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EARLY BIRD: STEFAN'S AT L.A. FARM

'Top Chef' finalist Stefan Richter lands in Santa Monica

September 07, 2009|S. IRENE VIRBILA | RESTAURANT CRITIC

Should I admit this? I don't follow Bravo's "Top Chef," and so when I heard that Stefan Richter, runner-up to the crown on Season 5, was looking for a spot to open a restaurant in L.A., it didn't really register with me. I have no opinion of the chef from watching him on television, and I'm thinking that's a good thing.

Richter finally did find a spot, in Santa Monica: the old L.A. Farm, now dubbed Stefan's at L.A. Farm. He spent four months clearing out the place, bringing in new furniture and creating an alluring new look for the patio that features a high-flying cloth-draped ceiling and twin leather sofas with matching fire pits.

The 37-year-old Richter, former executive sous chef at the Bellagio in Vegas, has confidence to spare and seemingly doesn't feel the need to put everything he knows in every dish. His menu here doesn't get too crazy or push the envelope too far. But you'll certainly find the most adventurous fare in his lineup of small plates (just bites, really) at $3 or $4 each, along with the regular menu of appetizers and main courses, some with a Middle European twist or two.

I didn't try every single small bite, but two I loved were the Kumamoto oyster with absinthe jello and fennel vinaigrette, and a twee sweetbread schnitzel paired with a creamy potato salad. He's also got beef tartare with quail egg on griddled brioche and Thai lobster bisque with coconut milk and lemongrass.

The sliced pig's head appetizer I pictured as a pig in profile turns out closer to head cheese -- and delicious. Richter does a creamed lentil soup garnished with lightly smoked rabbit loin too and celery root ravioli with pancetta and sage.

Though born in Finland, Richter grew up in Germany, and that influence comes through in a main course of slow-braised pork cheek and caraway sausage with sauerkraut pretzel dumplings and beer sauce. Now that's something different. He must be into braising, because he's offering braised beef cheeks with creamy polenta too. And a veal chop with a dreamy cauliflower puree, roasted shallots and green peppercorn sauce.

On a weekend night, just days after the re-imagined L.A. Farm opened, it's not very busy: The crowd doesn't seem to have found Richter. And the location on a lonely stretch of Olympic Boulevard not far from the Buffalo Club is hardly a hot spot. Think of this ambitious new restaurant from Stefan Richter as a secret destination.

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virbila@latimes.com

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Stefan's at L.A. Farm

Where: Stefan's at L.A. Farm, 3000 W. Olympic Boulevard (at Stewart), Santa Monica.

When: Open for dinner 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. Monday to Wednesday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday to Saturday and 5:30 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday. Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday. Full bar. Valet parking.

Price: Dinner appetizers, $9 to $13; soups and salads, $3.50 to $15; pizzas, $9.75 to $14; main courses, $16 to $28; desserts, $3 to $7. Small plates, $3 to $4.

Contact: (310) 449-4000; www.stefansatlafarm.com.

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