March 14th, Dinner
624 S La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Sean: We first found out about République while we were waiting for our table at Genwa. Walking around the streets bordering Koreatown, we wandered down La Brea Ave. and stopped when we reached République’s facade. Curious, we entered and asked how long the wait would be without a reservation; we were quoted an hour and forty-five minutes and decided to file away République for a later visit. We finally got the chance to make it on a Monday night.
The restaurant’s architecture and decor evoke Grecian design sentiments. Its interior feels wide and spacious, with a long center table flanked by kitchen nooks on either side. Our hostess led us to a different dining area at the back of the restaurant that was much more dimly-lit than the front, and much more intimate.
Mengsha: When you enter, the first thing you see is the oyster bar. There, you can order oysters, cheese, and charcuterie to-go without a reservation. The hostess stand is to your left. It feels trendy, and at the same time like you’ve been invited into a French household for dinner. It’s loud and friendly, and after bringing us waters a waiter offers us crisp foot-long Parmesan croutons in the place of the classic bread basket. This sets the tone for the entire dinner. République is not about sitting down to fill your tummy – it’s an adventure.
With that in mind, we ordered.
“Eggs on Toast” – soft scrambled eggs, Santa Barbara uni
Raw Oysters: New York No. 9, GPB, and Fishers Island.
County Line Arugula – baby beets, cara cara orange, hazelnuts, parmesan, meyer lemon
Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras – steel cut oats, speck, Harry’s berries strawberries, balsamic
Cassoulet – yellow beans, pork belly, duck confit, sausage, oven-dried tomatoes
Sean: Before setting foot in République, I’d read many Yelp reviews mentioning noteworthy dishes to try. Chief among these was the adobo pork belly rice. Sadly, upon perusing the dinner menu, I couldn’t find it. I asked our waitress, who said that their menu changes often, and besides, the pork belly rice is usually only offered during brunch. Seeing the disappointment on my face, she graciously offered to ask the kitchen if they’d be able to accommodate my request. Ultimately, it was not to be for that night, but I still give her props for asking. République’s brunch offerings are apparently well sought after; we’ll definitely have to return to try it for ourselves!
Thankfully, the “Eggs on Toast” was on the menu for that night, another item I’d read about and really wanted to try. The dish consists of toast topped with creamy scrambled eggs and a fresh piece of Santa Barbara uni. Upon biting into the toast though, the flavor of the uni and eggs were overshadowed by a burnt taste from the toast. Perhaps my piece of toast was a bit over-charred, throwing off the balance of the dish. Overall, I was disappointed with my particular offering of “Eggs on Toast”, but when we come back to République for brunch, I’ll definitely be trying this dish again.
Mengsha: I personally liked the “Eggs on Toast.” Maybe I was just lucky, but I thought that the dish was what I wanted for breakfast every morning. It was buttery and creamy and super rich. I couldn’t have eaten more than one. The scrambled eggs were very soft and gooey almost to the point of a sauce. The uni was sweet and, I never thought I’d say this about sea urchin eggs, but they were the lightest thing on the course. It was so close to the classic breakfast, and the twist they put on it made me excited for the next dish.
Next came the oysters. Seeing as I have such a penchant for raw fish, maybe it’s not surprising that I love raw oysters. Briny, meaty, sweet, it’s all delicious. I love ordering a wide variety, though, in order to see what the differences are, but since oysters are so expensive, smaller ones don’t seem worth it financially. I asked our waitress to suggest meaty varieties, and she brought us three, all from New York. They were super fresh, and I really enjoy that briny flavor with lemon. They might not be for everyone, but they’re definitely for me.
Sean: I don’t really have much to add about the oysters that Mengsha hasn’t already mentioned. They were good, but frankly I like my oysters a lot more when they’re prepared in the Japanese fashion with soy sauce and yuzu (like how we had them at Osawa).
Next up was the county line arugula salad, which consisted of arugula, hazelnuts, beets, parmesan, and oranges with a Meyer lemon vinaigrette. We both really loved this salad. First off, the vinaigrette was really light, and served to enhance the flavors of the other salad ingredients. Your stereotypical sad salad with wilted lettuce and flavorless ingredients needs dressing to mask how it really tastes. This wasn’t like that at all. Every ingredient vied for your attention, but overall it was very balanced.
Mengsha: The day we went to République, I wasn’t feeling very well, and when I’m sick, I tend toward vegetarianism. I realized recently that arugula salad is for me what chicken soup is for other people. Arugula, beets, cheese, nuts, and citrus is a classic combination. Often in cafes you can find a version with baby arugula, goat cheese, mandarin oranges, walnuts, and simple sliced red beets. Their version was more extreme in every way. The choice to use Parmesan made it nuttier and the hazelnuts made it sweeter. Grown arugula leaves (rather than supermarket baby arugula) are more bitter and crunchier, and release more peppery juice with every bite. The beets, red, yellow, and rainbow, were sweet and colorful. It was a blast.
Sean: Now on to the foie gras! There’s going to be a lot of comparison between this foie gras dish and the foie gras we were served at n/naka, if only because the memory of n/naka’s foie gras is still quite vivid in our minds. République’s foie gras was also served with strawberries and balsamic; the main difference was that the duck liver was cushioned on a bed of steel-cut oats rather than paired with fish and soy. N/naka’s was also crisp on the outside and liquid inside, while this was much more homogenous in texture – barely solid. Frankly, I’d never tasted oats as savory and creamy as this. Overall, République’s serving of foie gras was much more mellow and subdued in comparison. Neither comes out on top; they each have their own strong points.
Mengsha: Those oats. I have to pay some tribute to them here. Our guess is that they were cooked in pork fat until they were bursting with flavor, like an oatmeal risotto. I hate it when meat is served on a bed of some bland grain/starch of choice. (Black rice is overrated, yo.) These oats, on the other hand, I would eat just on their own. They remind me of the Chinese rice porridge called 粥 (zhou1), which is often cooked with meat and green onions – classic comfort food.
The last dish, cassoulet, is the only entree-sized dish that we got. The word cassoulet shares a root with casserole, and our waitress warned us, very politely, that it was a big dish. We still didn’t expect the size of the stew that came out though, and ended up taking a majority of it home. The dish is rich and meant for winter evenings, chock full of beans, tomatoes, and three types of meat: duck confit, sausage, and pork belly. I only managed a bite of each before I gave up completely.
Sean: If we were to rank the dishes we sampled at République, the cassoulet would be amongst the bottom of the pack. Every other dish we’d tasted was balanced, with each ingredient contributing its own distinct flavor; all except the cassoulet, which was much too rich. Perhaps it was our mistake for ordering a gigantic meat stew as our last dish for the night, but the entire thing was just too much.
While our dining experience at République wasn’t perfect, the twists that they put on some classic dishes make us want to keep coming back out of curiosity. We want to try their brunch offerings and dessert menu. They take risks with their dishes, and it excites our palates. And for that, we give them 4 stars.
4 out of 5 stars