Republique: Unpretentious French Fare In La Brea

It was a sad day when Campanille closed. It was an institution set in a beautiful space on La Brea with Nancy Silverton's baking the famed La Brea bread and Mark Peel pulling together praise worthy pasta. Then there was grilled cheese night. Oh grilled cheese Thursday's, how I miss you. What could possibly replace such a noteworthy staple in Los Angeles' restaurant scene?

Lucky for me, and you, in walked Chef Walter Manzke and his pastry chef wife Margarita. Manzke has a heavy French cooking pedigree having spent time cooking in France with Alain Ducasse as well as in French leaning LA restaurants Patina, Bastide, and most recently Church and State. For those not as fond as the French as I am, fear not, Manzke is from San Diego. He grew up on a farm and learned at an early age how to recognize and cook with quality ingredients.

Mazke and his wife took over Campanille last year and tuned it into République. It's now highly visible from La Brea with soaring floor to 2nd story ceiling windows off the main dining room. The kitchen has been opened up. There's beaucoup de communal dining. A large, high energy bar now faces the street and when you enter, you walk past a tantalizing display of fresh from the oven baked goods, sweets or oysters, depending on the time of day you arrive.

I was here to taste some of the down home French bistro fare that Manzke was now serving up. It was refreshing to see a foam-free, non-molecular meal with strong ingredients and skilled technique behind every dish.

My favorite starter was the duck liver mousse with pickled Asian pear on top. The liver was whipped and light in consistency, but satisfying and meaty in flavor. I may need to look into buying some of this in bulk.

Other starters included a soft and pillowy Hamachi Crudo with a zippy pineapple dashi, serrano chili and cilantro. Malheureusement, I was disappointed by the lightly scrambled eggs on a toasted baguette with Santa Barbara uni scattered on top. While warm and savory, it was a bit one note. I wanted a little more taste of the ocean. I would have also loved some lemon or stronger acid in the beef tartare to add another dimension, but it was still luscious and well spiced with tarragon aioli, pickled red onion and tiny potato chips for scooping.

Manzke does the French roast chicken right here, cooking it on a rotisserie and of course the accompanying fingerling potatoes were bathed in the chicken's fat as any good French pomme de terre would be.

The duck leg confit didn't shy away from the fat either. Its skin was well spiced, crisp and golden on a colorful duo of golden jus and pea purée.

Roasted cauliflower combined different flavor combinations with textures and taste by adding a warm Singapore curry with slightly sweet kumquats, the chew of a raisin and the crunch of toasted hazelnuts. And then there was the perfectly poached egg nestled in with some smoky, wood oven cooked brussels sprouts. It was a classic preparation with frisée and applewood-smoked bacon. Parfait!

Margarita Manzke's desserts included a sweet and savory combo of tarts. The subtle flavors of the cherry tart with pistachio played well with the more assertive meyer lemon tart, doused with fresh strawberries and crème fraîche.

C'était un très bon repas. If you don't know what that means, see above for confirmation that I really enjoyed my meal at République. I'm looking forward to a much closer journey to enjoy well cooked, French bistro food. Merci bien Walter Manzke!

For more reviews of Los Angeles restaurants and food related events, visit author, Kelly Page's culinary blog, Tasting Page.