Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bäco Mercat


Los Angeles, CA. I humorously entertained the idea of Meerkat? What an odd name for a restaurant, though of course in great error. Bäco Mercat is from the creative hands of Chef Josef Centeno, presently known as executive chef for Downtown Los Angeles' Lazy Ox Canteen. The bäco, featured in the restaurant's name, is noted to have been a simple snack created for staff and friends. The flatbread sandwich has since transformed from its humble beginnings to play host to the lovely variety that food and spice can offer.

On this day, the weather granted the familiar 70s, sunshine, and mid-day glow; it was another ideal moment for edibles. This nearby eatery exuded modesty: moderately sized interior and architecturally similar to downtown spots with its industrial fixtures, metals and use of matted browns. My friend and I chose an outside table for street observation. With a few moments to decide we selected and awaited the dining experience. It was a business day and customers seemed to be coming and going for their lunch before the turndown - yes, the restaurant temporarily closes between lunch and dinner, the industrial reset button if you will.

Crispy Bread with Spicy Dipping Sauce
Shortly after sitting, a runner brought out our first tasting of bäco in the form of a lightly fried appetizer with a spiced dipping sauce. Tasting like a combination of pita, naan, flatbread, and tortilla, the dish wasn't offered in a complex manner, but quite addictive. As any other subtle inclusion to the table - as pita is to hummus, tortilla chips is to salsa, and bread is to dipping oil - one quickly noticed the absence of the next piece by the time the server arrived with the food. Where did they go? We all know the answer...

Tomato and Cheese 'Coca'
Tomato and Cheese 'Coca' - was a thinly pressed, baked bäco with remnants of flour dusting its bottom. Liberally applied were the marinara-like tomato confit and mozzarella. The smoked jalapeno wasn't readily noticed and though a listed ingredient, absent in the continued bites. My thought for peppers is generally along the following: when roasting, sautéing, baking, or the like, a pepper loses its punch. Despite this, the dish was elegant in its simplicity and the perfect share among friends.  

Beef Tongue Schnitzel 'Bäco' 
Beef Tongue Schnitzel 'Bäco' - schnitzel seems to be the easy 'out' for luring consumers in to try 'gamey' items. By the time it is flattened, coated, and fried it tastes like chicken anyway. Well, it is not chicken and if that's the conclusion our mind draws, then maybe, just maybe, a new restaurant should be added to the list. At this eatery, I ate tongue and I could taste the tongue, and it was nothing familiar. It was chewy and it was crispy. It was succulent and it was moist. Nothing like previous tries of alligator and oxtail. Packaged the same way but doing it right. The tender portions were paired with a smoked aioli, a fiery sauce (harissa), pickles and arugula to balance out the combo. A juicy entree that stood alone, all wrapped in a warm bäco. Good work Chef Centeno...good work.

It was another southern Californian day and another great food find. Spending the time with a friend added to the otherwise tasty experience. I am curious to experience the climate change with a nighttime crowd. It would also be interesting to understand how popular the place has become to its city-dwellers and visitors. However, I like the idea, for the moment, of it being a shared little secret with several interesting new eats to enjoy.

Bäco Mercat
408 S Main St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 687-8808

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