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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Baco Mercat: Great Foie Gras + Kumquat but Namesake Sandwich Disappoints

I was stoked to try Baco Mercat since I'd heard a lot of good things and I liked Lazy Ox Canteen by the same chef. I loved some things and hated others but I'm willing to give it another chance for a next visit, although I'll probably find myself going to the Ox first before I venture to Baco.

Here is the meaning of the restaurant's name.

We had a lot of things but the best thing hands down was the foie gras mousse with kumquat marmalade that came with a brioche-like bread that was toasted just so. The bread was soft and warm and all that good stuff and I venture to say far better than the namesake flatbreads a host of sandwiches were rolled in. Man, get thee another baker already! More on that later.

The spread went so well with the tartness and sweetness of the kumquat marmalade. It was a match made in heaven and I couldn't stop eating it (our server gave us more bread).

The other item that surprised us was the caesar brussel sprouts that everyone was raving about on message boards. It came shredded dressed in a caesar dressing with anchovies since let's face it, not all caesar dressings are created equal. It was a genius combination once again. It hit at some nostalgic areas of my palate -- it sometimes reminded me of little side salads you get at to-go places but in a good way if that's possible. It was refreshing and while good in the spring, it would probably be better in the summer.

I did have high expectations for the namesake sandwich, called "the original," no less. It had pork belly, beef carnitas, a nutty red sauce called salbitxada. The meats were ok and the spread was not bad although too chunky for my taste. This was no romesco sauce, that's for sure. I think I'm more of a romesco person than a salbitxada one.

But my biggest beef with this sandwich was that the bread it supposedly bakes in-house was not impressive at all. In fact, it was tough to slice, like day-old pita bread, not freshly baked bread. The bread itself was so unremarkable that this fact alone made us not want to order the coca, the other flatbread.

I wouldn't get this original baco or any other baco again.

We tried el pesco, which was a baco sandwich with deep fried shrimp in a thousand island-like dressing spiked with some sriracha. Our spice-loving party loved it and got another one, but I was still on the fence because of the lame bread.

We also got the hamachi crudo that came with hash browns and avocado. By "hash browns," they meant a teeny weeny ball of fried shredded potato cake. Our party loved these hash browns so much we wanted to get a side order of it but we were told we couldn't. The hamachi was fresh enough but nothing to write home about. The ones at Santa Monica Seafood Company were better. I liked them sliced thin anyway.

We also had the beef shank "birria" with pasta that pretty much bombed. The beef shank was tender enough but was smelly and I usually love shank. The fried egg on top was good since I like anything with a fried egg on top but not sure how well it went here.

We wanted the place to redeem itself and tried the squid ink risotto but that was drowning in salt. What's with restaurants and salt? I know you're trying to get us to get more alcohol but that was ridiculous. The sheer amount of sodium took away from the fact that the squid was very fresh and well-cooked so it wasn't too rubbery. The peas were super fresh and beautifully green. The rice perfectly al dente. What a shame. Oh, as much as I love fried food, the fried calamari as topping seemed like an unnecessary distraction.

But the biggest culprit of them all was the "Bazole" noodle soup that sounded so promising, until we tasted it and the entire thing was overpowered by star anise. We couldn't taste the beef and pork carnitas. The noodles were overcooked. It was a hot mess. Pretty awful. And the fried egg in this case wasn't able to salvage this one.

I would like to try some of the other meat dishes next time, if I return.

I secretly wished the chef would offer a version of his hamburger since it is, after all, the all-American sandwich. I liked his burger at the Ox.

I also didn't like that there were hardly any wines available by the glass. What's up with that? The choices were limiting. The cocktail list wasn't very enticing either.

I also didn't appreciate our server and host pressuring us to leave even though clearly we were giving the place a lot of business by ordering half the menu and drinks galore.

Oh well, maybe I'll just go to the Ox next time.

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