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Photos: Ray's At LACMA Has Fantastic New Mediterranean Meets Vietnamese Dishes

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Ray's & Stark Bar, which is nestled inside of LACMA, has a new executive chef quietly putting together bold and innovative dishes that meld Mediterranean and Vietnamese flavors.

Up until this summer, Chef Viet Pham had been a dedicated sous chef to Chef Kris Morninstar since the team started up the restaurant and bar in 2011. After Morningstar left, Pham took over the the reins in his first executive chef position.

LAist first took notice of Pham's creativity when we attended the first of the fall season's bi-monthly Cur-ATE series earlier this month that paired a tour of the Korean exhibit at LACMA with a special Korean-inspired meal created by Pham just for that night. We enjoyed how Pham plays with the flavors of Korean cuisine—from using the fermented gochujang sauce to not shying away from making more traditional dishes like sundae (Korean blood sausage). We weren't just looking at familiar dishes we've seen again and again—like Korean BBQ. The host of the evening, ArtBite's Maite Gomez-Rejón, told LAist that of all of her Cur-ATE events, this was the first time Ray's tackled Asian cuisine since Pham was at the helm; Morningstar was more familiar with French cuisine.

We recently returned to Ray's & Stark Bar for a tasting of their newest menu items during dinner, and we could see that Pham has brought his Vietnamese culture and pan-Asian influences into the restaurant's Mediterranean dishes. The items are refreshing, unique and creative.

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Sitting outdoors in the open patio area of Ray's & Stark bar, we sampled his first offering: the Hamachi. It's a beautifully-arranged dish—simple and elegant. Viet told LAist his inspiration for this dish was from his travels to Japan and felt that like in Japan, this one showed restraint. But there is no restraint in the flavors: it bursts with a spiciness from the serrano peppers and chili oil, and the pickled ginger gel cubes are a fun addition to the plate. The caviar lime adds a tartness that complements the raw hamachi.

Another dish we love is his Spicy Pork Meatballs, which swims in a coconut curry broth along with Manila clams. It's a surprising dish because we don't normally see meatballs in curry, especially one that has Thai influences. However, Pham said this dish was inspired by his mother's cooking; she always made coconut curry with meatballs for him and his sister growing up. As an homage to her work, he uses the backbone of her dish and adds clams and kicks up the seasonings.

Also, as with the Korean blood sausage we sampled, we found Asian flavors in his seafood sausage that is made with shrimp and sits in a cioppino broth. Pham makes things like sausages all in-house, which adds a special touch to his dishes. He said he created this one because pescatarians were asking him for more seafood dishes.

There are, however, some dishes where the flavors don't quite meld together—like the bulgogi-braised beef tendon that rests on top of a square of crispy rice. The rice tastes rather acidic and overwhelms some of the flavors from the rest of the dish.

He gave us a Foraged Lettuce palate cleanser that seems rather simple and boring compared to his other dishes which are bursting with complexity. (We know he said it was a palate cleanser, but still...) But what we did find interesting is that he mentioned that the restaurant has a hired forager named Dragon (yes, really) who travels from all over San Francisco to SoCal to bring unique vegetables and herbs to the mix. There's also a hidden garden at LACMA where they grow their own produce.

We could taste the freshness from the Heirloom Tomatoes dish. The added thin slices of red onion and bread crumbs to the burrata cheese kicks up a regular dish we've kind of taken for granted over the years.

The star of the evening, though, was the restaurant's "Bone Marrow" dish. It's in quotes for the very reason that there is no actual bone on the plate; the bone is replaced by a hallowed-out Yukon gold potato that at a first glance would look like bone. But it's what's inside that seems like a treasure trove of delicious goodies. Pham mixes together braised short rib, lobster mushroom, Maine lobster, actual bone marrow, and chives in the center of the potato. A perfectly poached quail egg sits in the center and when we bite into it, it bursts with flavor and a nice creaminess.

And as for dessert, we loved his take on Vietnamese coffee. His is an espresso mouse in a cup atop a layer of condensed milk. Cocoa nubs cover the top for a fun, textured crunch.

Now, you might be able to catch these dishes at Ray's, but they could change soon. If anything, Pham is a chameleon when it comes to cooking, and he'll be mixing up the menu as seasonal items change through the fall.

Ray's & Stark Bar is located at LACMA at 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 857-6180

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