The outlying area of downtown’s Arts District was always an unlikely place to find a good meal, until last September, when Steven Arroyo and Yassmin Sarmadi opened Church & State at the base of the Biscuit Company Lofts building. They started with chef Greg Bernhardt, who was producing a consistent roster of brasserie classics, but have since switched to San Diego native Walter Manzke, a longtime Los Angeles chef who built his reputation at restaurants like Pinot Bistro and Bastide, and by launching three popular restaurants in Carmel. Now Church & State has the culinary firepower to compete with the charming urban setting.
Arroyo and architect David Wick enclosed and transformed the former Biscuit Company loading dock. The space now features an L-shaped marble bar and a glass facade that offers 180-degree views of the exhibition kitchen. You’ll also find brick floors that extend from the tiled-over dock to Industrial Street. Overhead, the dining room is criss-crossed with strings of clear light bulbs that cast a soft glow at night.
Our leisurely meal began with the Church & State cocktail, which contained Cynar, Riesling, orange peel and thyme. Cynar is an Italian liqueur with artichoke as the prominent ingredient. Between the Cynar and the thyme, the drink was overpowering.
Our waiter delivered a basket of French bread, which turned out to be perfect for sopping up Mankze’s sauces. Still, the bread couldn’t compete with the complimentary bite-sized gougeres, warm and fluffy.
Tartine de Asparagus ($9) was outstanding – triangles of toast topped with a single trembling poached egg that oozed at the tap of a fork, wild Northern California leeks, vinaigrette and diced red pepper.
Escargots de Bourgogne ($12) were phenomenal – ramekins containing garlic and parsley butter, capped with puff pastry and baked. Pry loose the flaky pastry, dip it in the ramekin and spear the butter-drenched snail meat. Eat and repeat. Best escargots ever? So far.
Plats Principaux are Manzke’s takes on brasserie classics, three available as Petit Asiette. It was a great idea to offer smaller portions at reduced prices, a concept that really lends itself to sharing and variety.
Dessert plank held three solid renditions of French classics. Crème Brulee ($7) was a torched caramelized custard, nice and yolky, with a crisp cap. Croustade aux Pommes ($8) was a hot apple crisp with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. You can’t even see the dark-as-night Tart au Chocolat ($8). The rich slice of dark chocolate tart was draped with tangy preserved raspberries, but the color so dark it absorbed all the light from my camera’s flash.
Manager Josh Goldman, previously the sommelier at BIN 8945 and the GM at Bastide during Manzke’s tenure, offered us sips of Zayra to end the meal. The 10-year-old Trinidadian rum was outstanding, with an incredible aroma and raspberry sweetness.
Church & State is a winning brasserie with solid food and a relaxed vibe that inspires lingering. If other restaurateurs are able to tap into Los Angeles history in the same way, downtown will be more exciting.