Location: 6703 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038. (323) 486-6703
Date: November 6, 2019
Cuisine: Modern California
Rating: Really good fine dining
Auburn is a much anticipated recent opening in LA’s often bankrupt fine dining space. I went back in May but now I’m returning for a special Sage Society dinner featuring the wines of the illustrious Chateau Rayas.
The rarest and most spectacular of all the Southern Rhone producers.
The restaurant occupies the space formerly belonging to the legendary Citrus, then Alex, then Hatfields (all of which I enjoyed).
They’ve partially roofed over, divided and modernized the space, removing the 80s-90s LA garden feel (which I kind of liked, but it’s certainly still very attractive).
The kitchen is large, open, and bustling!
Chef Eric Bost’s (back center) debut restaurant Auburn juxtaposes the higher echelon of traditional fine dining with an emphasis on guest exploration and conviviality while paying homage to Los Angeles’ uninhibited culinary identity in a space designed with honest materials by local makers.
Chef Eric Bost grew up in North Carolina, running around his grandparents’ restaurants at an early age. Upon graduation from business school, he enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America. After an externship at Le Cirque in NYC, Bost traveled across Europe, where he met his future wife, Elodie, and made Paris his home. During their time in France, Bost worked his way through some of the world’s best restaurants, including Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée and Les Ambassadeurs at the Hôtel de Crillon. His experience led him to be chosen by Guy Savoy for his opening team in Las Vegas in 2006. Two years later, the restaurant received 2 Michelin Stars with Bost as Chef de Cuisine. Within months, he was appointed Executive Chef and maintained their prestigious rating, garnering numerous accolades along the way. With the opening of Guy Savoy Singapore in 2010, Bost established a restaurant consistently voted amongst the best in the country. Most recently, Bost was the Executive Chef at Los Angeles’ beloved République. Now, after nearly a decade at the helm of revered restaurants, Bost ventures on his own with auburn.
Our special dinner was in the private room near the entrance.
NV Saint-Chamant Champagne Cuvée Royále (from mag). Rare but lovely Champagne.
An intro snack. Tartlet of some sort. Lots of herbs.
2009 Gonet-Médeville Cuvée Théophile Grand Cru Rosé. 96 points. Another rare and spectacular bubbly. This rose was fabulous.
Basically chicharróns (aka fried pork rinds). They have a ton of crunch and a bit of vinegar and salt flavor, not unlike salt and vinegar potato chips.
President of Martine’s Wines, Greg Castells introduces the wines. All the wines tonight are imported by Martine’s and came either from Rayas itself, their collection, or Liz’s. Martines has a really spectacular lineup with some of the best wines in the world.
Liz Lee is our hostess — and she always organizes an amazing evening.
Our special menu “produced” by Liz.
Bread and butter.
Zone on this rather spectacular bread. It’s some kind of (pretty) country loaf made in house. Served warm and amazing.
The butter is avocado butter and infused with herbs. Really nice match with the bread.
2012 Château Rayas Côtes du Rhône La Pialade. 93 points. Pours light and transparent with clear flecks of orange. It opens up to a strong and singular navel orange nose on the nose. Over time it becomes accented with a touch of Christmas spice, game, and mossy undergrowth. The palate has high acid, low tannin, and has elevated but not obtrusive alcohol. Nice long finish replaying the orange, light spice and game. Called it bang on… ’12 Pialade.
We open with the lightest of the major Rayas wines.
2013 Château Rayas Côtes du Rhône La Pialade. 92 points. Drinking a full bottle, p & p, light red, strawberries, flowers, roses, tea leaves, sweet core, still fairly tannic and picked up weight so I don’t think it’s at peak drinking.
Abalone Mushrooms. Roasted over embers, eggplant, Aleppo chili, watercress, almonds, burnt onion essence. First dish up was amazing, particularly for being vegetarian. The fabulous reduction sauce really sold it, but so did the nice meaty mushroom.
2007 Château Rayas Côtes du Rhône Château de Fonsalette Reserve. VM 93. Bright red. Black raspberry and floral aromas are complemented by Asian spices, anise and white pepper. Racy, finely etched red berry and cherry flavors stain the palate and become deeper and sweeter with air. Shows no rough edges and finishes with superb focus and sweet, sappy persistence. This puts most Chateauneufs in the shade.
2009 Château Rayas Côtes du Rhône Château de Fonsalette Reserve. VM 92. Bright red. Intriguing aromas of black raspberry, cherry-cola, Indian spices and lavender. Suave, gently sweet and focused, with very good mid-palate power and intense, spice-accented red fruit flavors. Finishes with dusty tannins that add focus and gentle grip to the very long, sappy finish.
Lamb Tartare. Charred persimmons, pickled marigolds, grains of paradise. Very unusual tartare presentation.
