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THE GUIDE / RESTAURANTS: EARLY BIRD

A bit of Paris in downtown L.A.

October 06, 2008|S. Irene Virbila | Times Staff Writer

STEVEN ARROYO has a remarkable track record of picking the right spot for his string of restaurants, including three Cobras & Matadors. He's also a quick study when it comes to creating a look for each place -- and his latest venture is no exception.

Church & State occupies the former loading dock of downtown L.A.'s Nabisco Biscuit Co. Building, which dates from 1925 but has been recently renovated to create a series of lofts and this working-class French bistro. "Incongruous," you might say, in a neighborhood where loft dwellers may not feel comfortable walking their dogs late at night too far from the bright-lights, big-city look of this end of Industrial Street.

But what a wonderful find this is in the outer reaches of downtown's arts district. Old subway tiles line the walls. Potted plants define the oh-so-French sidewalk terrace out front. And piazza lights strung across the ceiling of the large space create a festive atmosphere just as much as the terrific downtown mix of people eating and drinking.

It's very early days, and yet the place is jammed, at least on a weekend night. It's high-energy and fun, and the kitchen is working double time, which is hard, because the menu is so large. Church & State proposes everything from oysters on the half shell (served too warm), caviar and chilled shellfish platters to house-made charcuterie, cheese plates and pasta. The menu mostly concentrates on the classics -- onion soup, escargot, steak tartare, duck confit, skate and, of course, pommes frites.

The execution can be shaky yet. Boeuf bourguignon is textbook-delicious, and the duck confit is good. But the charcuterie could have more flavor. And what's with the pissaladiere category, which does not include the traditional southern French pizza-like dough topped with caramelized onions, olives and anchovies? Instead, we get a very tough flatbread, which is really a sort of tarte flambee -- topped with onions, bacon and creme fraiche.

Wines come by the half-glass, glass and bottle -- and they're all French. Lunchtime, wander down to this charming newcomer and try a French dish or two with a glass of wine.

Pourquoi pas?

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virbila@latimes.com

Church & State, 1850 Industrial St., L.A. Lunch, noon-3 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; dinner, 6-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 6-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Wine and beer. Guarded lot parking, $4. Seafood appetizers, $6-$75; charcuterie, $8-$20; hors d'oeuvres, $6-$16; main courses, $18-$26; sides, $6. (213) 405-1434.

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