Saturday, September 25, 2010

Front Row, Center - The Kitchen!

Last night we joined Pat and Bob at their house (one of the many hi-rise condos overlooking the Redondo Beach Pier) and, after a drink, we sauntered over to Lou-E-Luey's (160 Redondo Boardwalk 310-937-7044 - previously reviewed) for dinner.

We hadn't made reservations (and am not sure it's possible to do so) thus it was delightful (for us, not the owners) to see the place was damned near empty. Usually, it's a question of being shoe-horned into a space...

We got our usual table -- a long, padded bench running along the wall, then a narrow table and then a pair of bar-stool height chairs on the opposite side of the table. The chairs are tall because to sit on the bench, you have to go up a pair of steps, each about 6 in. high.

Pat and Bob were no less scintillating than on previous occasions, but elevated as I sat, empty as the resto was, I had an excellent view of the kitchen. And I was fascinated!

First, the space is only about 8 to 10 ft. long. The aisle is maybe 32 in. wide. In this tiny space are: right hand side - stove with a grill, deep fat fryer and another stove with four burners and an oven. On the left counter is the mise (sauces, garnishes, last minute ingredients) and, off in a cubbyhole is the garde manger or cold ingredients that are served cold.

The chef wore a beat-up looking white coat; the line cook a black t-shirt and apron and non-descript pants. (Didn't want you to think that they were cooking half naked, which might have been interesting but highly unhygenic.) Both wore baseball caps. A woman (in no discernible uniform unless a bright pink t-shirt and stretch pants is it) worked the garde manger. I didn't see much of her. She stayed in her cubbyhole lair, dealing out cole slaw, salads, cold dishes.

How they cook -- the line guy had a shelf over his stove, stacked high with 8 in. skillets or "omelet pans" and he used one per order whether it was a t-bone steak (that's night's special) or a seafood quesadilla. He kept plates and completed orders in the oven and didn't use a hot pad so will assume the oven wasn't all that hot OR that these items weren't in there long enough to get too hot to hand. This method insures that a table gets its food more or less at one time.

They both cooked over flames that were easily 6 in. high; we're talking intense, fast heat and critical timing. Both cooks seemed unconcerned as flames flared up around them.

The chef wasn't as visible (due to the line cook's bustling back and forth from stove to mise, but one of his jobs seemed to be heating up the night's vegetables (asparagus, green beans, carrots) in his little omelet pan. At first I thought they were cooking up fancy-lettuce salads! And feverishly scanned the menu to see if "sauteed salad" was an item. (It isn't.)

The chefs worked together amiably enough; during lulls in customers, each cleaned up his station, got more omelet pans or whatever else was needed. Then more customers would come in and back at it they went.

There are a lot of restaurants that make a point of having a visible kitchen (Roy's, Rancho Mirage, quickly comes to mind as well as several NY/Las Vegas celebrity chefs) but it you want to see Real Restaurant Work, I'd recommend Lou-E-Luey's. This is down and dirty (not meant literally!) use of an extremely small space with grace and efficiency.

Better still, both chefs were well-fed-looking men which always heartens me, the customer. They're eating it, they like it well enough to eat a lot of it -- bring ME some!

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