Current Obsession: Try This Tender Smoked Half Chicken Worthy Of Texas
Call us nitpickers or details people, but it's the little things in life—and in the food world— that get us excited. Whether it be an off-the-wall menu item, a particularly stylish bathroom or a restaurant's signature scent, we get stoked on the minutiae that makes our dining scene unique. Consider this the sacred space where we feel safe to express our current obsessions and openly explore our favorite things.
This week, it's Barrel & Ashes smoked chicken.
What it is: Two of Thomas Keller's proteges, Timothy Hollingsworth (The French Laundry) and Rory Hermann (Bouchon), have made the move to a more down-home restaurant in Studio City, offering up a primarily Texas-style barbecue joint to a very hungry crowd. It's incredibly tough to secure a reservation at the hot new Ventura Boulevard smokehouse, and lines start queuing up early, just as they do at some of Austin's best pits.
Texas barbecue fanatics who are used to roadside stops might have initial sticker shock at Barrel & Ashes; their Double R-Ranch brisket is pricey at $26/pound, where even Austin's top notch La Barbecue charges only $18/pound. The brisket at this point might not sweep Houston's World Championship Bar-B-Que Comp, but this is hardly Hollingsworth and Hermann's first trip to the rodeo. But the real showstopper is their smoked half chickens.
Their half bird is so tender and supple that when the server sits the cast iron skillet on the table, it quivers. Cutting into the breast you can immediately tell simply by sight that it's been brined. It's just that juicy. Their style of brining has a similar effect as it does on Thomas Keller's famous Ad Hoc fried chicken, a technique that is worth replicating again and again. And I wish more chefs did; it's de rigeur for restaurants to serve some rendition of a whole roast chicken for sharing, and very few in L.A. do it to this level of perfection.
The black pepper heavy rub is perfect for this cut of meat, and the flavor of the smoke penetrates all the way through. Couple that with the flavor of the red and white oak in their Southern Pride smoker trailer, and you're in business. There isn't a bad bite. You'll be licking this one to the bone.
Why it's rad: Having grown up in the Valley, I have to say it's refreshing to see restauranteurs finally opening up shop in the area. While there are some decent BBQ joints in the SFV (Dr. Hoggly Woggly and Smoke City are passable at best), there isn't anywhere you can get a decent cocktail like at Barrel & Ashes. You might get free keg beer at La Barbecue on the weekends, but you aren't getting the well-crafted drink like the Dapper Apple, made with tequila, sage, and house-made Granny Smith soda. So there's a one up for ya, Austin.
And though the prices might be tough to stomach for some, you have to keep in mind that they're using really high-quality, sustainably-sourced meat, in this case Mary's Free Range Chicken. Seeing a chef turn something as mundane as a chicken breast into a piece of culinary artwork is exciting. You can tell these were happy chickens. Plus, it's nice to be able to enjoy it in more polished setting similar to that of Bludso's Bar and 'Que in Mid-City.
And in addition to the chicken, Barrel & Ashes also offers some amazing sides, like shells and cheese, gooey and extra cheesy just the way mom made it, and a maple butter doused hoe cake that scratches the itch you might have had watching Sean Brock make them on "Mind of a Chef."
Many of the sides and desserts are made using recipes from Hollingsworth's mother and grandma, as his family is from Texas. He says the restaurant a nod to his family's Southern heritage.
"My family didn't really understand what I was doing up at the French Laundry, or where it would take me," says Hollingsworth. "This is my tribute to my heritage, how grew up, and the food I was raised on."
Where to find it: Barrel and Ashes is located at 11801 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, (818) 623-8883
How much it'll cost you: The "half bird" goes for $18.