408 S Main St
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Dining date: 7/15/13
I’ve been to Josef Centeno’s popular Baco Mercat multiple times for lunch and have been meaning to try it for dinner. I live relatively close but have procrastinated for so long; two weeks ago, I finally made this dinner visit as my final ‘birthday dinner’ of the year.
The dinner menu is definitely more expanded than lunch, particularly in the small plates section. While the baco and coca (flatbreads) have been the restaurant’s claim to fame thus far, Centeno’s small plates offer a lot more in terms of variety. There are also a few delicious-sounding ‘big plate’ options that are dinner-only. The whole menu setup is not unlike what Centeno was doing at Lazy Ox Canteen.
“the original” baco pork, beef carnitas, salbitxada
The namesake concept and one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, I think the baco are good…but way too overhyped at this point. In this ‘original,’ fried chunks of fatty meat were bathed in a spicy sauce with bitter arugula. Very heavy – on this evening, I found the meat to be even fattier than I remembered.
hamachi crudo abkhazian chile spice, avocado, hash brown
Lightening things up was this cool hamachi crudo, complete with creamy avocado and a hash brown! Love hash browns, and the hot/cold and crispy/tender interplays really worked well.
waffle rilletes duck, raclette, mustard
Plenty of duck meat sat atop a mushy, starchy waffle-like creation. The fried egg added to some very rich bites, though I wish there was slightly more texture.
pork belly soujouk ravioli lebni, pinenuts, red wine
Chewy pasta and a tasty pork filling made this a highlight. A subtle heat was present throughout each bite, while crunchy pinenuts added bite.
ocean trout peas, shiradashi, sumac
Our palates cooled down with this dish featuring raw trout. The meaty chunks of fish were complemented by cool, crisp vegetables and a bit of spice.
caramelized cauliflower pine nuts, mint, garlic, lebni
I’ve had this dish before for lunch – it was a standout then and still was this time. The cauliflower was juicy…I don’t think I say that about cauliflower, ever. There was good depth of flavor from the caramelization and garlic, making for some delish bites.
yellowtail collar yuzu kosho, white soy vinaigrette, citrus
The yellowtail was served pretty hot; I feared the flesh would be overcooked, but it was still pretty moist. I love yuzu kosho with meaty fish, while the vinaigrette helped to lighten things up a bit. A heap of lightly pickled fruits and vegetables helped to offset the dense chunks of fish.
I accidentally reformatted my memory card, losing images from these last three dishes.
“’bondiga” coca three cheese, smoked jalepeno, lamb
braised lamb neck beet greens, falafel, fried egg
squash blossoms tempura, mint, fava, garbanzo
Coincidentally, I didn’t find these as strong as the previous dishes. I haven’t loved the coca from the beginning; this one was fine but not memorable. The braised lamb beck was pretty tasty, though filled with a seemingly hodgepodge of ingredients that didn’t all make sense together. Finally, the squash blossoms suffered from a rather soggy, thick batter.
Stuffed to the brim, we passed on dessert. Overall, this was maybe the best meal I have had here. There were a number of less successful dishes, but there were some very good ones too. If there’s a lesson I’ve learned in my visits here, it’s that I’m not really a fan of the baco and coca creations. They’re not bad, but they’re filling and aren’t the most interesting things on the menu. You have to try it if it’s your first time; after that, stick to the small plates for more varied flavors and techniques and generally what I feel are better-balanced dishes.