Black Market Liquor Bar (Studio City, CA)

Black Market Liquor Bar
11915 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604
Dining date: 10/30/11

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Black Market Liquor Bar opened in June, a gastropub seeking to find a balance between great cocktails and delicious small plates. The main draw behind Black Market is the pedigree of its bartender and chef. Cocktails are masterminded by Pablo Moix and Steve Livigni (La Descarga, Harvard & Stone), while the food is the creation of Antonia Lofaso (Top Chef). I thought Lofaso cooked some pretty strong food during her run on Top Chef All-Stars, so I was very keen on trying what she had to offer here.

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The food is meant for sharing – all of the dishes are on the smaller side, allowing the ability to try a variety. The menu presents quite a variety – everything from tiny bites like  housemade potato chips and deviled eggs to larger, richer plates such as a pasta with oxtail ragu.

Deviled quail eggs, ahi tuna, dill

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These little guys were a promising start. Subtle fish and dill flavors both came through with the egg.

Duck rillette, bourbon sweet raisin

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I thought the richness of the duck was complemented well with the sweet raisins while the buttery, toasted bread provided much of the body and texture.

Dill potato chips, sea salt, malt vinegar aioli

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Loved these potato chips, cut just a little thicker than usual. Well-salted with some of the herbal dill flavor coming through, I could eat a bag of this. Not being a big fan of vinegar, I couldn’t get into the dipping sauce, but I know everyone else in the party did.

Charcuterie, pickled veg, bread

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I can’t recall what everything on this board was. The charcuterie was good, while the warm toasty bread again was a comforting pairing. A small quenelle of lardo was a fun addition to the offering, as well, reminding me a little bit of Sotto.

Lamb meatball, sunchoke, caponata, prune, pine nuts, brussels sprout

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These were tasty. A slight gaminess reminded me that it was lamb, while the herbs packed a good punch. Pretty moist, pretty good.

Crispy collard greens, benton’s ham, cheese grits, soft egg

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The collard greens, ham and fried egg were all individually delicious. Eaten together, the centerpiece collard greens took a backseat to the rich, flavorful ham and eggs though.

Peel and eat lemon pepper shrimp, oranges, crystal’s aioli

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I tend to dislike having to peel my shrimp at the table, but these were worth it. The exterior shell of the shrimp offered strong lemon and peppers up front, while the shrimp itself was cooked well, leaving them plump and moist.

Escarole, white bean, anchovy, parmigiano reggiano, sherry, olive oil

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I tend not to be a lover of salads, and this one didn’t convert me to the other side. There was a strong tart acidity (presumably from the sherry vinegar) that was overwhelming for me.

Chicken bao, pickled shiitake mushroom, kohlrabi, carrot, savoy cabbage

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Perhaps the largest bao I’ve ever seen, this was difficult to share (one bao per order). The flavors were rather monotonous, with the earthy cabbage and mushroom flavors primarily coming through; the chicken was overshadowed. Again, there was something rather tart and acidic in here that I didn’t care for.

Ricotta gnudi, brown butter, pistachio

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Good gnudi.  They were light and pillowy, while the brown butter sauce added a welcome nuttiness to the mix. The pistachios added some texture, but I didn’t really think it was necessary with the delicate gnudi.

Seared scallops, romesco, cavolo nero, chorizo, pumpkin seed

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These scallops were beautifully cooked. The romesco added some extra complementary flavor to round out some delicious bites. Enjoyed the greens too.

Oxtail ragu, perciatelli, pecorino

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Maybe my favorite dish of the night, I just wished it was bigger at $14. I will always have high expectations for an oxtail ragu, and the tender and rich meat went really well with the thick al dente pasta. The ragu was pretty beefy with a hearty depth of flavor.

Mussels, fennel, chili, garlic baguette

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These mussels were tiny but plentiful. I thought the mussels and broth were good, though the caramelized onions provided a very strong (almost too much) sweetness. Toasted garlic baguette provided the bulk of the substance in this dish.

BBQ shortrib, raisin, jalapeno, heirloom confit tomato, brioche

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A pretty good slider. I thought there was a nice balance between the richness of the beefy short rib, countered by the lettuce and tomato confit. The brioche made a nice bun too.

As for the cocktails, I only ordered one this night but was able to try a few others.

Vodka Buck vodka, house-made ginger syrup, lime, angostura

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Red Hot and Bothered jalapeno infused vodka, strawberry, blood orange, agave, ginger beer

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Smokin’ Monk mezcal, yellow chartreuse, lemon, oj

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Amber and Embers ardbeg scotch, clement canne syrup, angostura, orange bitters

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I had no qualms with the cocktails, but didn’t find one I loved either.

Overall, the food was hit-or-miss. The small bites, as well as the shrimp, gnudi and oxtail ragu were strong efforts. Given my expectations from Lofaso’s Top Chef run, I’d say this was a disappointment. Maybe my expectations were just too high, but I thought there were misses in both the conception and execution of many plates. Not sure I’ll be back.


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