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