Sunday, January 31, 2016

Broken Spanish: Moawwrrr, Por Favor!

Some restaurants and dishes are so good, dining there could be considered 'feeding your soul': it inspires you so much you still dream of it days, weeks after, and want to return at every available opportunity.  One place that, at under 1 year old, passes this test is Broken Spanish: serving up modern Mexican, influenced by the diversity of the city, as only a talented chef born and raised in LA and trained in classical cooking like Chef Ray Garcia (who helmed the Belvedere, FIG, and was champion of Cochon 555 twice over) could bring to life.

Broken Spanish brings together a trifecta of Chef Garcia, with restaurateur Bill Chait (with a crazy high batting average for home runs in the restaurant space) and fantastic beverage director Mike Lay, whose bar program at another downtown favorite Faith & Flower has impressed us so much we're stalking following him wherever he goes.

Our first visit happened to fall on Mexico Independence Day. In honor of this, Mike Lay had created an off menu Horchata-Spiced Clarified Milk Punch with Anejo tequila, jamaican rum, cognac, toasted barley, pineapple, piloncillo, canela.

If you've ever tried Mike's inventive take on English Milk Punch at Faith & Flower (which took three days to make, was so easy to drink, and instantly became one of our favorite cocktails in the city): you'd be as excited as we were to check out this Mexican inspired take on the punch.  And it delivered: well balanced, lots of depth and flavor while going down clean, smooth and refreshing.

And yes, I had to Google piloncillo too.  It's an unrefined Mexican sugar made from boiling down cane juice, and molding it into shape (usually a cone shape, which provides the origins for the name).  I haven't tasted it on its own, but it's described as caramel-like in flavor, but with some smokey-ness that adds depth.

We loved it in the drink, and was pleased to see it again on the food menu, used in the Rebenada ($12) pan dulce, foie gras butter, piloncillo. So foie and butter of course are not normally associated with Mexican food - but here is where Chef Garcia's creative crucible of LA flavors is put to work - french ingredients meets mexican in a slice to haunt my dreams.  It's at once savory, earthy, sweet, creamy rich and decadent with the delicate crunch of salt crystals and caramelized sugar layer that is so thin it's not even visible (like the top of the most skillfully executed creme brulee), and soft sweet pillowy bread below.

This is one of the best bites of foie I've had in the city, and I've had a lot.  We ordered a second plate before we'd even finished the first - it was great as dessert as well, a perfect way to bookend the meal.
Then onto the most recognizably Mexican sections of the menu, there were a few options under Tamales, and we chose the Lamb neck, king oyster mushrooms, queso Oaxaca ($16).  Again Chef Garcia takes a very traditional dish and gives it an unexpected spin with an ingredient not normally found in Mexican cooking, but perhaps so prolific in Southern California's amazing farmers markets: the king oyster mushrooms added luscious earthy, umami flavor and juiciness to the humble tamale and balanced the bold flavored braised lamb neck.

Under the Tortillas section, we were drawn immediately to the Whipped Carnitas Fat ($7) - who can refuse pork fat with fresh beautiful blue corn tortillas?  Unfortunately though, for us, this turned out to be our least favorite, only because we are not big fans of spiciness, and the whipped carnitas fat packed an unexpected punch - we really wanted to love this but our scorched taste buds hadn't recovered enough after several glasses of fire extinguishing water to give it another try. 
For our main, we had to get the show stopping Cabeza ($28): a full, uncensored lamb's head, served with pickled onion and cabbage.  Yep, full on skull with jaw, eye sockets, teeth etc. on display.  This is the most literal embodiment of the LA culinary world's support of farm-to-table, nose-to-tail, sustainable approach to food, but the presentation was a little macabre even for these self-professed adventurous foodies.  However, once we got a few nervous laughs out of the way, and with a quick spin of the dish to keep the teeth out of line of sight, a carnivorous treasure hunt was on to uncover fatty cheek meat to dip into the addictive tomato-based sauce, which was the perfect level of spice for us.

As our 'chaser' we ordered the Cazuela ($20) a cocktail intended to serve two, made with mezcal, Blanco tequila, Mandarin Napoleon, lime, fresh jicama, pineapple, fresno chili.  It's named for the dish it's served in, like a mini punch bowl that we scooped out into smaller cups to imbibe.  This one was much stronger that the punch we kicked off the meal with, but probably the appropriate thing to follow the lamb head.

On a return visit, I also tried the Green Garden cocktail ($14) with Chinaco Blanco tequila, Belle de Brillet, lemon, ginger, green juice medley, fennel flower, served over ice.  Regular readers know how much I love cold pressed juice, and this tasted like that, but with the added 'benefit' of booze for buzz.  And it was beautiful.  From the 'Refreshing, With Citrus, Not Too Sweet' part of the drink menu (love that they divide the craft cocktails into sections by the characteristics of a drink that a bar guest would potentially be looking for)

And then there was the Chicharron ($39).  This was not the fried pork rinds I'd come to know and love from Mexican markets - but an elevated, artful take with a giant round of pork belly fried on the outside for a crisp fragrant crust that yields to fatty porky goodness within. Flavored with elephant garlic mojo, topped with radish sprout, prickled herbs.  Definitely portioned to serve two people.

That Chef Garcia is skilled at handling pork is verified by his two-time crowning as 'King of Porc' at Cochon 555, the nationwide competition dedicated to the better white meat - and it's also evident with this dish.
Just when we were feeling very happily 'foodie-wasted' from all the deliciousness, we were presented with a dessert menu we couldn't refuse: the Chile Mango ($11) looked too incredible.  The freshest mango panna cotta was topped by juicy squares of perfectly ripe mango, passion fruit curd, habanero caramel and bricks of cayenne meringue for bit of heat and airy crunchiness to balance the decadent creamy sweet-tart below.  Easily and instantly one of my favorite desserts in the city.

All in all, Broken Spanish has become one of my favorite restaurants in LA, a place that I'd be proud and eager to recommend both to locals, and introduce to out-of-town visitors looking for an inventive introduction to taste of the city of dreams and possibilities.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites  
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience -  6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100% 


Broken Spanish
1050 S Flower St, Los Angeles, CA 90015
Ph:  213.749.1460

Parking: Street (meters in front of restaurant)

Look for reservations (and points) at OpenTable.


Broken Spanish Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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