I started hearing rumblings about The Tasting Kitchen last fall. A young, hungry crew of Pacific Northwesterners invaded Abbot Kinney Boulevard, taking over the short-lived home of AK restaurant + bar. Chef Casey Lane, Maitre ‘d/Wine Director Maxwell Leer and bar manager Justin Pike changed the space minimally, but the menu was radically different, with a focus on farm-fresh cuisine instead of contemporary Swedish food. The concept intrigued me, but due to sickness and a jam-packed reservations log, my two efforts at dinner were thwarted. On my third attempt, my cousins backed out of dinner plans at the last minute, but F it, no more waiting.
The Tasting Kitchen resides on impossibly trendy Abbot Kinney Boulevard, on the south end of a strip of boutiques, cafes and residences that runs between Main Street and Venice Boulevard. The street puts most in Los Angeles to shame when it comes to contemporary design, and yet, there hasn’t been a true destination restaurant. Joe’s and Gjelina certainly have their adherents, but neither restaurant bowled me over on my most recent visits. With The Tasting Kitchen, a strike was a possibility, and we were counting on at least a spare.
The Tasting Kitchen crew already charmed plenty of palates, but it was only recently that they started to forge their own aesthetic identity. They completed the bulk of this process prior to my initial dinner, stripping the barriers that afflicted AK. The idea that up until recently, customers couldn’t see stylish passersby, and that potential customers couldn’t see inside the restaurant, strikes me as absurd. Now that design flaw is a thing of the past, and The Tasting Kitchen can move forward.
The menu features an unusual layout, with main courses in the upper right corner, cheese, bread and preserves up top, and categories like meat, salads, seafood, vegetable, pasta and dessert down below. We sifted through seasonal options and certainly would have ordered more if our cousins managed to make it to dinner. Sadly, there were only two of us, so we had to limit the damage.
Justin Pike was on vacation, but they have a deep talent pool behind the bar at The Tasting Kitchen. Devon Espinosa was working during our visit and John Coltharp recently transitioned from Caña Rum Bar. During our visit, chalkboards were bare, but they normally tout special drinks, cocktail arcana and fun facts courtesy of Pike, the artist in residence.
We finished with their signature dessert, a multi-milk-soaked slab of Tres Leches Cake, which the kitchen paired with highly complementary scoops of olive oil and raw milk gelato.
Expectations were sky-high heading into the meal, and the food was all good to very good, the setting was relaxing, and for the most part, our service was friendly and accommodating, though we did experience some initial frustration with the lack of pacing. It’s clear that The Tasting Kitchen crew is onto something, and they’re operating with none of the pretension that afflicts nearby restaurants. It will be interesting to track the progress of the restaurants and key players in the near and far future.