When Curtis Stone first opened his Beverly Hills restaurant four years ago, all eyes were on the Australian, who’d been cooking on camera and hosting popular food television shows, both in Australia and the States. Fans and critics wondered if the affable chef had spent too long outside the high-end kitchens in which he’d cut his teeth to make such a wildly ambitious project work. It was, after all, a tasting menu-only restaurant exploring a single ingredient that would change entirely and every single month.
Rave reviews, including one from this magazine, poured in, and reservations were tough to snag each time they released on Tock. But like many restaurants in Los Angeles, Maude eventually found itself craving reinvention.
“We were enjoying doing the single-ingredient menus, but I think we were enjoying them less than when we first started,” explains Stone. “The first year [that] we sat down and talked about the menu we were fighting for the ingredients. The last time we did that, it was just sort of, ‘OK, what’s next?’”
Rather than slogging through, Stone courageously decided to recalibrate.
“One of the things we really loved about the original concept is what a great job the wine team had done with the pairings,” Stone says, siting some of the unique, more esoteric wines and quirky winemakers the program had brought in.
As such, the new format at Maude is meant to showcase some of the lesser-known varietals of each wine region featured. And, instead of the menu changing monthly, it’s reworked quarterly, allowing the team to really dig into each theme.
Once settling on an appellation, Stone, executive chef Justin Hilbert and other key players take off for immersive research that eventually translates to the diner as a culinary adventure through the world’s great wine regions. While the chef jokes that the R&D is a great tax write-off, bringing the team along for travel is a tactic that some of the world’s top toques—like René Redzepi of Noma—have been employing to spark creativity in their staff, as well as facilitating a culinary cultural exchange.
For the debut of the new concept, Stone’s eyes were squarely on Rioja, a region centered around the Ebro River Valley in northern Spain, known for its production of tempranillo and garnacha.
Like many of Spain’s Michelin-starred meals, your dinner is a bit of a movable feast, starting upstairs in a room that was once used for dry storage. With the relaunch of Maude came new use of the space; there’s an upright baby grand, antique Persian rugs, vintage candelabras, a small bar, and a boho-chic vibe that reads as a wine collector’s well-worn salon.
For the Rioja menu (which was available at time of review; a Burgundy-themed menu is currently on offer through the end of June), the evening begins as all great nights in Spain do: with vermouth. Served on the rocks with an orange slice and olive garnish, it’s the ideal aperitif to kick-start a meal. There are marcona almonds, paper-thin slices of jamón and, of course, more olives. But that’s where the conventions of ubiquitous Spanish tapas end and interpretations of the regional cuisine begin.
You head downstairs and, if you’ve played your cards right, are seated at the chef’s counter inside the redesigned dining room, where you can chat with Hilbert and his team as they plate each course, which are much less literal translations of Spanish fare than they are plates inspired by their travels.
If you’re the average traveler, these are experiences that admittedly may be hard to come by. But when you’re a top toque with celeb cred like Stone, cellar doors mysteriously open.
One course documents the team’s time foraging wild mushrooms with three-Michelin-starred chef Francis Paniego, a vocal proponent of international chefs unearthing methods of translating modern Spanish fare in their kitchens abroad. At Maude, wild California mushrooms are cooked with local juniper and pine. It’s a hearty, wintry dish that goes perfectly with the wines selected by sommelier Andrey Tolmachyov, who currently oversees the program. To go along with the 10-course tasting menu, guests can opt in for three different tiers of pairings—Crianza ($125), Reserva ($250) and Grand Reserva ($500). Collectors bringing in a bottle from the featured region are comped corkage.
Another wildly delicious dish was the take on chuletón, a flavorful bone-in rib-eye cooked over a screaming hot fire that’s coaxed to flare by dropping little bits of excess beef fat into the flame, resulting in small controlled burns that give the delightfully funky meat char in just the right places. The deep richness of the medium rare Klingeman beef, with its perfectly seared crust, took me right back to an afternoon dining in the Basque countryside at Asador Etxebarri.
Stone says preparing meat by these methods completely defied all his previous learnings in French kitchens about how steak should be prepared, but, boy, is it tasty—and, quite frankly, fun, considering diners can take a little journey to far-flung locales sans jet lag.
The team has already flown to France for the next iteration, which will begin April 1, drawing on one of the world’s most renown wine regions, Burgundy, for inspiration. The rustic, hyper-local fare will be showcased in a variety of charcuterie preparations that the region is known for. Stone also says they’re even flying in escargot from one of the area’s finest producers for the next menu.
The new concept is both breathing new life into the kitchen as well as educating diners, bringing them along for an edible journey that proves that travel is one of the few things that will leave you speechless, and then turn you into a storyteller.
212 S. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, 310.859.3418
Tasting menus: From $125, without pairings
Dinner: Tue.-Sat., 5:30-9:30pm