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At Broken Spanish, chef Ray Garcia leads a revolution in modern Mexican cuisine


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Chef Ray Garcia has been suggesting for years that he is capable of greatness. In Fig at the Fairmont Miramar in Santa Monica, he’s spent the past half a decade producing the kind of nifty, farm-to-table stuff you’d expect from a good hotel restaurant. There might have been no indication that the chef had more to offer than beet salads and creative panna cotta – if it hadn’t been for his special knack for cooking pork.

Two years in a row, Garcia beat every other chef in Los Angeles participating in Pig 555, a traveling competition that pits chefs against each other in their suitability to use an ancestral breed pig.

Cochon 555 hosts regional tours across the country, followed by a grand finale at the Aspen Food & Wine Festival, where regional winners compete against each other. Garcia came first in Los Angeles in 2013 and 2014, conquering chefs such as Jet Tila and Joshua Wingham from the Bazaar. Last year, Garcia won the national round in Aspen, beating eight Michelin-starred chefs from across the country.

It seemed likely, given these victories, that Garcia was intended for more than casual, upscale hotel cuisine. And who better to notice and recruit such talent than Bill Chait, the restaurateur who seems to own about three-quarters of LA’s hottest restaurants? I guess Chait met Garcia and asked him what he really wanted to cook. And Garcia said, “Modern Mexican cuisine. ”

Earlier this year, Chait tasked Garcia with filling two spaces recently vacated by chefs who had similar goals to Garcia’s. Mo-Chica, Ricardo Zarate’s colorful Peruvian restaurant downtown, would become BS Taqueria, serving anomalies like beetroot tortas and tacos with toppings like lardo and knives. And the space near the Staples Center that had been Rivera would become Broken Spanish, an ambitious, upscale restaurant where Garcia would take the food he ate growing up and make it more creative, using better ingredients.

It’s nice to see Broken Spanish enter the Rivera space, given that Chef John Sedlar had spent years trying to promote the glory of modern Latin cuisine at this restaurant. While the closure of Rivera has been a loss for Los Angeles, Broken Spanish is an indication that we can move forward with our appreciation for sophisticated cuisine that relies on the flavors of Mexico and Latin America. Garcia’s perspective is very different from Sedlar’s, but it seems just as vital.

The space is quite similar: the dining room, bar, and open kitchen are elongated rather than deep against the glass facade of the Flower Street building. But the feel has been cleared up considerably – the dark, sleek decor of the Rivera era is gone. Light wood, hanging plants and geometric tiles give the room a sunny look. Tables are topped with colorful crochet doilies and painted pottery candles. It feels like home but not hokey.

Requesón cheese topped with snow peas, black sesame, agave and sea beans;  Credit: Photo by Anne Fishbein

Requesón cheese topped with snow peas, black sesame, agave and sea beans; Credit: Photo by Anne Fishbein

I have to admit, my one visit to BS Taqueria, which opened a few weeks before Broken Spanish, left me a little skeptical of Garcia’s high Mexican food brand. I’m not averse to a $ 40 taco lunch if that lunch is considerably more rewarding than the $ 8 taco lunch I can get elsewhere, but I can’t say it was. Those clam and bacon tacos everyone’s raving about were slightly jarring and also incredibly salty, and nothing else really made a big impression. But I’m happy to say that I didn’t have such a problem with Broken Spanish, which immediately revealed its best attributes.

It was a whole fish that completely won me over on a first visit: a red snapper served on a “green clamato” (a cheerful green sauce with a citrus flavor and a whisper of the ocean) and accompanied clams, avocado and soft leeks left in chunks large enough to enhance their mild, vegetal flavor. Garcia plays with the kind of inventiveness that feels natural, and he puts delight first.

There are thick black tortillas made from old corn, which you can get with fried lentils (a cooler idea in theory than in practice) or whipped carnitas fat.

But the tortillas themselves are the real treat. You should order them with just about anything you eat here; they are particularly useful for attacking rabbits mixiote, a rabbit meat and rabbit liver stew soaked in chili, served in a cellophane bag with nopales, bacon and cherry tomatoes. Deep, spicy and warm, this dish will be even more vital when the weather cools.

Rabbit Mixiote, a stew of rabbit meat and liver soaked in chili served in a cellophane bag;  Credit: Anne Fishbein

Rabbit Mixiote, a stew of rabbit meat and liver soaked in chili served in a cellophane bag; Credit: Anne Fishbein

This menu offers many comfort foods that are both exciting and calming. You can have tamales stuffed with lamb neck or with a delicious mix of favas, peas and Swiss chard. There are also touches of true modernism, such as a nice jumble of snow peas, sea beans, black and creamy sesame. demand cheese.

Much of Garcia’s cuisine is so well suited for consumption that, in a different setting, it could almost be Mexican gourmet pub food. Huge grilled shrimp with pineapple and oxtail quesadillas make great snacks to drink, and the cocktail menu has plenty of pairings with dishes like this. Drinks range from light and fruity to strong and serious. And the bar staff are engaged and charming. The wine list is also quite good, with a lot of whites in particular which resist the spiciness and intensity of the food.

Considering the role of pork in Garcia’s rise to power, you’d think it would be a pig menu, but there isn’t a lot of pork to speak of except a giant chicharron topped with elephant garlic. mojo, radish sprouts and pickled herbs. But I feel like with Broken Spanish, Garcia is looking to get away from the things he was known for in the past, to follow his heart and not much else.

We should be happy that he had the chance to do so. Broken Spanish is an encouraging step forward for a chef who was obviously meant to be at the forefront of the modern Mexican cooking revolution.

BROKEN SPANISH | Three stars | 1050 S. Flower St., city center | (213) 749-1460 | Spanish breeze.com | Every day, 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. | Appetizers, $ 15- $ 35 | Complete bar | Car service

Credit: Anne Fishbein

Credit: Anne Fishbein

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