Scratch Bar & Kitchen, Chefs Phillip Frankland Lee and wife Margarita Kallas-Lee’s main tasting menu restaurant, just so happens to be in Encino. You may not even notice it hiding within a mini mall of sorts along Ventura Boulevard. Recently refreshed with an interior layout remodel, Scratch is like no other place you’ve ever dined at before.
The new menu offers a singular $145 tasting for twenty courses of sublime flavors, textures, and surprising nuances. We began our culinary adventure in the bar where we were served unique cocktails and appetizers. The vibe is New York City during prohibition, a speakeasy style entry.
The bartender doubles as a chemist, extracting essences with a reverse siphon, using the freshest ingredients, pairing each cocktail with an amuse bouche.
House made bread is served with mead, a fermented honey water, a slice of cheese, also made by scratch in house. As it was explained to us while having our first tastings, everything is made “by scratch” — the cheese, butter, bread, and charcuterie.
Being vegetarian is not a problem, by the way.
Perhaps it’s due to Chef Phillip’s previous vegan tasting menu restaurant incarnation, the now shuttered Gadarene Swine, that vegans and vegetarians can be thankful for the elevated veggies at Scratch. As a vegan or vegetarian diner, you may not find many kitchens that will graciously accommodate for a tasting menu like they do here. Accommodate isn’t quite the word, however. They bring vegetables to another level of taste beyond the usual vegetarian plate. It’s almost Gadarene Swine 2.0, carrying on its own gastronomical plant-based legacy within the Scratch kitchen.
Certainly so, as my own vegetarian platings served in perfect parallel with my omnivorous partner’s matched so poetically in every sense, from the leek “bone marrow” to the meaty maiitake mushrooms and beyond. Each course paired a similar taste and texture of the vegetable dish in comparison to the meat/animal dish, alchemical in its affinity to one another.
Orchestrations of food and art come together to meet in a harmonious plating. Your mouth is cleverly fooled with the vegetable versions of the animal, and vice versa. It might confuse you to believe one is the other. Roasted essences of mushrooms taste of au jus, leeks masquerade as bone, a myriad of sensory triggers persuade your palate rather than fake you out.
The stage is the wood burning hearth, with chefs as performers, the diners as audience. Jazz and hip hop flows seamlessly with the wine pairings.
It’s evocative of a French Laundry multi-course menu, sans the quaint stone farmhouse setting. The dishes at Scratch are concentrated flavor bombs of edible art.
Chef Phillip guides his kitchen team with chants in unison of each dish, like a crew of Japanese sushi chefs. The whole objective is to cook and make food from scratch, bring out the flavor of each ingredient, and make it sing with the greatest flavor possible.
The wild mushroom meringue mingled its earthy languages in Italian black truffle and chantrelles.
My favorite vegetarian shooter — previously tasted at the Los Angeles Food & Wine festival booth — a symphony of tomato, chile, sake, lime and avocado. I was reminded again of how good it was the first time.
Roasted cauliflower came smoky from the brick hearth. Sweet potato, cumin, apple, lime juice, tomato syrup. Kohlrabi, a revelation. It looked the same as the seafood plating, yet was entirely vegetable. I swooned over the smoky, salty, earthy, pungent, aromatic and sweet.
The char roasted leek stood out: delicately caramelized, slathered in beet mustard, served with a little lemon juice, Maldon salt and basil blossoms.
A few of the courses from the vegetarian side of the menu:
Compressed Zucchini, Zucchini Skins, Marinated Cherry Vinaigrette, Crispy Thai Basil, Crispy Kale, Mushroom Dashi
Tomato Concasse, Topped with Smoked Avocado, Cilantro Crema, Smoked Honey, Puffed Wild Rice
Vacuum Treated Kohlrabi, Sweet Potato-Cumin Puree, Sourdough Bread Crumbs, Sauce of Apple, Lime Juice and Tomato Syrup
Purple Carrots, Cauliflower Puree, Roasted Carrot Syrup, Grits tossed in Lemon and Olive Oil, Puffed Quinoa, Fresh Nasturtium
There is a finale of desserts following the afterglow of the meal, like triple-creme cheese ice cream, drizzled with smoked honey and fresh chives, served with the fluffiest toasted brioche of your wildest dreams.
And, that’s when I fell in love with the brioche.
Margarita gave me a loaf of her brioche to take home. It’s truly special. The small loaf was gone by the next day, sliced, eaten up, and savored by myself and my youngest daughter. We decided that we must learn to bake bread.
More desserts arrived after the tasting courses and wines.
Marinated cherries with roasted white chocolate and chestnut, coconut pudding with strawberries fulfills your sweet tooth. The white chocolate pyramid and toasted maple-vanilla marshmallow leaves your palate floating on a cloud.
Scratch Bar & Kitchen. 16101 Ventura Blvd, Encino, CA. 818-646-6085.