Meet this year’s inductees into the Fine Dining Hall of Fame. The celebrated restaurants and chefs have excelled in a segment most demanding. Learn more about the 2011 Fine Dining Hall of Fame.
Walking into Lucques in Los Angeles is a bit like walking into someone’s home for a special yet relaxed dinner party, and that’s just the way owners Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne want it.
There’s the ivy-covered brick, a few couches tucked in front of a welcoming fireplace, the cozy enclosed patio with intimate lighting, and a timeless elegance throughout that defies the trendiness that dates so many restaurants in this city.
Los Angeles Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila wrote in a three-star 2008 review that “everything about Lucques is just so, well, civilized.”
Earlier this year, when President Barack Obama and his wife visited Los Angeles, it was no surprise that he chose Lucques for dinner.
Founded in 1998, Lucques was the first venture of business partners Goin and Styne, who went on to open the small-plates concept A.O.C., also in Los Angeles, then later, the three-daypart Tavern in Brentwood, Calif. In October the duo also opened a limited-service pastry and sandwich concept called The Larder at Maple Drive in Beverly Hills, Calif. With husband David Lentz, Goin also owns three California locations of The Hungry Cat, a seafood concept, in Hollywood, Santa Barbara and Santa Monica.
Since then, the restaurant has proven its staying power. Goin’s ever-changing menus today include such starters as cranberry-bean soup with fall greens and pecorino pistou, and a main course of chestnut-stuffed chicken with kale, chicken confit and dried-fruit compote.
The recession took its toll, but Lucques, with sales of about $3.2 million per year, was quick to rebound.
“I think it’s because it has that history,” Goin said. “People were coming back to us because they knew us and they could count on what they get.”
From the chef: In their own words
Here Goin’s talks with Nation’s Restaurant News about the opening and evolution of Lucques.
How was Lucques born?
I was at Campanile and my ultimate goal was to open a restaurant. For two years I had been looking for the right space, one that was intimate and charming and had a lot of character, where the atmosphere was part of the experience.
Then I was introduced to Caroline through friends, and we joined forces to look together. We wanted a charming space that was old world, which in L.A. wasn’t easy to find.
Then Nancy Silverton came in one day and said I ate at your future restaurant. It was a gay bar called The Shed, with a fireplace. We went and had a drink and it really was our dream space, but they weren’t interested in selling. So we kept looking.
Then a year later they called to say they wanted to sell The Shed. We did the deal and got the space we wanted.
How did the menu start out?
We wanted a place where we wanted to go eat. I wanted to cook my food, which is country European-based but with seasonal, local ingredients.
So we did a small seasonal menu with six appetizers and nine main courses, which at the time was very small. We changed twice a season. We had a wood-burning grill, and didn’t use a lot of heavy sauces, but used herbs and chiles and nuts and olive oil.
It had a rustic feeling. Now that’s more common, but when we first opened, it was really casual downscale at a time when things were more formal and fancy.
Our wine list was very different then, just one page. Caroline and I would get recommendations and taste everything and pick wines we liked best with the food. They were little-known wines, but the list was hand-crafted and personal.
How has the menu and concept evolved over the years?
It did exactly what we wanted it to do. We wanted to be open for a long time and be like Campanile or Spago, one of those L.A. institutions. We wanted to be part of the scene for the long term. We have a really dedicated clientele.
Foodwise, it has been a great ride for me because whatever I’m interested in at the moment, I can explore. I go through phases where I’m interested in different ingredients or regions; new techniques that become part of my repertoire. The menu has matured, as we have, but in the end the core is what we intended it to be. When I pull out that original menu, I’m not embarrassed, like you are when you see a picture of yourself at 18. We’re still on the same path as when we started.
How often are you in the kitchen at Lucques?
I’m there a lot. I’m probably there more than any of my other restaurants. I’m there at least three days a week.
READ MORE: Fine Dining Hall of Fame 2011