Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Moruno (Los Angeles, CA)

Moruno Restaurant at the Original Farmers Market
6333 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Tue 03/08/2016, 07:30p-10:50p

Moruno Exterior

The latest restaurant from a now Chait-less Sprout group comes to us courtesy of Chef Chris Feldmeier and David Rosoff. Named after pinchos morunos (a type of Moorish meat skewer), Moruno aims to present the North African- and Mediterranean-influenced cuisine of Southern Spain in a casual, live-fired manner. The place was announced in April 2015, and after a five-month stint of running a take-out window at the location, the team debuted the restaurant proper back in February.

About the Partners: Rosoff actually worked in the music biz early in his career, but was introduced to wine by a former girlfriend. He wound up leaving entertainment, then took on positions in wine retail and wholesale before finding a job on the floor at the now-shuttered I Cugini in Santa Monica. This eventually led to a GM/Wine Director position at Michael McCarty's seminal Michael's in 1996, where Rosoff really began making a name for himself. After five years, he left and partnered up with David Lentz to open Opaline (at the current site of Neal Fraser's BLD). That placed closed in 2004 however, and he subsequently became GM/Wine Director at Mark Peel's Campanile.

It was here where he would meet Chris Feldmeier (a sous who'd come from Nine-Ten and Loews Coronado in San Diego) as well as Matt Molina, the restaurant's Chef de Cuisine. All three men left Campanile to join Nancy Silverton at Mozza, with Rosoff becoming GM/Wine Director, Feldmeier sous at Osteria, and Molina CdC at both Osteria and Pizzeria. Mozza, of course, blew up, and things went swimmingly for years, with Feldmeier even marrying Pastry Chef Dahlia Narvaez. However, Feldmeier ended up leaving the Mozzaplex in August 2013, with Rosoff following in February 2014. The two began thinking of opening their own place together, and settled on the concept for Moruno after experiencing its namesake skewers on a culinary research trip to Spain.

Moruno Interior
Moruno takes over the old Short Order, which closed last April. The space has been redone by Studio Unltd, the folks behind a number of notable projects including Otium, PettyCash, BierBeisl Imbiss, Catch & Release, Bestia, MessHall, and BierBeisl. Downstairs, you'll find a casual, woody indoor-outdoor dining area replete with a small bar, while the upstairs will house a Bar Vermut, a forthcoming vermouth bar, as well as a patio seating area.

Moruno Menu Moruno Cocktail & Beer List Moruno Wines by the Glass & Sherry List Moruno Wine List
Moruno's pintxo-inspired menu is anchored by chicken and lamb skewers/sandwiches, while there's also a pretty complete selection of sides and even larger, more composed plates. Drink-wise, you get a small wine list (which includes sherries and a proprietary vermouth called Vermina, produced by Palmina), a handful of theme-appropriate cocktails from Dave Kupchinsky (whom we last saw at The Fiscal Agent), and a couple of beers to round things out. Corkage is $20, limit two bottles (waived for our sole bottle tonight). Click for larger versions.

A complementary bowl of olives to begin.

Also gratis were the Gildas, "lollipops" of anchovy, pepper, pickle, olive, and garlic. Nice acidity here to play off of the brine of the fish, while the chiles imparted a welcomed, lingering heat on the back end.

Armada Old Fashioned
Armada Old Fashioned [$12.00] | bourbon, spanish brandy, pedro ximinez sherry, spanish bitters, lemon twist
We made sure to try all five cocktails of course, and got started with this take on an Old-Fashioned. I found it more intensely-flavored and sugarier than usual, but still with a boozy, bittersweet base and countering overtones of citrus.

Gunpowder Fries
Gunpowder Fries [$6.00]
Fries were just crispy enough, with a heartiness to 'em that worked wonderfully with their aggressive spicing.

Chicken with Cilantro, Garlic, Red Onion, Mint, Serrano Chile & Lime
Chicken with Cilantro, Garlic, Red Onion, Mint, Serrano Chile & Lime [$13.00]
The first of two "Sub Morunos" was a hit, showing off a bevy of bright, tangy, herby, creamy nuances to pair with the chicken. Very nicely integrated with the baguette, ostensibly imported from Navarra.

Pork Belly Chicharrones
Pork Belly Chicharrones [$14.00]
Next came a legit-looking preparation of chicharrón: a super fatty, fried, flavorful, crunchy belly set against the potency of whole garlic and a squirt of lime.

Inigo Montoya
Inigo Montoya [$10.00] | vermina white vermouth, cardamom, apricot, meyer lemon, seltzer
A reworked vermouth Collins was fruity and floral, with a zesty, almost ginger-y element to it. Refreshing.

Squid Stuffed Squid
Squid Stuffed Squid [$20.00]
A chewy, charred, smoky outer layer of squid hid a brinier stuffing (which could've been juicier), both elements offset by the astringency of onion.

Lamb Leg Marinated with Turmeric
Lamb Leg Marinated with Turmeric [$13.00]
The lamb moruno was satisfying, coming out well-spiced, tangy, and herby, with a great smokiness to it.

Half Rotisserie Cabbage with Pickled Mushroom Yogurt
Half Rotisserie Cabbage with Pickled Mushroom Yogurt [$12.00]
Cabbage balanced a charred exterior with bittersweet, supple insides, the whole thing accented by copious amounts of creamy housemade yogurt. A bit reminiscent of the cabbage dish over at Charcoal.

