December 10, 2012

Bäco Mercat

Located in Downtown LA's Old Bank District, which borders the Financial District, the Jewelry District, the Fashion District, and Gallery Row, and much to my dismay, was never a bank district at all, there is a highly-praised restaurant called Bäco Mercat.  Bäco has been on my radar since Chef Josef Centeno first opened shop in late-2011, but it's taken me a year to finally dine there.  And it's not because Bäco recently came in at #9 on Bon Appetit's Hot 10 List of America's Best New Restaurants for 2012. { video }  Really.

When you're at a market for bäcos, you order bäcos.  The tough part is deciding which ones you want.  (Note: Given the registered trademark sign, I guess the "bäco" really is Chef Centeno's name for his signature flatbread sandwich).  We chose "the original" and "the toron" (see photos below).

We also opted to share a few lunch offerings and a "coca," which is like a crispy tarte flambee or much widely understood as a thin-crusted pizza.

Sweet & Sour Sodas ("chicha morada" in the back and "blood orange" in the front)

hamachi crudo -- abkhazian chile spice, avocado, hash brown -- $14

I always welcome fatty pieces of hamachi (yellowtail), dressed with just the right amount of spice and citrus to bring out more flavor and freshness of the fish.  The avocado adds creamy texture and the perfectly-crisped hash brown patty adds savory and a whole lot of comforting goodness. Brave, Bäco!

"el cordero" coca -- merguez, harissa, feta -- $13

Mer-what?  Yeah, I had no idea what "merguez" was either when we ordered it on our coca, but it sounded exotic, but not too scary, enough to give it a try.  Besides, I'm a big fan of harissa (a Tunisian chili sauce) and feta so it couldn't be that horrendous, right?  Turns out merguez is a sausage, typically made with lamb and beef meats.  Topped with some fresh arugula and sliced purple cabbage, this coca had just the right amount of kick to get your taste buds hoppin'.  Loved it.

sugar snap & pear salad --  burrata, pickled onions, dill, cilantro, baby red radish, grapefruit -- $10

Next was this beautifully-presented salad with the burrata at the bottom, everything else sort of haplessly stacked upon it, and the glistening grapefruit pieces on top.  Crunchy, creamy, sweet, slightly bitter -- this dish had it all and more importantly, worked well together!

Bäco, bäco, bäco!  Oh, how they did not disappoint.  "The Original" had much more of a smokier, meatier flavor than "The Toron," which was expected given the perfectly-cooked pieces of pork belly and braised beef carnitas.

"the original" -- pork belly, beef carnitas, salbitxada, aioli, mixed arugula -- $10

I don't know what it was about "The Toron," but it sealed the deal for my meal.  Maybe it was the gooey cheddar.  Maybe it was the encore of the crispy hash brown (aka - tater) that made my appetite flutter.  Or maybe it was the richness of the oxtail meat.  Maybe it was all of it coming together in a fluffy flatbread that was a perfect cross between a pita and a tortilla.  Whatever it was, you need to order this during your visit.

"the toron" -- oxtail hash, cheddar, tater, horseradish, pickle, mixed greens -- $12

banana creme pie rice pudding w/ chocolate graham crackers, whipped cream, and sea salt -- $10

I'm not a huge fan of rice pudding or banana creme, but I found this layered dessert delightful!  Light and not too dense, it was a great way to end the meal.

Overall, the atmosphere was a bit loud due to the high ceilings, but very lively.  The prices are steep for lunch, and probably even higher for dinner, but the good thing is everything is share-able.
Would I return?  Yes.
Should you check it out?  Absolutely.

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Bäco Mercat on Urbanspoon

cuisine: Spanish-inspired
location: Downtown LA
websites: { BM | yelp | twitter | facebook }
parking: Street; Public lots (There's one for $3 across the street).
attire: Casual
notes/ reviews: { J.Gold | Bon Appetit | kevinEats | my last bite