Abernethy’s Mixes Things up at the Music Center

Pork and Shrimp Wontons in Chili Oil at Abenethy’s, All photos by Elise Thompson for The LA Beat.

Abernethy’s, a beautiful new restaurant at the Music Center Plaza is now open for lunch and dinner. With a massive renovation, the plaza added a couple of new buildings–Abernethy’s Restaurant and the Mullin Wine Bar. Every three months (quarterly, for you business types) the restaurant will feature a new chef with a completely new menu, art and music mix all curated by the chef.

Chefs have been chosen by a panel of advisors including Chefs Govind Armstrong, Susan Feniger, Ray Garcia, and Curtis Stone, as well as “tastemakers” Phil Rosenthal and Russ Parsons, and members of the Music Center staff, who visited a plethora of restaurants around LA to find the very best emerging talents.

Upcoming chefs include Chefs Pla and Fern Kaewtathip of Noree Thai on Beverly and Luv2eat Thai Bistro, Geter Atienza, the Chef de Cuisine at Broken Spanish, and Jason Fullilove from Barbara Jean and the Magic Castle (Who I personally think has already emerged, but as long as Fullilove’s awesome fried chicken is on the menu, I’m not going to split hairs).

Starting this week, Chef Shirley Chung of Ms Chi Café will take a turn at the helm as Abernethy’s first chef. Chung attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, and worked with chefs like Thomas Keller at Bouchon, Guy Savoy, and Jose Andres at China Poblano. She has also been a two-time finalist on Top Chef and published her own cookbook, “Chinese Heritage Cooking from My American Kitchen.”

Originally from Bejing, Chung’s menu will reflect her Chinese heritage with dumplings, which she is known for at Ms Chi Café, and a variety of other dishes that we were invited to taste by Abernathy’s. We were greeted with cocktails, including The Green Lantern, Chung’s favorite drink from China, made with Chivas Regal, lemon juice, jasmine green tea syrup, and ginger, and a Lychee Martini that was not only delicious, but packed a wallop. The wine selection is split between California vintages and international wines selected to pair with Chung’s menu. I would probably select Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne, but only if I am picking up the check.

We started with Ms Chi Chicken Pot Stickers in a Pomegranate sweet and sour sauce,  topped with pickled Fresno chili pepper and pork and shrimp Wontons in Chili Oil, black vinegar and chili oil dressing. If you only choose one, I would recommend the chicken pot stickers. Another nice started is the Radish and Citrus salad with surprisingly mild shaved assorted radishes and Flying Disc Ranch grapefruits topped with fresh mint. Sometimes top quality ingredients are best simply prepared.

The whimsically named “Bowl of Hugs” is an aromatic Meat and Bone Herbal Tea (which contains herbs that are especially beneficial to women) with tender pork ribs, American ginseng, black pepper, and goji berry accompanied by little mochi puffs.

One of the most interesting dishes was the chef’s take on the Italian Cecio e Pepe, created along with Chef Silvia, which is made with Northern China style noodles, tofu, pecorino cream, and Sichuan peppercorn–the ones that make your mouth numb, although they were used with restraint so any numbing was hardly noticeable.

Two excellent main dishes are the Hot and Sour Sable Fish with house-preserved kale sprouts and silken tofu in a hot and sour broth and the Beijing Lamb Belly, a braised, pressed, seared lamb belly with a black vinegar reduction and fermented leek sesame sauce. The lamb is unbelievably moist with no gaminess whatsoever. It would even convert people who don’t think they like lamb. A nice side dish would be the tender Roasted Heirloom Baby Carrots topped with a whipped garlic tofu aioli, and chopped hazelnuts.

My favorite main dish, though, had to be the vegetarian Kung Pao Tofu, with fried tofu, whole Sichuan chilis, baby carrots, scallions and hazelnuts. A feast for the eyes as well as the stomach, the flavors of the brightly colored dish were multilayered and complex, with very little heat unless you chose to chomp on a chili. The dessert is your choice of mochi donuts, appealingly stacked in a big glass dome, or an exotic rice pudding.

There is something for everyone, with plenty of gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan dishes. The dining room is clean and crisp and airy, with one wall open to the patio, where there are also tables. Between the indoor seating and the patios, the restaurant can accommodate 125 guests. Everyone who worked on the restaurant, from architects down are LA-based. Even the dishes and wineglasses were crafted in Los Angeles. Prices are reasonable, with most of the smaller plates priced at $11 and main dishes ranging from $14 to $22. You can get by with only a main dish, but it is recommended you order two smaller dishes and two larger dishes for two people. A “sample dinner for four” recommended three small dishes and four larger dishes, plus donuts. Cocktails are $14 and glasses of wine are within the $10 to $20 range.

“As part of The Music Center’s commitment to the community, Abernethy’s will provide kitchen positions to graduates of Los Angeles County’s Workforce Development Aging and Community Services agency’s Veteran’s Culinary Arts Program, as well as to clients of Chrysalis, a 35-year-old nonprofit organization that provides a pathway to self-sufficiency for homeless and low-income individuals.”

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Elise Thompson

About Elise Thompson

Born and raised in the great city of Los Angeles, this food, culture and music-loving punk rock angeleno wants to turn you on to all that is funky, delicious and weird in the city. While Elise holds down the fort, her adventurous alter ego Kiki Maraschino is known to roam the country in search of catfish.
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