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Pictures Enable Less Words To Tell Story: Craft, Spago and Baco Mercat

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Last Saturday, I patched together tasty Divergent highlights of five choices around town that are anywhere from burger-casual (Plan Check) to trending-pretentious (Parq Bar).  None of those would characterize themselves nor be reputed to have world-class restauranteurs at their helms.  Today, in reflection of the end of 2013, I offer specific November-December memories of multi-faceted Diamond restaurants whose chefs Dream in culinary colors.

SPAGO, CRAFT AND BACO MERCAT

Friday, November 22, 2013
Dinner at Spago

Though I waxed with superlatives in an earlier post, I never shared the specifics or the photos of the Spago Dinner. Often I photograph minimally to not miss being present to the occasion, and in this case a few mentionables are missing.  One I recall was Pepino's Revenge, a handcrafted cocktail of Patron Silver Tequila, Japanese cucumber, basil, and lime juice.  The curiosity I associate with these of-late mixologist creations has inspired my choosing cocktail over wine.  (I Drive therefore I choose!) 

Grilled lamb rack, eggplant caviar, falafel macaroons, harissa aioli.  Perection, Disappeared from plate.

Spago's signature tuna tartare in sesame seed coated cones
Pan-seared black bass, littleneck clams "chowder," baby leeks, fingerling potatoes.  Delicate fish and richly flavored accompaniments.  Should be a permanent fixture on their ever-changing menu!
Which Deserves more attention? The French pumpkin souffle or my wonderful friend and Dynamic Dining companion that evening, Ed Marks, who at 98 years young, chose the restaurant, the best table and the conversation topics, all smart, witty and lively?  Move over pumpkin - you're a sloppy second to Ed - and truth told, the souffle's one-note sweetness just missed being Dynamite.

The impeccable quality of Dinner at Spago came as a surprise to me.  Foolish to think that the best only comes with the newest.  Keep it on your checklist if you'd moved it off.  It's as relevant as it was 20 years ago.

(One final note about Spago - as I asked my server for a copy of the paper menu, he repeated several times that the menu changes Daily.  He vehemently repeated that my friends may not find the items I loved for Dinner when they visited.  Consider yourselves warned.  It won't matter.  Safely order anything, though of course, ask your server for the three best items that Day, and if you Do see the pumpkin souffle, respectfully Decline.)



Monday, November 25, 2013
Dinner Baco Mercat

Of all the restaurants in which I Dined last year, the one that Defies a wordy Description is Baco Mercat.  This across-the-board critic and fan favorite of 2012 is a playground for Diverse tastes. The chef rarely plates two same-named items identically.  Each plating is a creative interpretation.  Baco Mercat is a food excursion for the adventurous.  Given the high marks for Baco and my attraction to the Downtown LA Dining scene, measure your distance and traffic considerations against the fact that this restaurant is very casual with an everyone-knows-everyone (except that they don't) vibe of a neighborhood.  Decidedly not plush, it is however welcoming and friendly.  I'd be reluctant to offer it up to a westsider as a Destination evening. But for a fun evening with foodie friends, it feels like being at home for an easy breezy Dinner party. Only rare combinations are being served. If only Chef Josef Centano were in your kitchen!



Roasted Spanish olives with garlic, lemon and herbs
Japanese eggplant salad
Waffle rillettes; duck, raclette, mustard (my favorite)
"Caesar" brussel sprouts, another WOW.
Za'atar and Spiced Lebni Dish with puffy Baco bread.  (The mystery name of this specialty has been solved.  Chef/Owner Josef Centano emailed me and identified it personally! Honored.)
Seared albacore, lemon, caper and brown butter
"baco mercat" means sandwich market in the Spanich Castilian language

When I left baco mercat, I immediately felt that I had to go back, that I was overstimulated with sights, sounds, aromas, faces and attitudes (good ones).  It is a food story of out-of-the-box combinations of cuisines and countries.  I look forward to a relaxing revisit in 2014.



 Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Craft Restaurant 

The goal of Craft has been to Deliver simple, elegant meals with seamless service.  IMHO, Tom Colicchio and his Disciplined team have succeeded.  With a half dozen visits under my belt (figuratively and literally!), I trust their consistence and Dedication to serve with professional graciousness and warmth.

Worth noting, the Craft menu includes the name of every antibiotic-free farm that supplies its produce, meat, fish, herbs and all edibles.
Often I Decline the names of glasses of wine ordered, or I forget! This Sauvignon Blanc was unforgettable: Domaine Philippe Gilbert, 2011, Menetou-Salon. It is currently still on their wine list.
Amuse Bouche - salmon puree in a delicate brussels sprout leaf
Perhaps my favorite dish of the night was the Ricotta Cavatelli with black trumpet mushrooms.
Roasted flatiron steak. Dare you to Duplicate this at home!
Second favorite Dish of night - roasted Delicata squash
Roasted Mugifuji pork - slightly lacked the hoped-for tenderness
Too full, we squeezed in roasted banana and house-made coffee ice cream
November and December were banner Dining months for me and Don't think for a second that I take my bounty for granted. I'm more likely to self-flagellate for unworthiness than to rest glibly with such gifts.  Thank you to all who have joined me at these wonderful meals and for those of you who are popping up here and reading about it.   

Your comments are so welcome -- and often Day-making!

Happy New 2014! Nourish yourselves well with food, art and great company.

Bon appetit,
Ilene Wendy