Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bäco Mercat (Los Angeles, CA)

Baco Mercat Restaurant
408 S Main St, Los Angeles, CA 90013
Wed 06/20/2012, 08:15p-12:30a

Have no doubt, since debuting at the end of 2009, Lazy Ox Canteen has been instrumental in shaping Downtown LA into a hotbed of dining. The joint venture between IDG founder Michael Cardenas and Josef Centeno was a near-instant hit, and earned the Chef considerable acclaim, including a three-star review from the LA Times and a nod from Angeleno as "Best New Restaurant." The success of The Ox allowed Centeno to branch out in the form of Baco Mercat (named after his signature flatbread sandwich) late last year. Initially, he helmed both kitchens, but eventually decamped to focus solely on the latter restaurant, leaving Lazy Ox in the hands of Spaniard Perfecto Rocher.

Bäco Mercat Interior
Baco Mercat resides in Downtown's historic Old Bank district, right next door to Pete's Cafe & Bar. Inside, things are rustic, yet urban, with a bit of vintage, old-school flair.

Bäco Mercat Menu Bäco Mercat Drink Menu
The seasonally-changing menu here at Baco Mercat takes culinary inspiration from across the globe--with perhaps a slant toward the Mediterranean--and features mostly small plates, meant for sharing. Beverages, meanwhile, are almost as engaging, with a smart selection of beers, wines, and spirits from around the world. Click for larger versions.

copper fix
copper fix [$11.00] | bourbon, angostura bitters, honey
I began with the Copper Fix, which was excellent, with just about the perfect interplay between the sugariness of the honey and the bracing bitterness of Angostura, all over a backbone of bourbon.

'the toron'
"the toron" [$12.00] | oxtail hash, cheddar tater, horseradish
The story of the bäco (rhymes with "taco") actually dates back to Centeno's days at Meson G. It was created almost by accident, when the Chef threw together a bunch of ingredients for a staff meal, making sort of a taco-gyro-flatbread hybrid. I'd actually tried the original version during my first visit to Lazy Ox, so tonight we went with the "Toron" incarnation. It was stupendous, a flawless mishmash of intersecting tastes and disparate textures, all held together and moderated by the pillow-y bread. Amazingly, the star of the show for me wasn't even the oxtail, but the fantastic cheesy potatoes, which lent an amazing heft to the dish that was deftly counteracted by the included greenery.

hamachi crudo
hamachi crudo [$14.00] | abkhazian chile spice, avocado, hash brown
A tartar of hamachi was also superb, and probably one of the best presentations of the fish that I've tasted. The supple, slightly fatty cubes of yellowtail were beautifully accentuated by the use of the Abkhazian condiment, while a purée of avocado added further lusciousness and creaminess to things. Taking the course over the top, though, was the hash brown, which provided a wonderful touch of salt and savoriness to the fray, augmenting the dish perfectly. Very balanced and integrated overall.

barrel-aged manhattan
barrel-aged manhattan
In addition to the standard cocktail list, The Mercat also features some off-menu, barrel-aged cocktails. We tried a version of a Manhattan, made with Scotch and aged in oak. I found the drink surprisingly tasty, with a soft, more feminine profile compared to your typical Manhattan, with a sweeter character overall.

'con tomate' double crispy
"con tomate" double crispy [$12.00] | tomato, oregano, extra virgin olive oil
A coca is sort of Catalan flatbread, and here, Centeno makes them using bäco pastry. We went with a straightforward version topped simply with tomato, EVOO, and oregano. Somewhat to the consternation of my dining companion, I mentioned that I found it strangely reminiscent of the frozen pizzas (e.g. Jeno's, Totino's, Mama Celeste) that I used to eat in my childhood. I meant that in the nicest possible way, however, as I really enjoyed the proto-pizza, relishing in its sweet-herbal flavors and perfectly crisp crust.

chicken liver & foie gras mousse
chicken liver & foie gras mousse [$18.00] | clove, cumin, allspice
Our next course combined foie gras and faux gras in harmonious fashion, with the two types of liver playing off each other commendably, with neither overwhelming the other. Meanwhile, a strong blast of sweet, sour, and spicy flavors balanced out the potency of the mousse, while the accompanying toast tempered the otherwise strong flavors at play.

inca punch
inca punch [$11.00] | pisco, chicha morada shrub, lemon, lime, pineapple
The shrub here doesn't refer to vegetation, but rather a tincture of fruit, vinegar, and sugar, oft used as a mixer. Here, it added a saccharine, yet sour smack to the drink, but the overall effect was actually too much for me, with an almost cloying sweetness that didn't quite meld with the pisco.

pee wee potato salad
pee wee potato salad [$8.00] | egg, tarragon, bacon lardon
I'm quite the sucker for potato salad, and Baco's was a great one. I loved how potatoes were so deftly highlighted here, augmented by the luscious weight of egg while lardons added delectable pin points of saltiness to the mix. I appreciated the lovely, punctuating tang from the herbs utilized, too.

c.g. & t.
c.g. & t. [$11.00] | gin, celery seed shrub, tonic, cucumber
The next cocktail was basically a celery-infused gin & tonic. I'm no fan of celery, but here it was pretty marvelous, adding a bittersweet flavor to the drink that paired with the light, bright cucumber and gin gorgeously.

caesar brussels sprouts
caesar brussels sprouts [$11.00] | pecorino, anchovy, garlic
I'm also a sucker for Brussels sprouts, so this next course was a must-try as well. The salad did a great job in showing off the astringent, biting essence of the vegetable, as well as its immensely satisfying crunch. The crux, though, was the use of pecorino and anchovy, both of which added a wonderful umami-laden zing to the dish. My only concern was that I wanted larger, more substantial pieces of sprout here.

Bäco Mercat Dessert Menu Bäco Mercat After Dinner Beverage Menu
Though we were quite full at this point, we did save room for one dessert. Click for larger versions.

semifreddo (pine nut)
semifreddo (pine nut) [$8.00] | mixed nut brittle, caramel
The restaurant's selection of semifreddos changes regularly, and tonight we had the pleasure of enjoying an almost transcendent version incorporation pine nut. The mousse was certainly delicious alone, but I loved how the brittle added a contrasting saltiness and crunch to the dessert, while the caramel did an admirable job in tying everything together with its unabashed sugary flair. Very nice.

bäzerac [$11.00] | rye, herbsaint, house bitters, kaffir syrup, lemon twist
A cocktail to close out the meal. This riff on the classic sazerac really hit the spot, with the great blend of bitter, spicy, and sour flavors--a fitting digestif.

Just as he did with Lazy Ox Canteen, Centeno once again delivers in a huge way with Baco Mercat. Like the namesake dish, the restaurant is a mash-up of international flavors--big, lusty, and robust, yet with a refinement that elevates the food above mere gastropub fare. The cooking is smart, eclectic, and shrewdly of-the-moment, everything that you'd expect from Centeno, but almost taken up another notch. I can't wait to come back and tackle the rest of the menu.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Assuming you meant totinos party pizza, the greatest frozen pizza of all time.

Sunday, June 24, 2012 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Yes, you are correct. Good catch--I haven't had the pizza in ages.

Sunday, June 24, 2012 4:20:00 PM  
Blogger Chunk said...

I know a guy who knows a guy who can get some.

Monday, July 16, 2012 7:44:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Get some what? Totinos? I'm pretty sure I can score some of that at my local Ralphs.

Monday, July 30, 2012 4:44:00 PM  
Blogger Chunk said...

Keep it on the DL.

Monday, July 30, 2012 4:56:00 PM  

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