A beautifully speckled dry-aged ribeye sits next to a wagyu brisket and flat iron, all three with the most perfect — almost seductive — marbling. It’s a sight that forces you to imagine the perfect bite of tender, flavorful meat, and you start salivating as you work your eyes along the glass case of other strikingly stunning cuts. The butchery is your first sight as you walk through the doors of Gwen. It’s a true trophy cabinet of the finest meats: the deep red colors of freshly cured flesh, bundles of plump sausages, and an assortment of chops and wagyu. The staff smile and stand back patiently as I allow the carnivorous sight to soak in, taking photos, moving along the glass case in total wonder. Everything is proudly displayed, with each guest hypnotized by the magnificent results that its butcher shop boasts.
This total respect for high-quality ingredients is carried through all of chef Curtis Stone’s plates at his second Los Angeles restaurant. From the sourcing of proteins from Stone’s native Australia to the in-house smoking, from the researched pairing of wines to the meticulously artistic plating of elements — it’s clear that there’s an overwhelming pride in the way in which the high-quality raw materials have been put together throughout the dining experience.
Entering the dining room, your eyes instantly dart around, eating up the numerous aesthetically appetizing sights. To the left lies an enormous museum of even more hanging meats; the gigantic glass windowed panels boast more than 3,000 pounds of meat, lit up by a ceremonial array of golden beams. In front of us, a fire pit, manned by chefs brave enough to battle the searing heat while handling large, heavy chunks of meat. The heat radiates through the glass as we watch in awe, salivating like Pavlov’s dogs at a kitchen door, as the staff masterfully tend to their beautiful steaks. Above us, majestic chandeliers drop from the ceiling — a fitting ribbon to wrap around the quality of the feast soon to be served.
But despite the aforementioned splendor of Gwen’s physical dining room, there’s an instant warmth and mellowness about the hospitality. It’s a familiarity and charm that’s all too commonly associated with Australia’s laid-back nature.
“Culture is one of the most important things about opening a restaurant. It is deliberate — it’s meant to be fine dining without the stuffiness,” says Stone. “I want people to feel comfortable. I’ve always felt the best type of service doesn’t get noticed. You’ll be drinking from your water glass all night and it never goes empty, but the best case scenario is you never saw anyone fill it up.”
Our server, Ryan, carried through this hospitality in every manner of his narrative through our dining experience. He explained the intricacies of the butchery, where on-site braising and smoking of meats then transforms to wondrous slices of meat on the table; he walks us to the fire pit and talks through the numerous uses of the asador, and the Argentinian-style grill sends a fiery blast of heat hurling towards us as it smokes and grills a variety of different meats.
Stone explains that the use of the asador brings a distinct flavor element, despite the obvious extra efforts that are required for such a labor-intensive method. “I love the flavor of smoked meats,” he says. “I love the flavor and moisture kept in the meats by really slow cooking methods. We never think about how easy we can make something. We think about: How can we make it the most delicious?”
The evening kicks off with a beautifully plated charcuterie board and terrines, showcasing the immaculate on-site preparation of Gwen’s meats. Each bite is a burst of different flavors: rich, smoky, salty. But the true champion of the opening round is the chicken liver parfait. Whipped with foie gras, the luscious pink concoction is one of the most resplendent starters I’ve ever consumed. It’s a magically silky hit of luscious and creamy textures that will subsequently send you into a moment of total bliss —and I dare say, it was one of the most astonishing flavors I’ve experienced in this city.
The tasting menu format of Gwen lends itself to allowing guests to experience the freshest produce with a subsequent variety of different styles and flavors. Dishes such as a delicate ravioli with nettles, fava beans, and pistachios brought a taste of spring to the table. Puncturing the tender pasta brings out the smoky and earthy flavor of the nettles. Each bite brings together the various elements, coating them in a creamy ricotta to encapsulate that rich and wholesome tone.
Guests choose from a selection of three proteins: pork, short rib, or trout. The pork is prepared in four creatively different ways, while the boneless short rib has been smoked for up to eight hours, and is served with a rich oxtail jus. The ocean trout is fresh and buttery after being cured and then confit, but it’s elevated by the accompanying tang and sweetness of the tarragon beurre blanc and shiso powder.
Rounding off the evening, Gwen’s take on the humble cheesecake, a beautifully velvet smooth rhubarb and fromage blanc composition sitting on top of a Kalamata olive-infused shortbread. It’s a wonderful medley of textures — the delightfully smooth fromage blanc, the crunch of the shortbread, and the bite and slight firmness of the rhubarb, all contrasting with a refreshing intermission of a lively rhubarb sorbet.
A tasting menu is always a gamble — and it’s a risk for both restaurants and the diners — but when it’s constructed with the respect for quality ingredients at its forefront, there’s a higher chance of satisfying success for everyone involved. While not every single dish at Gwen is an overwhelmingly breathtaking creation, there is undoubtedly a true sincerity and genuineness about the meal. Every course has been plated with the aim of heightening the marvelous base flavors of its well sourced produce, and the composition of every element served is at the highest level of culinary execution. The final result is an exceptional dining experience worthy of the accolades Gwen has received.