The Monster loves condiments. His refrigerator is a United Nations of sauces, dressings, mustards, oils, marinades, ketchups and pastes. You’ll find Salsa Lizano the insanely addictive national sauce of Costa Rica; Sur Le Quais Moutarde Au Jus De Truffle limited edition truffle mustard imported from France and used sparingly due to its scarcity and cost which rivals that of gold per ounce; Original Anchor Bar Buffalo chicken wing sauce because everything tastes better Buffalo-style; Pickapeppa for days when The Monster yearns to return to his life in Jamaica; Asian Chili Garlic when speaking or breathing within a few feet of anyone is not necessary.
And until The Monster visits Baco Mercat he can’t even conceive it possible to find fault with a dish’s condiment usage. But alas, the day has come for him to admit that sometimes too much sauce ruins a good thing.
But first things first. Baco Mercat is an exciting new eatery in downtown LA from Josef Centeno, impresario behind Lazy Ox (which The Monster loves) and Aburiya Toranoku (which The Monster finds disappointing). Its New York look and feel compliments the engaging menu boasting a wonderful tapestry of flavors and influences that span the globe.
There is a selection of appetizers, salads and small plates which might include spice roasted peanuts with paprika or potato salad with bacon, egg and tarragon or Szechuan chicken ribs with chile. In the mood for soup and you may try the “Bazole”, a house-made noodle, pork-chile broth with pork and beef carnitas served with fried egg. A series of “Coca’s,” crispy flat bread, include the “el cordero” with house-made merguez, harissa and chevre goat cheese or the “cream of mushroom” with oyster mushroom, sage and pecorino cheese as a few of the offerings.
But the spot is named after the eponymous “Baco,” a creation of the chef from his days at the long-defunct (but Monster appreciated) Meson G. He would craft these sandwich/pita/pizza like creations for his staff to eat and given their tremendous enthusiasm for them a new restaurant concept was formed.
The “original” is pork belly, beef carnitas and salbitxada but Centeno now offers seven variations on the theme like “the albondiga” with tomato sauce, pine nuts and garlic aioli and the “beef tongue schnitzel” with feta-poblano, chickpea and salmorejo. The Monster peruses the list as he snacks on the chips and sauce proffered when one visits. They are a nice idea but not entirely well conceived. The hard chips are at times too salty, at others lacking in taste and the dipping sauce is one shade off. It brings a little piquant heat but is watery and one note in flavor.
A pickled vegetable salad with olive oil dressing and the “el pesco baco” are the call. This version features crispy shrimp, sricacha and chive. It is not soon thereafter that the wonderful salad is brought to the table. You can pickle an old gym sock and The Monster will love it. Luckily, this salad has no gym socks, instead it features a delightful assemblage of vegetables and fruits and is tart and sweet and perfectly fantastic. What a lovely introduction to the flavors of Baco Mercat.
When the Baco arrives The Monster has visions of this restaurants becoming a frequent haunt. Rush hour traffic be damned, The Monster must eat a Baco. Work be damned, it’s Baco time. Bursting out of the pita like bread casing, the smorgasbord of ingredients look like a riot of taste-bud inducing orgasmic eating.
And then reality sets in. While the Baco is a cornucopia of ingredients and taste it is also smothered in the too creamy sauce which becomes the dominant thematic element of the sandwich. The Monster finds himself (gasp) wiping the thick offending condiment away in order to enjoy the “el pesco.”
A man who knew he must marry his girlfriend when he caught her doing shots of barbecue sauce straight from the bottle at three in the morning (true story) finds himself defeated by a surfeit of sauce.
So while The Monster will definitely make his way back to Baco Mercat it will not be with the unbridled zeal he at first believed would accompany it. And he will be wise to say, “please go easy on the sauce…”
Why go? You are a saucy little number.
Monster rating: 3 ½/5 Monsters
408 S Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013