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Baco Mercat is located on Skid Row. Literally. The Office for Skid Row housing is one block away. If I haven’t scared you with this information on their location, you are willing to brave downtown traffic, and you are willing to pay for parking, then put this place in your GPS.

As everyone who knows me or reads this blog already knows, I love great bread. I will go miles out of my way to buy it and eat it. Bäco was originally a sandwich made with crispy pork belly and beef carnitas, and is the name of the bread they make and serve here. The bread was so popular that it became the basis for this place which specializes in sandwiches made with it and a crispy variation called Coca which serves as a kind of flatbread for toppings.

I wanted more than simply a sandwich so I ordered the caramelized cauliflower with garlic, tomatoes, sour cream, and green onions for $8. Although I’m not a cauliflower lover, I liked this vegetable side so much I took what I could not finish home with me!

I had the pescado Bäco with crispy shrimp, sirancha, and cole slaw for $11. Although the picture may make it look a bit too creamy, it was not. It was a perfectly dressed, slightly spicy slaw, with two large lightly breaded butterflied shrimp, all encased in the famous bäco bread. I could easily eat this once a week!

I had to come back for the beef tongue schnitzel bäco, with harissa, smoked aioli, and home made pickles for $10 because they had sold out of it by 1pm. Selling out of a tongue schnitzel sandwich is a great sign! I came back the same week around noon to be sure it would still be available and I was thrilled with my choice.

The hearty portion was succulent, tender (a sign of properly prepared tongue), and the accompanying pickles, arugula, aioli, and harissa made this unusual combination a standout. Just as I will travel for food, I will get down here by noon to get this bäco!

The picadillo coca at the next table looked so good that my friend ordered it. With house ground beef, tomatillo, cheddar, and crème fraiche on a crispy version of the bäco, she was so impressed, she also ordered the chocolate root beer (made in house) our neighboring table was drinking, and she loved the chocolate root beer so much she took a case home!

Our neighboring table ordered the banana semifreddo with mixed nut brittle and caramel ($8), so of course in keeping with the neighboring table’s menu choices, my dessert eating friend ordered the same thing and was so happy with it, she finished every last spoonful. She declared it the best dessert she’s had in ages, which is a huge compliment from a former pastry chef for Michel Richard!

If you are willing to brave all the elements of downtown Los Angeles, you will be generously rewarded at Bäco Mercat.
Bäco Mercat on Urbanspoon

After 20 years, Houston’s closed in Century City this October. The space has now been completely remodeled to house Seasons 52. The idea behind the restaurant is seasonal menus based on local ingredients and they seem to have mastered both the spirit and execution of this popular concept. The result is a very welcoming outdoor and warm indoor space with an equally warm and welcoming service team.

With wines by the glass starting at just $8 (I chose an ’09 Bordeaux for $10.50) and a full bar for premium alcohol, you can come in just for a drink and some appetizers, like their varied flatbreads starting at $11, or their crab, shrimp & spinach stuffed mushroom caps.

Every item on the menu is under 475 calories, so this is the perfect spot to go for a sensible meal without sacrificing ambiance and flavor. Their salads are made with organic greens and they even offer an EU certified organic salmon (for a $6 supplement).

The mixed organic green salad was dressed in a white balsamic and the greens included pumpkin seeds, cucumbers, and grape tomatoes. This would have been the ideal light meal, but as a side to my Buffalo burger, it was a fresh and flavorful accompaniment.

Since bison is one of my favorite meats, I had to order the buffalo burger, oak-fired and served with roasted red pepper salsa, and spicy chili sour cream for $12. The description included guacamole, but aside from a thin smear of green, I can’t say that guacamole was evident in the burger (probably to keep within the 475 calorie allotment). It was done rare as I requested, and the quarter pound portion was perfect for me, although some hungrier people might have wanted a bigger serving.

Dinner items offer a much heartier portion. This crimini mushroom sauce on the bone in New York was a delectable way to enhance the meat without detracting from it. The sides of asparagus and roasted potatoes were simply done, but satisfying, and surprisingly this entire meal was still less than 500 calories! For $27, this dinner is easy both on wallets and waistlines.

A beautiful tray of mini desserts (all $2.75) allows you to choose from a Meyer Lemon meringue pie, a canoli with white chocolate filling, s’mores, peanut butter and chocolate, or a tropical fruit mix.

In keeping with the season, I opted for the pumpkin pie, decorated with a gingersnap 🙂 It was the perfect small bit of sweetness to round off my meal.

With a location next to shops, this is a great place for a respite from holiday shopping; after all even Santa gets milk & cookies, why shouldn’t you?

Seasons 52 on Urbanspoon

After having brunch at Bottega Louie, my friend Marian and I went to look inside Coco Laurent across the street. They were going to open the next day and didn’t even have menus or business cards yet, but the indoor/outdoor space was beautiful and the host said they had imported a chef from France, so of course we made plans to come back once they opened.

After giving them a week to let the dust settle a bit, I ventured in for lunch today since my favorite French restaurant downtown, Church & State, had already stopped lunch service by 2:30pm. Coco Laurent serves all day, so it seemed to be perfect timing. The complimentary filtered water had lemon in it, and as with any good French restaurant, they offered a decent sourdough with excellent butter.

It was a cold (for Los Angeles) afternoon, so I started with the Soupe de Poissons, a fish bisque soup with tomatoes, saffron, aromatic vegetables, croutons, and sour cream for $9. The saffron tomato base made this a nicely rich soup, and the flavor of fish was present without being overwhelming. I would have liked it to have been more aromatic and complex, but I think this was conceived to be more middle of the road for those who might not appreciate stronger flavors. Tant pis for me, but I’m sure most would like this soup (I did like it, but I just didn’t love it).

My wonderful server Justin, as well as the manager Pascale, stopped by to see how I liked the soup. I appreciated the attention to customers from the staff very much. The busboy even picked up a button that fell off my raincoat for me and set it on the table! The wine list is quite varied and reasonably priced with a glass of St. Emilion for $15 or a Malbec for $9, for drinkers of white, they have a a nice Chardonnay from Sonoma Cutrer for $10.

I couldn’t wait to try my steak tartare, made with extra lean Angus ground beef, cocktail sauce, onions, capers, cornichons, capers, chopped parsley and topped with a quail egg, served with smoked rosemary waffle potato chips for $14. Like the Soupe de Poissons, I found this good, but not great.

The quality of the beef was wonderful, but the flavor was a bit bland. I loved the rosemary waffle potato chips and although they were fragile, topping them with the beef tartare added a nice texture and seasoning to the beef. I mixed in the micro cilantro greens, but I found that they detracted a bit from the tartare, so I would recommend not incorporating them into the beef.

The desserts looked lovely, but with aggressive Los Angeles parking enforcement, I risked being towed if I lingered. Coco Laurent would be worth another visit, perhaps after a few more weeks as the kitchen and executive chef improves to equal the service in the front of the house. If the wait at Bottega Louie is over 30 minutes, which it often is, this place will surely get some of the overflow, but they won’t keep it unless they add more flavor to their French menu.

Coco Laurent on Urbanspoon

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