Tila
Jet Tila

Last "weekend" — I mean my weekend, which really is Wednesday and Thursday — I was in LA for a few reasons. It was my beloved mom's b-day! (Happy Birthday, mom!) Sorry I was such a pain in the ass as a kid, I hope I've kinda made you proud.

Arch and mom celebrating her birthday.

Arch and mom celebrating her birthday.

I was teaching during the evening on her big day, so we took mom to lunch at one of my favorite spots in LA, Church and State.

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Church & State
1850 Industrial St., Los Angeles
(213) 405-1434

With lofts being renovated, restaurants popping and new hotels and theatres opening, Downtown has been working very hard to become the place to live and socialize. It's taken a few years, but by gosh, I think they've done it!

This area, in another time, was pretty tough streets occupied with vagrants and the even less fortunate. LAPD used the neighborhood as a dustpan to push away the garbage from more affluent areas.

Church and State used to be the loading dock of the 1925 National Biscuit Company building. It's been redesigned into a funky French bistro still incorporating the low steel support wall that the trucks' bumpers would back into, along with aged brick and exposed ceiling vents. If you look close enough, there is still some very cool urban skull art in a corner from when this was an exterior wall.

The food is stripped down French Bistro fare. Stripped down is a bad term. What I mean is distilled. If you took a French bistro and boiled it down, the vapors of the very best dishes and flavors would rise and condense into the purest expression what's great about a French bistro. This, my friends, is the experience of C&S.

This restaurant's success is due to Chef Walter Manzke, an alum of such restaurants as Patina, Le Louis XV, L'Auberge Carmel, Drago Centro and Bastide. Manzke's last day was a few weeks ago, but his team remains and his soul is evident in the food and the spirit of the restaurant. I know for a fact that a lot of the Manzke brigade will also be departing soon, but not quite yet! So get your ass out there soon to experience his spirit before it potentially evaporates.

And who's coming to replace Manzke? None other than Las Vegas native Joshua Smith who spent four years with Mina and then moved to Santa Monica where he was chef de cuisine at another notable French Bistro, Anisette. Many think it was Manzke that brought the shine to C&S's menu, but let's not write this place off just yet!

So what to order when you go?

Steak tar tar at C&S in Downtown LA.

Steak tar tar at C&S in Downtown LA.

You can always go the easy route of steak tartare, steak frites and escargot and you will have a spot-on meal. But if you decide to venture out, do not miss the following:

1) The almost-four-foot gargantuan charcuterie board rumored to be designed by Manzke himself! It amazingly appeared on the table with more than 10 offerings, including head cheese, pork rillete, terrine de foie gras with port-wine gelée, pistachio and pork salami just to name a few. Paired with crusty French toast points, it was amazing! A perfect offering to share between friends over the great wine list.

2) Oreilles de cochon: Crispy pig's ears, sauce béarnaise

Pigs' ears slow-cooked until they reach that perfect point between gelatin and velvet on the tongue. They're just tender enough to cling to the flour and breading to be fried and served with a smooth bright béarnaise sauce. And yes, pigs ears aren't just for dogs.

3) Loup de Mer: Sea bass, chanterelle mushrooms, red flame and Thompson seedless grapes. In my humble opinion, only a few places in the world cook Loup perfectly and consistently, and this is one of them. A perfectly cooked Loup should be a sensory experience — crispy, caramelized skin, tender and moist filet. Seasoned with sea salt and pepper, this would make any culinarian happy! But C&S marries it with chanterelles, butter and the counter point of slightly acidic and sweet grapes. Jesus.

I could go on and on, but this restaurant has to be experienced now, in this phase of its life. If you missed it while Manzke was there, go now, just in case it loses any of its Chi. I don't think that will happen, but you never know. The key to this bistro is the perfect combination of décor, ambiance, and its sniper-like precision of cooking and seasoning. Its simplicity is deceptive, because if you have ever cooked, you know the hardest thing is just to cook and season an ingredient perfectly. They do it over and over again.

Walter and his crew will be back in the LA area in the near future, according to what I've been hearing. I know many are waiting with bated breath for his return, but until then, go and experience his skill and artisanal ability before it fades away.

And consider these other Downtown notables if you are planning a culinary visit to LA: Rivera and Lazy Ox Canteen.

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