The changes at Chef Phillip Frankland Lee's Encino destination, Scratch Bar (or now, Scratch Bar 2.0) may seem small to some, but they all add up an experience vastly different from the restaurant's previous iterations. If you've followed Scratch Bar's trajectory, you may know that it started out on La Cienega, moving to Encino as the Chef competed on Top Chef and opened up Woodley Proper and Frankland's Crab & Co. Well, the Crab & Co is no more, merging with Scratch Bar and forming a bar area that introduces service (more on that in a minute). Chef Phillip Frankland Lee has occasionally been a "controversial" figure in the LA culinary world, either lauded or criticized for "doing whatever he wants" without as much formal training as other chefs. The last iteration of Scratch Bar was able to garner a strong local customer base and consistently turned out good food, but sometimes I felt that it struggled with an identity crisis. Is it a fine dining experience? A tasting menu? Casual small plates? Small local gem or destination?
But by absorbing the Crab & Co, they actually separated the restaurant into two parts (one is the bar) and made the restaurant part smaller overall. Now, it's mostly bar seats with an open kitchen and a few tables, focusing service on a much more intimate, Chef's Table experience. Instead of an a la carte menu with a tasting option, there is now only a $145 tasting menu-- if that sounds steep, keep in mind that you're getting 20 courses. And each course is beautiful, well-composed, and delicious.
You'll start the evening with a personal greeting from the staff, who seat you at the bar in the former Frankland's Crab & Co. There, you'll receive 4 small bites of food along with a cocktail pairing. Some of the bites included homemade grilled bread with bresaola and alpine swiss cheese; I remember how thin, crisp, and smokey the bread was. Other standout bites included the crispy, thinly sliced pork belly with salmon roe and mustard frills that was crunchy, salty, and bursting with flavor. There was also a foie gras bite on a meringue that could've doubled as dessert (in a great way). After these bites and drinks, you will be escorted into the main dining room, where your seat is demarcated by a personally addressed envelope that contains a minimal description of the night's menu.
At least one thing hasn't changed throughout all of Scratch Bar's changes-- the mussel shooter. I think I've had this at every visit, and it's always a fun way to start. A mussel, accompanied by pickled onion and jalapeno, sits on top a shooter of sake with avocado mousse and uni at the bottom. It's a bright way to start the meal, and I always love the creamy element of avocado and uni that you scoop out of the bottom of the glass.
The first of the larger dishes was a smoked trout with crispy bresaola and dashi broth. The trout was tender, silky, and smokey, while the dashi broth was incredibly flavorful. I loved the added texture of the crispy bresaola as well. A really tasty dish to start the meal.
Next up was a slice of avocado on top of uni and bluefin tuna topped with puffed wild rice and grated pork tenderloin (which they grate in front of you!). This was a truly stand-out dish and one of the most interesting and innovative dishes I've ever had. It's almost like a take on sushi, with the puffed rice added a beautiful crunch. The uni and bluefin tuna were a lovely, creamy texture (not too gelatinous), while the smooth avocado tempered the strong fish flavors. It's one of those deceptively complex dishes that sounds strange but tastes great.
Another incredibly interesting dish was the Cuddlefish, which was prepared almost like pasta, sliced thinly and dry roasted. It had actually a really nice chew to it , and came with a super flavorful Leche de Tigre sauce (lime juice and fish sauce). One of my favorite parts of the dish was the sweet potato puree, which was sweet and rich and spread around the sides of the bowl so you had to work to get all of it, but it was totally worth it.
Beautifully presented like a sprouting tree, the roasted leek demonstrated how a vegetable-forward dish can still be incredibly satisfying. We were advised to cut the leek down the middle, open it up and eat the insides, which were so tasty.
To be honest, I don't have a lot of experience with sweetbreads, so I was a bit hesitant to try this dish. But the flash-fried sweetbreads were delicious, crispy bites. And layered on top of a creamy chicken liver mousse, this dish has actually converted me to sweetbreads.
Smokey steamed hamachi came next, served on whole roasted celery root with an anchovy-celeriac “gazpacho" and freshly shaved black truffle. The dish was the perfect combination of earth (truffles) and sea (hamachi), that married light and rich elements. Very well-balanced and also tasty.
One of my favorite dishes of the night was the pan roasted foie gras, which was a bit meaty and perfectly prepared. I loved the puffed quinoa, which gave the dish some crunch, while the sunchokes were a great pairing.
Quail is another protein I don't eat a ton of, but it was perfectly prepared here-- tender and moist, The truffled carrot puree was delicious, as was the sauce. One of the best quail dishes I've ever had!
It seemed the evening's theme was luxe ingredients, so we couldn't go without a lobster dish. A perfectly prepared bite of lobster in a rich, flavorful, and bright broth was topped with some caviar for a bit of added brine. Delicious.
Definitely one of the stars of the night, the wagyu beef was incredible. It was perfectly cooked and tender, served inside crispy potatoes with mushrooms. Everything about it was classically satisfying, a fine dining take on meat and potatoes.
As a transition from savory to sweet, we enjoyed homemade brioche with ice cream made from triple creme cheese! The brioche was absolutely insane-- buttery, fluffy, and toasted. The cheese ice cream was cold, creamy, and a bit sweet topped with some honey. Together, it was a satisfying mix of hot and cold, sweet and savory. So. Good.
We ended the meal with a few more desserts, including a hollowed out bone marrow bone filled with sweet bone marrow custard, with crispy meringue and grape slivers.
After 20 courses, a few cocktails, and multiple desserts, we were stuffed and totally satisfied. What Chef Frankland Lee has created with the changes at Scratch Bar is an experience that is truly special, from the personal welcome to the Chef's Table experience. The food is more well thought out, more well-balanced, more composed, and more creative than ever; a Chef known for "doing whatever he wants" has managed to push himself to be even more creative, yet is demonstrating a sense of restraint and refinement that infuses more legitimacy and experience into every bite. Scratch Bar has finally fully embraced and leaned into the fine dining experience, doing away with the previous iterations' question marks, uncertainty, and indecision. There is no longer any dispute as to what the restaurant is or what it does. They are aiming for Michelin Star food, and after my visit, it would be hard for me to argue that they're not on their way there.
Scratch Bar 2.0 has managed to create a unique, individualized, exceptional experience in that you would be hard pressed to find in the rest of LA, let alone in The Valley. Obviously, considering the price point and number of dishes, Scratch Bar is now positioned as more of a special occasion restaurant, but any special occasion be well served by a visit here, even for those who are willing to actually drive over the hill.