With a name like Church & State, there was bound to be some controversy at downtown's buzziest brasserie and, sure enough, there have been chef shuffles and ownership kerfuffles, not to mention the odd location in the renovated Nabisco Building in an otherwise scary part of downtown. Now Walter Manzke (Bastide, Patina) is in command of the kitchen though, and the restaurant can get back to serving what is reputedly the best steak frites in town to hipsters who manage to snag one of the tiny tables lit by strings of glowing lights that somehow make the old industrial space cozy.
The all-American Manzke knows his way around French regional cuisine, as evidenced by the humongous, dark Burgundy escargots he bathes in a simple butter-garlic melt enshrouded by flaky puff pastry. The other hors d'oeuvres are traditionally French like mussels, onion soup, and steak tartare, but be adventurous and try the deliciously deep-fried pig's ears with béarnaise instead, or one of those fancy mason jars that seem to be à la mode these days, with choices like Provençal goat cheese with lavender honey, and terrine of foie gras with port-wine gelée.
The arugula salad with Fuji apples, roasted almonds and porcini mushrooms is a crisp taste of autumn, while the enormous Alsatian tartes like the one with peaches, Brie and arugula over a buttery thin crust, make a great starter for the whole table
We already mentioned the medium-rare New York steak frites, but the sea bass with cherry tomatoes and summer shelling beans, or the briny Iowa pork chop with wild mushrooms make great alternatives. Many of the dishes come in a choice of full or "petite assiette" portions so you ration accordingly in order to have room for sides like the roasted cauliflower with garlic, sage and chili.
There is, of course, a cheese selection before irresistible desserts like a rich chocolate pot de crème with caramel, hazelnut and fleur de sel, a selection of seasonal fruit tarts with buttermilk ice cream, and a surprisingly light crème brulée. Chances are you'll still be sipping wine from one of the moderately priced selections on the French-only list (look for wines from Languedoc), but just in case, ask the sommelier if he has any beer (that's right, beer) pairings for dessert. As with the rest of this phenomenal menu, you just might be surprised.
Address: 1850 Industrial St.
Cross Street: Mill St.
Phone: (213) 405-1434
Hours: Tues-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm, Tues-Thurs 6:00-10:00pm, Fri-Sat 6:00-11:00pm