Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Flautas (Los Angeles, CA)

Flautas at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza
3650 W Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90008
Wed 1/21/2015, 07:30p-09:10p

Flautas at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza

If you’re talking about Mexican restaurants in LA, you can’t help but mention La Casita Mexicana, Ramiro Arvizu and Jaime Martin del Campo’s seminal Bell eatery that debuted back in 1998. It was one of the first to really go beyond the typical tacos and burritos that the City was used to at the time, and the duo have parlayed La Casita’s acclaim into second careers as television personalities. As such, it’s a bit surprising that the two have waited until now to expand. Yes, although Flautas (and its bigger brother, Mexicano) was first teased all the way back in April 2013, the fast-casual spot bowed just recently on January 10th, set amidst the food court at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza shopping center.

Flautas Menu
The menu, unsurprisingly, is heavy on the flautas ("flutes"), which, for the unfamiliar, are basically deep-fried, crispy, rolled tacos with some pretty serious toppings (like a more substantial taquito). There are a dozen varieties on offer--six classic, six fancier--as well as three tortilla chip-based dishes. Click for a larger version.

Calicraft Buzzerkeley
Given the limited beverage selection at Flautas, we opted to BYOB. The food really does call for beer, and we began with the Calicraft Buzzerkeley, a Belgian-style golden ale. It was a refreshing start to the meal, with the beer's fruity/floral notes intermingling well with a base of yeasty, grainy flavors, the whole thing finishing dry, slightly bitter, and with a trace of metallic character.

Chicken Flautas
Chicken Flautas [$5.49] | Flautas smothered with Mexican cream and topped with crispy lettuce, tomato, onion, tomato sauce, and sprinkled with cheese
The chicken flautas were perhaps the most non-threatening of the dozen, with straightforwardly classic, yet satisfying and distinctly pollo flavors nicely conveyed against the brightness of the various accoutrements present. Great crunchiness on the tortillas, too.

Mercado [$5.49] | Golden crispy, filled with chicken, smothered with Mexican cream, green tomatillo sauce and sprinkled with cotija cheese
This next preparation also featured chicken, but in a more interesting manner. Inspired by Mercado Corona in Guadalajara, they key here was that tomatillo, which added fantastic zestiness to the dish that really did a great job setting off the savoriness of the bird.

2014 Surly CynicAle
The 2014 Surly CynicAle was like a new school American take on the traditional saison. I rather liked it, with its base of spicy, farmhouse notes deftly paired with a boatload of sweet, almost dank stone fruit flavors.

Chorizo & Potatoes
Chorizo & Potatoes [$5.49] | Flautas smothered with Mexican cream and topped with crispy lettuce, tomato, onion, tomato sauce, and sprinkled with cheese
The combination of chorizo and potato sounds pretty awesome, but this didn't quite live up to expectations. Flavors were too subdued. I didn't get enough of the chorizo's trademark intensity or spice, nor did the potato make itself particularly known. That being said, the flautas still did convey a tasty bit of savoriness, and I certainly didn't mind eating them.

Ahogadas [$5.49] | Filled with slow-cooked pork meat, smothered with tomato sauce and topped with pickled onions
Next up was this "drowned" presentation of flautas, which managed to be one of my standouts. The pork itself was on point, but the crux was that sauce, which arrived richly-flavored and well-spiced, perked up by the zip of those onions up top.

Totopos Deluxe
Totopos Deluxe [$5.99] | Crispy tortilla chips topped with Mexican cream, beans, guacamole, chorizo, beef or chicken, sprinkled with fresh cheese, and pickled carrots and jalapeños
This nachos-like dish was tasty enough, with the pickles and guac being especially apropos, but unfortunately, the kitchen forgot to include any of the advertised meat, which rendered the dish incomplete.

Agua Fresca (Lemonade with Chia Seeds)
We also made sure to try a couple of Flautas' agua frescas. The Lemonade with Chia Seeds [$2.99] was sweeter than you typically get, but not overly so, with the chia seeds serving as a textural element, adding a bit of viscosity to the drink.

Rajas con Queso
Rajas con Queso [$5.49] | Flautas smothered with Mexican cream and topped with crispy lettuce, tomato, onion, tomato sauce, and sprinkled with cheese
Strips of poblanos were put to great use here, with the mild heat of the peppers working beautifully alongside the creaminess inherent in the dish. My favorite of the classic flauta preps.

