POPULAR GASTROPUB WELCOMES NEW CHEF & MENU
Every time a new restaurant opens in Los Angeles the expectations are sky high. Will this place last? Will it become my new go-to spot? But when a restaurant gets a new chef you have to ask if it will be better than before? Were changes necessary and will expectations not only be met but exceeded? The posh Churchill on trendy Third Street is a hotel restaurant that has served as a popular neighborhood gastropub for years. While the space is chic (dare I say elegant?) expectations for an elevated dining experience were never fully met, until now that is.
With the introduction of new executive chef Stephen Trujillo, whose pedigree includes working for legendary chef Thomas Keller at both Bouchon in Beverly Hills and the prestigious French Laundry, The Churchill isn’t just taking a step or two forward, its leaping over the surrounding competition and is setting itself up to become a leading restaurant for fine dining.
A native of Southeast Los Angeles, young Stephen Trujillo grew up with a single mother and a brother 13 years his elder. That situation called for Stephen often to cook at home where, as he likes to say, “I had to learn how to be very resourceful and creative. Luckily I always had a very curious palette.”
Before working for lofty Thomas Keller restaurants, Trujillo’s introduction to kitchen life began at In-N-Out where he peeled potatoes as a teenager. Eventually he enjoyed a career as a business developer but realized being a chef is what would really fulfill him. And that meant working 20 hours a day at Bouchon while sleeping in his car at nights in order to master his trade. And when he made the move to Yountville in Napa to work at The French Laundry he did the same thing all over again. While guests dined at one of the country’s best restaurants, the young chef in training slept in his car.
After a stint as Chef de Cuisine at Tar & Roses in Santa Monica, Chef Trujillo has landed at The Churchill where he’s looking to take a popular establishment into the conversation of some of LA’s best restaurants. Chef’s new menu includes some very inspired dishes making it a destination all its own for fine fare and drink.
During our recent visit for dinner, we started with the absolutely fabulous Wild Caught North African Octopus, a beautiful dish prepared with preserved lemon, cauliflower and black garlic. The one tastes as good as it looks. Consider this one a must-have item.
While I was never impressed with previous cocktails at The Churchill, beverage director John Jordan has stepped up his game. Solid drinks we enjoyed included the Basil Mojito made with Ron Cortez Blanco Rum, basil, lime and raw honey. This drink actually paired deliciously with the octopus.
Likewise, the Corpse Reviver Number Two, made with Hendrick’s Gin, Lillet Blanc, Grand Marnier, lemon and Pernod Absinthe, was very nice, as was The Apple Jack made with High West Double Rye Whiskey, lemon, cinnamon, green apple, egg white and angostura bitters, which was well balanced and frothy.
Another impressive dish we enjoyed was the Savory Clams & Pasta Nero with San Marzano tomatoes, capers, olives and eggplant. I’m not eggplant fan and I found this item to be a completely well rounded item with delicious pasta, flavorful eggplant, and great clams. It didn’t hurt that I absolutely love black squid ink. This is a truly wonderful starter.
Another homerun of Chef’s was his Morrocan Lamb with spicy apple chutney and cilantro. This was an absolutely wonderful Mediterranean dish. The only way this one gets any better is with a glass of red wine.
A real menu standout is the Gambas al Ajillo—Santa Barbara spot prawns with garlic, lime, chili and polenta. Sure, the shrimps were so tasty but it was the polenta that blew our minds. Make sure to ask for some bread so you can soak up every drop of the creamy goodness. The polenta is one of the best things I’ve tasted in a while. I want some right now!
One of Chef’s personal favorites is his gnocchi and the potato gnocchi we had, prepared with Weiser Farms winger squash, cherry tomatoes, pesto and pecorino was hearty and solid, yet not very heavy.
Not to be outdone, my favorite pasta dish (not counting the clams) was the Bucatini Carbonara with ‘Nduja, pancetta, brown butter, baby parmesan and parsley. I loved the egg on top and the flavors that all came together with such precision just made this a wonderful selection.
A good fish option was the Broiled Japanese Mackerel with shishito pepper, grilled corn, togarashi, fresh yuzu and mizuna. I loved how light this dish was and I was gaga over its presentation. I thought the sauce was nice with just the right amount of sweet—I just wish there was more of it.
Our main entrée was an impressive Dry Aged New York steak prepared with Tuscan spices, Weiser Farms potatoes and artichoke. The meat was so flavorful, not overcooked, and prepared with wonderful spices. Again, go for a nice glass of red wine and this winner will only get better.
Kudos the Executive Chef Stephen Trujillo for stepping in and making a difference right away.
“The Churchill is obviously in a beautiful location,” Chef says, “and Fairfax Avenue is transforming a lot. I’m very glad that people are becoming more interested in food. For The Churchill, it has great structuring and we want to elevate the food and wine programs and the service and keep in mind the needs of the guests. We’re trying to create a balanced menu for people who are health conscious or want to be adventurous tonight.”
With his experience at some of the country’s best restaurants, Chef is looking to elevate The Churchill’s food and wine programs and he’s already off to an impressive start. You don’t get many second chances in L.A.’s competitive restaurant game but the young and ambitious chef has his sights set on the top of the heap.
The Churchill at the Orlando Hotel is located at 8384 W. Third Street. Hours: Mon-Thurs 9am to 12am; Fri-Sat 9am to 2am; Sun 9am to 10pm. Call 323-655-8384.
Chef Stephen Trujillo
Photography Courtesy Of: The Churchill
Story by Jose Martinez