When a friend asks you to travel from Malibu to Downtown LA on a Thursday evening to try a new restaurant you've been dying to try, you go. After sampling chef Josef Centeno's bacos a few weeks ago, I knew I had to expand my Centeno repertoire by swinging by his latest Mexican eatery, Bar Amá.
I found the menu to be connected, quirky and representative of Centeno's inventive and playful nature. Dishes like bubbling queso, Frito pie and Mama's enchiladas were no doubt inspired by the Mexican comfort food dished up by Centeno's mother and grandmother in his youth. With the wunderkind chef's signature twists and turns, the homestyle classics were given a facelift to appease a hipper crowd.
The setting was a rustic, industrial space, where distressed wood panels decorated massive columns and aqua blue Spanish tiles adorned the bar walls. Jeweled pendant lanterns illuminated the dark, almost smoky interior with whimsical sparkle reminiscent of a south-of-the-border speakeasy.
We started with the fresh-made guacamole, which had a uniquely chopped texture and was served with house-made tortilla chips, and cauliflower and cilantro pesto, in which the cruciferous blooms were smothered in a tangy, herbaceous dressing. Paired with a crisp rose wine, it was the perfect start to an exciting meal. Though not on the menu, we requested to try the grilled shrimp puffy taco, which was a Bar Amá signature before its untimely removal. You must order this! The flaky, lightly fried shell was the perfect complement to the juicy and briny shrimp stuffed inside and jalapeno cream drizzled throughout.
|Cauliflower and cilantro pesto|
I had never tried goat before, so when I saw the goat hash on the menu, I knew I had to have it. The ground meat patty rested atop perfectly dressed greens and sat just below a perfectly cooked egg. Interesting flavor combinations, but its parts were greater than its sum. The goat was a bit flavorless and tougher than I expected. It wasn't a bad dish--I would recommend it for the salad alone.
We capped off the evening with an interesting dessert: Leche Quesada, similar in texture to an Italian budino. Centeno's incarnation was meant to taste like burnt milk--and it did. So much so, that it was difficult to finish the dish. I found myself going for the freshly whipped cream more than the caramel pudding portion, but it was a bold end to a vibrant meal.