Cochinita Pibil
Cochinita Pibil [$5.49] | Filled with marinated roasted pork shoulder and topped with pickled onions and habanero chile sauce
I've sort of had a soft spot for cochinita pibil ever since having it at Rivera years ago. As such, I was looking forward to trying Flautas' rendition. Sadly, it missed the mark somewhat. There were some nice citrusy accents here, and the pickled onions certainly worked well, but overall, the pork lacked the depth, the complexity of spice that I was hoping for.

2014 Almanac Valley Of The Heart's Delight
Moving on to a sour beer now, we had here the 2014 Almanac Valley Of The Heart's Delight, an ale brewed with apricots, loquats, and cherries and aged in wine barrels. I quite liked this one, with its intensely tart, acidic, citrusy nuances countered by sweet fruit, oak, and a pleasant vinous character.

Pork Picadillo
Pork Picadillo [$5.49] | Flautas smothered with Mexican cream and topped with crispy lettuce, tomato, onion, tomato sauce, and sprinkled with cheese
A picadillo of pork did a commendable job showcasing the inherent goodness of the meat, with the tender shards of pig pairing especially well with the crema here.

Mole Poblano
Mole Poblano [$5.49] | Crispy flautas topped with our signature traditional mole and sprinkled with sesame seeds and cotija cheese
La Casita is well-regarded for its mole, and indeed, the mole poblano did not disappoint, with its rich, complex interplay of sweet, savory, smoky, and spicy complementing the chicken admirably. I'd love to see some other mole options here as well (e.g. Colorado or verde).

Bad Beat Brewing Queen Of Hearts
Our last beer was the Bad Beat Brewing Queen Of Hearts, a sour wheat ale brewed with guava. I wasn't too into this one. The tropical fruitiness of the guava was certainly there, but the funkiness was of the off-putting type, and just didn't sit well with me. So far this brewery's 0 for 2 for me, so I think I've tasted enough (I tried another beer of theirs recently at Mexicali).

Totosquites [$4.99] | Fresh roasted corn topped with house cream sauce, cotija cheese, lemon and chili powder
Flautas' take on esquites was well received, with the sweet, buttery, creamy kernels amped up by hits of spice and citrus while the chips provided a fitting base to the dish.

Beef Picadillo
Beef Picadillo [$5.49] | Flautas smothered with Mexican cream and topped with crispy lettuce, tomato, onion, tomato sauce, and sprinkled with cheese
The beef picadillo wasn't quite as interesting as the pork version, coming in a little less distinct, but was still enjoyable, with the dark flavors of the meat working well enough against the various veggies.

Shrimp Flautas
Shrimp Flautas [$6.48] | Filled with shrimp prepared with tomato, onion, cilantro and jalapeño pepper. Topped with creamy chipotle sauce and cotija cheese
A non-traditional flauta by the Chefs, the shrimp was arguably my favorite of the night. The camarones themselves were well-cooked, still tender and snappy, and imbued with a great brine that went superbly with the smokiness of the paired chipotle dressing.

Agua Fresca (Watermelon with Mint)
Our second agua fresca brought out the Watermelon with Mint [$2.99], a refreshing, lightly-flavored drink displaying the restrained essence of the fruit, overarched by very subtle hints of mint.

Fried Beans
Fried Beans [$5.49] | Flautas smothered with Mexican cream and topped with crispy lettuce, tomato, onion, tomato sauce, and sprinkled with cheese
The beans, as you might expect, lacked the fireworks of some of the other flautas, a hearty, slightly monolithic presentation overall.

Fish Flautas
Fish Flautas [$5.49] | Filled with fish prepared with tomato, onion, cilantro and a touch of chipotle chile. Smothered with tomatillo and pumpkin seed sauce and cotija cheese
Another contender for my favorite has to be the pescado, with the fish coming out full-flavored and still moist, deftly paired with the brightness of the accompanying tomatillo. The Chefs clearly have a way with seafood, so it'd be great to see them expand on that category a bit.

Though my flauta experience isn't necessarily vast, these were undoubtedly some of the best I've had, with most the dozen varieties here hitting their marks. The restaurant is the sort of place I could envision myself going to regularly, and I'd love to see this turned into a repeatable concept with multiple locations. Flautas, though, was just the appetizer. As for the main course, Mexicano, that restaurant has been pushed back a number of times but is finally open, albeit without a liquor license. Once they get that in place, you can bet that I'll be there post haste.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

are you in a food court at a mall bringing your own beer? didnt know you could do that. thats gangsta.

Monday, March 02, 2015 12:04:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

I'm not sure if you can do that, but we did just that.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 7:39:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home