Moruno Cobbler
Moruno Cobbler [$12.00] | oloroso sherry, amaro montenegro, grapefruit, strawberry, crushed ice
The cobbler came loaded with notes of sweet spice and dark fruit, with a nutty, oxidative quality from the sherry lingering long on the finish.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Dukkah
Roasted Butternut Squash with Dukkah [$14.00]
Feldmeier then sent out the squash, a smart presentation with roasty and sweet flavors evened out by the nuttiness, crunch, and earthy cumin-fueled spice of duqqa.

Tortilla Española
Tortilla Española [$6.00]
I would've liked a bit more textural variation on the tortilla, though it hit all the right notes taste-wise.

Vergroni [$10.00] | vermina red and white vermouth, gin, bitter orange, lemon twist
The Negroni riff was perhaps my favorite cocktail of the night, a viscous drink with complex bittersweet, botanical, almost vegetal nuances cut by pricks of citrus.

Pescado En Adobo with Aioli
Pescado En Adobo with Aioli [$12.00]
Fish fritters were richly-spiced yet still ocean-y, and well-matched with the tart sherry aioli on the side. Yum.

Chicken Thigh with Garlic & Cilantro
Chicken Thigh with Garlic & Cilantro [$12.00]
Chicken morunos delivered as well, the bird accented by hits of char, acid, and zippy cilantro.

Gin Tonic
Gin Tonic [$10.00] | gin, house made tonic, lemon and grapefruit peel
Our final cocktail brought out the G&T, a sweet-ish, somewhat herbal preparation that really highlighted the botanical nature of the gin.

Mejadra (Basmati Rice & Lentils)
Mejadra (Basmati Rice & Lentils) [$10.00/lrg]
Mujaddara was a surprise standout, giving us boatloads of hearty, warmly-spiced flavors offset by the coolness of yogurt. Great crunch from the onions, too.

Rotisserie Pork Shoulder
Rotisserie Pork Shoulder [$26.00]
A rotisserie'd shoulder arrived juicy, tender, and properly porky, with a particularly endearing bitter, wood-fired element to it.

Lamb with Horseradish Baba Ganoush, Red Onion, Pepperoncini & Mint
Lamb with Horseradish Baba Ganoush, Red Onion, Pepperoncini & Mint [$14.00]
For our second sandwich, lamb was accompanied by the deep, potent flavors of baba ganoush, with the mint and onion providing a much needed dose of herbiness and acidity to balance things out.

M/V Brut Rosé - Crémant de Limoux || Domaine Collin || Languedoc, France
With the cocktails done with, we moved on to a bottle of the wine, the M/V Brut Rosé - Crémant de Limoux || Domaine Collin || Languedoc, France [$30]. A blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Pinot Noir, this was an easy-drinking sparkler, with a nose filled with sweet, apple-like aromas and a palate that went drier, more mineral-driven, with a persistent acidity.

House Fermented Vegetables
House Fermented Vegetables [$4.00]
Veggies were full of crunch, acidity, and funk.

Bhatura Bread
Bhatura Bread [$5.00]
Bhatooras were a nice combination of airy and crisp. Delightfully spiced, and great with the spinach-n-chickpeas below.

Grilled Tripe with White Beans
Grilled Tripe with White Beans [$24.00]
Supple shards of tripe offered up a smoky, sweet, sticky quality that might change your opinion of the stomach lining. I found it well-paired to the white beans, while the cilantro imparted a necessary brightness.

2015 de Garde Special Rouge
I had one bottle of beer with me, the 2015 de Garde Special Rouge, a sour red ale aged in oak barrels with raspberries and Montmorency cherries. Lots of red fruit on the nose, the cherry really taking center stage. The taste brought further tartness, with the raspberry coming into its own.

Spinach & Chickpeas
Spinach & Chickpeas [$12.00/lrg]
Long-cooked spinach displayed a bitter, earthy depth while chickpeas added a nutty textural element. Very nice.

Whole Fish a la Plancha
Whole Fish a la Plancha [$28.00]
Finishing off the savories was a boneless loup de mer, grilled on the flat-top. Think moist, tender, and oceany, with a delightfully crisp skin to boot. Even better with a dab of the zippy sauce on the side.

Moruno Dessert Menu
A small selection of desserts and after-dinner libations. Click for a larger version.

Fried Biscuits
Fried Biscuits [$8.00] | Tangerine Thyme Marmalade and Vanilla Ice Cream
Getting into the desserts now, biscuits provided just the right amount of savoriness to go along with your traditional flavors of citrus and vanilla.

Chocolate Sesame Tart
Chocolate Sesame Tart [$8.00] | Ginger, Halva and Chocolate Sauce
The tart did a nice job pairing the nuttiness of sesame with the sweetness of chocolate. I wanted more ginger though.

Saffron Rice Pudding
Saffron Rice Pudding [$8.00] | Pistachios and Cherries
The pudding came out expectedly sweet 'n' ricey, with just a hint of saffron and the cherries working as a tart, fruity counterpoint.

Coconut-Pineapple Cake
Since we were celebrating a birthday tonight, we ended with a homemade coconut-pineapple cake. It was one of the tastiest I've had (right up there with my benchmark at The Hart and The Hunter): rich and dense, yet somehow light, with a superb balance of sweet and tangy flavors.

Rosoff and Feldmeier are off to a good start with Moruno and their Spanish-inflected eats that represent a welcomed departure from the norm. As for next steps, the team is still working on Bar Vermut, which should open sometime this year serving mostly vermouth and sherry alongside conserva-type bites. But first, be on the lookout for Bar Moruno at Grand Central Market, which should drop in the late spring timeframe.


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