Exterior view of the Parish in downtown Los Angeles. (Los Angeles Times )
The Parish, chef Casey Lane's new downtown gastropub, is the house that booze built. Although Lane is widely admired as the chef of Venice's well-regarded Tasting Kitchen, he has created the menu of his new place entirely in homage to its bar. It's a move that is at once bold and humble, and it's part of the mounting proof that the city's thriving craft cocktail scene is changing the face of its restaurant culture.
"It was really all about me designing a menu that was going to be able to stand up to cocktails," says Lane, adding that the Parish's head mixologist John Coltharp is one of the best bartenders he's ever encountered. "So the food is full of really big flavors."
This kind of approach to food and drink is increasingly common, particularly in downtown L.A., which is considered ground zero for L.A.'s ambitious cocktail culture. This year John Sedlar's nouveau Mexican restaurant, Rivera, which has a drink menu by star L.A. mixologist Julian Cox, was nominated for best restaurant bar at the massive New Orleans bartending convention Tales of the Cocktail. And a few weeks ago, a sleek restaurant named FigOly opened across from L.A. Live with a cocktail program by craft cocktail cult hero Matthew Biancaniello of the Roosevelt's Library Bar.
The Parish is distinguishing itself in this increasingly cluttered landscape through its humble digs. It sits on a slender wedge of real estate at the tip of the V-shape formed by the convergence of Spring and Main streets, in the space that used to be Angelique Cafe. It has two levels, but both are quite small. The top story is dominated by a very long bar where you'll be hard pressed to find anyone who is not both eating and drinking.
"We love spaces like Bottega Louie," says Coltharp, referring to the fancy Italian temple of modernism down the street. "But this is one of the few quaint cafes downtown."
The room may be quaint, but it's upscale quaint, with lots of dark wood accents, plush chairs, raised tables and exposed brick. The food, however, is an entirely different matter. After all, only big, bold, bright flavors, like those found in the oyster poutine, can hold their own with complex drinks including the Black Bee, made with bourbon, lemon juice, two kinds of honey, and shots of both stout and porter beer.
That said, Lane and Coltharp are not in the futile business of actually pairing cocktails with food. That's what the Parish's list of 21 local craft beer taps is for. Beer is much more delicate than cocktails are, says Coltharp, who would recommend a customer drink a Strand Beach House amber ale with Lane's fish and chips, which are encased in a crisp lager-infused batter.
Having equally good beer and cocktail programs under one roof is a rare accomplishment and one that Lane and Coltharp say was essential to their vision of the Parish as a gastropub tailor-made for the modern Angeleno.
"I see the gastropub as a concept, a place and an emotion," says Lane. "I don't cook for London, I cook for Angelenos and I wanted to give them an eclectic mix of their drinking food."
Lane chose Coltharp for this project because of the bartender's knack for making base spirits shine, which is in keeping with Lane's direct approach to cooking at the Parish. Vodka, gin, bourbon or rum all take their turn in the spotlight on Coltharp's menu.
Coltharp was trained by Milk & Honey bartender Sam Ross at chef David Myers' Sona, and further educated at Cedd Moses' Seven Grand and Vincenzo Marianella's Copa d'Oro before landing at the Tasting Kitchen, home to Table 20's L.A.'s best bartender competition winner, Justin Pike. Coltharp is more than ready to run his own program.
His bar staff, which includes rising star Brian Summers (Harvard & Stone), is as meticulous as Coltharp's shaking method.
"We shake with only one large cube," says Coltharp, who wields a shaker like he's swinging a maraca to a laid-back 75-beat-per-minute drum beat. "The idea is about rounding off the ice, not shattering it, so it creates millions of really small bubbles."
It's these bubbles that drive home the delicious in Coltharp's drinks, rendering them light and airy and giving the flavors room to breathe. The technique makes even the simplest gin gimlet sing.
You might want to try a plate of fresh summer grilled corn with honeycomb butter with that gimlet, or maybe a burger with rich, ripe cheese and pickled carrots.
"It's just a really good bar menu," says Lane. "And it was a lot of fun to make."