2008 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Pignan Reserve. VM 91. Bright red. High-pitched aromas of redcurrant, raspberry, rose petal, and Asian spices, lifted by a mineral quality. Suave, silky and alluringly sweet, offering penetrating red fruit flavors and slow-mounting florality. This refined, focused wine stains the palate with perfumed flavors of raspberry and garrigue. This has the juicy acidity and spine to reward cellaring but I find it awfully delicious now.
2009 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Pignan Reserve. VM 94. Vivid red. Intensely fragrant nose displays an exotic array of red fruit, incense and floral scents. Sweet raspberry and cherry flavors offer both depth and impressive energy, with silky tannins adding support. Spiciness and florality build on the long, juicy finish, which emphasizes raspberry and candied licorice. This Chateauneuf gains weight with air, but maintains freshness and clarity.
Quail. Treviso glazed with blackberries, crushed juniper, lardo. This bird had a nice char note and a smoky richness from the lardo. Another great reduction too.
Now into the bad boys:
2008 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve. 95 points. Vivid red. Pure, expressive aromas of red and dark berries, potpourri, licorice and rose. Juicy, spicy and fresh, with sexy raspberry and cherry flavors accentuated by smoky minerality. Intense and light on its feet, finishing very long and aromatic, augmented by firm mineral cut and very impressive clarity.
2009 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve. VM 96. Deep red with a bright rim. A kaleidoscopic bouquet evokes red and dark berry preserves, blood orange and lavender, with deeper cherry pit and licorice qualities adding power. Sweet, expansive and pure, offering intense raspberry, bitter cherry and floral pastille flavors supported by a firm spine of acidity. Shows excellent clarity and power on the finish, which is given shape by fine-grained, sweet tannins. I underestimated this wine from barrel last year.
Duck. Koji aged pan-roasted kohlrabi, young mustard leaves, roasted duck-mustard jus. Lovely.
2006 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve. VM 94. Medium red. Vibrant strawberry, raspberry, anise and floral aromas could fill a room. Juicy and sharply delineated, offering sweet red berry and cherry preserve flavors with compelling accents of licorice, sassafras, lavender and smoky minerals. Extremely elegant wine with outstanding finishing cut and persistence. Not many grand cru Burgundies could match this for finesse.
Veal Sweetbreads, pig’s trotter and celery root ragout, matsutake mushrooms, chicken skin, roasted veal jus. I’m not usually a trotter or a sweetbreads fan, but this was a great dish. Rich and meaty. Fabulous reduction again.
1995 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve. JG 94. The 1995 Châteauneuf du Pape from Château Rayas is an outstanding wine that is just about into its plateau of peak maturity, but could still do with at least a couple more years in the cellar to allow everything to fall precisely into place. The bouquet is a classic Rayas mélange of cherries, raspberries, coffee, ground pepper, garrigue, roasted venison and woodsmoke. On the palate the wine is ripe, full-bodied and rock solid at the core, with moderate tannins, fine grip and a very long, blossoming and nascently complex finish. This still has a bit of chunky, muscle-bound adolescence to shake off and a few more years in the cellar should do this nicely, allowing the wine to snap into focus and start to show more of the inherent elegance of this great terroir. It is a ripe vintage for Rayas, but handles this very nicely indeed. (Drink between 2020-2050)
1997 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve. VM 90+. Full red. Spicy aromas of framboise, leather and pepper; very rich but fresher than the Pignan. Thick but lively on the palate; very suave and rich. Not nearly as open today as the above. Peppery finish displays excellent persistence. This is very strong for the vintage.
1998 Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Reserve. VM 92+. Medium red. Deep, smoky aromas of strawberry, roasted plum, raspberry and roasted meat. Big, sweet and peppery in the middle palate, but not yet expansive. Larger-scaled and more roasted than the Pignan but today it not showing the sheer concentration or sappy, primary red berry sweetness of the great Rayas vintages of recent decades. Still, this opens out very nicely on the long finish, which features dusty, fine tannins.
Dry Aged Ribeye. Red wine braised oxtail, red flame grapes, roasted and raw turnips, soy-cured daikon. More reduction! Very nice bit of meat.
1997 Château Gilette Crème de Tête. 93 points. Lovely. A bit like cream soda.
Apple. Chantilly (cream). The cream was almost tart (like a cream fraiche). Rather delicious for being so minimalist. One of the senior employees did tell me that in the future my gelato was welcome :-).
Mignardise of candied rhubarb. Like little funny sour fruit rollups.
The wine lineup.
The wines were spectacular. It was very interesting — and perhaps unique — to try the progression of the Rayas wines like this all in one evening. I’ve had them all at one time or another, but never in series. This is a very unique winemaker with it’s own peculiar and wonderful style.
Overall, food was fabulous Audacious for LA fine dining, very interesting style that blends foraged seasonal ingredients, a love of great reductions, more than a bit of wood-fire, and a real respect for getting the most out of vegetables. This is certainly the best new fine dining place I’ve tried recently in LA.
Service was great.
The overall evening, like all Sage Society events, was fabulous and meticulously arranged.