Photos here: http://rainydaysandsundays-c.blogspot...
Certain things bring me great comfort. The sound of Ira Glass’ voice on a Sunday morning, typing the last word on an especially-trying article minutes before deadline, and a favorite neighborhood restaurant I can count on time and time again. The latter is hard to come by; there are very few restaurants that I go to on a regular basis, because a large majority of eateries just don’t deliver on the first or even fifth try.
One of my favorite regulars was Opus; that is, until Chef Josef Centeno left several months ago. So it was with great expectation and hope that I walked into Lot 1 last night, his brand-new (5-days-old to be exact) restaurant in the heart of Echo Park. About one-sixth the size and grandeur of Opus, the space is cheerful and inviting – the definition of “cozy.” Dark earth tones warm the walls and low-hanging burnt orange lights omit a soft glow on the molasses-colored tables and chairs.
The menu had changed slightly since I saw it a couple of weeks ago in the window of the yet-unopened restaurant. But from what I remember of Centeno’s tenure at Opus, he changes the menu frequently depending on what’s fresh, and I’ve always appreciated the sense of adventure it brings to the diner. We started off with a selection of cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery, which included an utterly indulgent truffle cheese; we also had the charcuterie plate with it as well. I can’t recall the names of everything on the plate, but I loved the spicy chorizo, and the pickled green beans was a pleasant discovery for me. The plate also came with candied kumquats, olives almonds and toasted baguette slices (forgot to take a photo) and everything on the plate was delicious.
The Chef then sent out a plate of popovers (everyone in the restaurant received this). My friend Rachel, who has never tried popovers before, declared them to be her new favorite food. They came out hot, fluffy and with melted butter and a side of a chimichurri-like dipping sauce. Excellent.
Next up we had the sashimi of yellowtail with charred leek oil, pickled serrano chili and a radish salad. This was beautifully presented and the radish accompaniment really complimented the fresh flavor of the fish. I especially enjoyed the bite from the chili.
Along with the hamachi, we tried a bowl of the confit beet gazpacho with creme fraiche and chicharronnes. I am normally not a fan of gazpacho, as so many places make it chunky and to me, a chunky cold soup is just not an appealing texture. This, on the other hand, was smooth and rich in flavor, and the cool cream and salty bits of fried pork belly balanced out the natural sweetness of the beet soup. And the color! Just be careful not to splash while slurping this soup.
As I perused the menu trying to pick my main course, I mentioned to the waitress that I'd love to order the steak because it comes with bone marrow toast, but decided out loud that I had already ordered too much so I'd opt for the fish. She must have mentioned this to the Chef, as he sent out a plate of toasted bread with bone marrow butter. Just the idea of bone marrow butter fills me with a ridiculous and overwhelming sense of joy; eating it slathered on warm, toasted bread was, well, Heaven.
Rachel opted for the hand-torn pasta with brown butter, pecorino and herbs topped with a soft fried egg. It was delicate and really showcased the fresh herbs (I tasted parsley and tarragon). She enjoyed every bite and proclaimed it to be a great success.
I had the market fresh fish of the day, which happened to be halibut. It was topped with a mixture of herbs and toasted pine nuts, and sat atop a bed of sauteed cherry tomatoes and an infused oil of some sort. It was light and fresh and lovely.
For dessert, we shared the chocolate mousse with vanilla fleur de sel and olive oil. Yes, olive oil. The mousse was incredibly rich and chocolatey, with the salt adding a great balance to the flavor. The olive oil added a nice richness to the dish, though the mousse didn't really need it.
The consensus? That Lot 1 will no doubt become a regular hangout for me, a place to try new and inventive dishes all created with a great deal of thought, care and passion. The service was outstanding; quite a feat for a restaurant so young. I wish they had alcohol (they will be acquiring a wine/beer license soon), but very much enjoyed the house-made aqua fresca of watermelon, pineapple and cucumber. I look forward to many more meals here.
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