This Little Restaurant From A Market

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Cortez Echo Park

www.restaurantcortez.com

eat: Sardines, Radicchio Salad, Clams & Chorizo, Farro & Collards, Merguez Flatbread, Basque Cake, Roast Figs

sip: Urki Txakolina '11, Roagna Dolcetto D'alba '11, Saison Dupont

"Our produce, meat and seafood comes from farms, ranches and fisheries guided by principles of sustainability"  

This credo lines the menu at Cortez, the new, pint-sized restaurant on the edge of Echo Park. Phrases of this sort, peppered with utopian, food lingo--seasonal, local, organic--have become standard practice all over town.  Yet, how does a diner know if they are true?

Considering that Cortez is run by the pair who own Cookbook, the neighborhood's green grocer, the the proof is in the product. Cookbook's shelves are stocked--by owners Marta Teegan and Robert Stelzner--with artisan cheese & charcuterie, fresh-picked produce, and grass-fed beef. Each visit makes me feel like a kid in a candy store, yet instead of sweets, I swoon for caperberries, purple cauliflower, and olive bread.   Understandably, the shop's quality ingredients take center stage at Cortez.

Just opened two weeks ago, Cortez already feels like a neighborhood hub.  On a Sunday night, a medley of families with kids, couples, and solo diners filled the itty-bitty space. Lined with an exposed-brick wall, the intimate restaurant is filled with two communal wood tables, a kitchen-view bar, fresh flowers, and giant, bare bulb chandeliers.  The room mirrors the rustic simplicity of the dishes, which feature seasonal bounty flavored with Mediterranean flavors like za'atar, cumin, and pimenton. Our meal epitomizes late summer, which decadently lasts until mid-October here in L.A.

Txakolina & Dolcetto D'alba

Txakolina & Dolcetto D'alba

I opt for the Urki Txakolina '11. This fizzy and zesty Basque white pairs well with food because it doesn't dominate.  Rob has the Roagna Dolcetto D'alba '11 a light & fruity red well-suited for our Mediterranean fare.  Round two is Saison Dupont, the gold standard of Belgian saison ales. I'm a huge fan of its fermented funk. 

Sardines

Sardines

Fresh is to tinned sardines as a foraged mushroom is to its canned counterpart. Oily and rich, all they need is the char of the grill, a pinch of parsley & cumin, a glug of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.  Less is more...

Radicchio Salad

Radicchio Salad

Radicchio Salad

Farm-fresh radicchio is tossed with crisp apples, walnuts, and a gorgeous St. Agur cheese, a buttery, creamy blue that pleases my normally anti-blue palate.  Its heartier than the usual salad thanks to the bitter radicchio, fatty nuts and pungent cheese. 

Clams & Chorizo

Clams & Chorizo

Plump, Pacific clams, chunks of chorizo, and onions arrive swimming in a saffron broth, which we soak up with addictive, fresh-baked bread.  A brimming bowl of comfort - Spanish-style.

Merguez Flatbread

Merguez Flatbread

While the menu reads "flatbread", our server, Hannah, describes it as Cortez' spin on a hamburger.  I dub it the Greatest Gourmet Gyro.  Two juicy, house-made merguez patties, pickled onions, pickles, and yogurt sauce are stuffed in a fluffy, home-made pita.  Please forgive the fuzzy photo; my hands were dripping with lamb-y, tangy goodness.

Farro & Greens

Farro & Greens

Nutty farro, charred collard greens, pecorino, and za'atar, a Middle-eastern spice blend, create a toothsome melange.  Healthy never tasted so good.

Basque Cake

Basque Cake

Baked by Chef Alex, this dessert is a vanilla-lover's dream.   A buttery, almond crust enrobes fluffy, vanilla pastry cream.   My only complaint is that I wanted a heftier slice.  

Roasted Figs

Roasted Figs

Hannah generously gifts us with the roasted figs because of their "a-mazing" pairing with the basque cake.  Served with homemade, luscious, raisin walnut ice cream, this is what a good fruit dessert should be:  unfussy and focused on the fruit itself.   

 

Tonight (October 28th) Cortez will host a book launch party for Todd Selby, the global, food photographer who featured Cookbook in the New York Times.  The event illustrates how Cortez and Cookbook are inextricably linked.    They share commitment to quality, exquisite taste, and are ardently adored by yours truly.  At either locale, support sustainability...it does a body good!