Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cooks County


Los Angeles.  A good neighborhood spot is hard to find.  It needs to be bustling and fun, but not impossible to get into without a reservation, and not so loud that conversations are out of the question.  The food should be so good you return again and again, but the menu should change often enough that you’re never bored.  Servers should be friendly; attitudes should be left on the street.  It’s a delicate balance to find, but in all these ways, Cooks County is a success.

Spretzel by candlelight
The menu is divided into snacks, appetizers, mains, and sides, and much of it changes daily based on what’s fresh at the farmer’s market.  But one of the standards in the snack column is the “spretzel” – a pretzel made of spelt flour and served with a mustard dipping sauce.  It’s small – though enough for a four-top to have a bite each – and delicious; the spelt flour gives it a nutty flavor, and the outside is buttery and crusty with a dusting of salt. Mmmm. There are other goodies in the "snack" column - goat cheese, chicken liver crostini, housemade bread - but this is a must-order.

Heirlooms with feta, olive and arugula
Heirloom tomatoes are currently at their peak and a salad of tomatoes, feta, and olives was perfect, the tomatoes largely unadorned, allowing their summery juiciness to shine.  A soup of cucumber, crab and dill was good but reminiscent of pickle juice (not such a terrible thing for a pickle freak like myself, but others may shy away); and one of the regular appetizer offerings is the crostini – a slice of grilled country bread topped with pancetta and a poached egg, served with bitter greens. It’s breakfast for dinner; rich and yolky. 

Main courses are TRUE main courses – portions are substantial here, so large that a couple with moderate appetites would be fine to start with salads and split something.  Seafood stew, made with seabass, crab, mussels and clams had an addictive white wine broth and a side of grilled bread topped with rouille; I was already full but give me some streaks of burnt breadcrumb and I can’t stop myself.  A pork chop was moist and perfectly paired with green beans, toasted hazelnuts and roast pears.  The shortrib dish gets rave reviews but I found it a little too reminiscent of beef stew; the puree below (Was it cauliflower? Potato? Hard to tell) a little too bland and the greens cooked within an inch of their lives.

Dark and molasses-y Honey Walnut Bar
After a tough decision between fried peach pie and a “honey walnut bar” we went with the latter; a gooey, brownie-like concoction made with what tasted like molasses and/or brown sugar, studded with walnuts and served with roast figs and burnt honey ice cream.  The best, upscale blond brownie you could ever order.  

All that food and a couple glasses of wine (they have an impressive list of wines by the glass and microbrews – but no cocktails) added up; the check was much larger than we expected.  So a neighborhood spot? Absolutely… but slightly too pricey to hit more than a couple times a month. My budget is limiting my spretzel intake… what a shame!

Cooks County
8009 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90048 
(323) 653-8009

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