Raising the Bar

Phillip Frankland Lee turns up the volume on Scratch|Bar & Kitchen.

  • Category
    Eat & Drink
  • Written by
    Linda Grasso
  • Photographed by
    Jakob N. Layman

In recent years, there have been several noteworthy debuts along the Boulevard. From Girasole to The Bellwether to SOCA—there’s a level of creativity and sophistication never before seen here. But when it comes to guts, there is not a chef in the Valley right now who rivals Phillip Frankland Lee.

The first salvo from the 31-year-old Valley native was opening the upscale Scratch|Bar & Kitchen in a gaudy, peach-hued Encino strip mall. That move was followed by launching Woodley Proper and then Frankland’s Crab & Co. in the same complex.

Things really got interesting though with Sushi|Bar. Snag one of the eight seats and you are in for a 16-course “chef’s choice” meal. Diners don’t seem to bat an eyelash at the $110 per person cost (booze extra). As for the dishes, if you’ve seen it at a sushi bar before, you won’t find it here. Most of us are familiar with toasted sushi rice topped with chopped, spicy ahi—but with brown sugar-bruleed sea urchin tongue and served aside a slice of foie gras that’s been cured in absinthe and sambuca? You get the picture.

Turns out Phillip’s unconventional, high-end concept works. “For me, being a chef is about change. I’m always making notes and constantly have ideas. I learned a lot by opening Sushi|Bar and basically I decided to apply that to Scratch|Bar,” he says.

The goal was clear: to amp up the tasting menu experience and the environs. That meant a swift goodbye to Frankland’s Crab & Co., with the space being used as a private cocktail lounge for Scratch|Bar. The glass façade of the restaurant was transformed into a solid wall, offering a more elegant, clubby vibe. The long bar fronting the open kitchen, with its large wood-fueled hearth, remains. For larger parties, there are now three oversized banquettes. While the lighting is properly dimmed in seating areas, the kitchen is brightly lit—and it’s hard to take your eyes off the show.

The first act happens in the lounge. Diners are served two cocktails, each accompanied by a “snack.” We were enthralled with the bartender, who concocted drinks with unusual gadgets like a Victorian siphon coffee maker. The maître d’ circled back at just the right time to usher us into the dining room.

Arrive at Scratch|Bar hungry and feeling adventurous. Phillip has expanded the tasting menu from a dozen to 20+ small courses ($145 per person; beverage pairings from $85). With a chef who admits to being something of a renegade, expect to be surprised and, at times, enlightened.

The drama quickly begins. The cast, meticulously attired in white aprons, is immersed in various tasks. One cook is obsessively checking a piece of dry-roasted cuttlefish. Another is carefully assembling roasted sweetbreads on a bed of chicken liver pâté. As one plate is placed in front of us, Phillip ambles over to grate truffles atop lightly steamed Japanese Hamachi, served with a gazpacho made out of celery root and anchovies.

Presenting a variety of labor intensive dishes is a feat for any restaurant. What makes it all work here is careful pacing, allowing the right amount of time between plates.

Phillip’s wife, pastry chef Margarita Kallas-Lee, helms desserts, and she matches him step for step on inventiveness. For the final act, we spread a palate-bending triple crème ice cream on toasted brioche with smoked honey and chives.

The menu will change based on seasonality and Phillip’s whim. Point of fact: an expansive, chef’s choice tasting menu isn’t for everyone. But if you are deep into food, Scratch|Bar can compete with any of the truly seminal culinary experiences—anywhere.

16101 Ventura Blvd, Encino  |  818-646-6085
Open Wednesday through Sunday; seatings available between 5:45 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.

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