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Kris Morningstar's New Casa: Guac y Roll 

A mod Mexican lounge on Bunker Hill

Wednesday, Jan 14 2009
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Since the crumbling City of Nightrooming houses were torn down to make way for the Music Center more than 40 years ago, Bunker Hill famously has been a Sahara of cuisine, occasionally punctuated by outlets of one chain restaurant or another but never quite achieving the critical mass necessary to nurture a culture of great office lunches or even an anemic after-theater scene. Casa, a mod Mexican lounge nestled at the base of the Deloitte & Touche tower — tacos and quesadillas at lunch; a tricky small-plates menu at night — stands out as an ambitious restaurant in an enormous space sculpted to suggest an old henequen hacienda, all curved walls, dark-metal accents and coved ceilings, although the circular private cabanas look closer to the spinning teacups at Disneyland than they do anything from 19th-century Yucatán.

Casa is still in its earliest days, but the cooking does seem awfully busy at the moment — haunches of braised rabbit in a cinnamon-infused chile sauce with chestnuts and crisp bits of cauliflower; crunchy molotes, cigar-shaped Oaxacan quesadillas stuffed with rather overcooked lobster; and tacos of things like short ribs and crusty roast pork, which seem to share the smoky-spicy-sweet flavor profile of most high-end Mexican dishes. To start, there’s something called guac y mole, chips served with little crocks of conventional-enough avocado guacamole and of peanut mole. Chef Kris Morningstar has been at some of the most interesting restaurants to open in Los Angeles in the last several years, and also some of the most annoying, a guy whose natural tendency is to toss four too many ingredients into every dish and the chef who is nicely able to balance his transglobal proclivities with a fetish for local organic produce. At the moment, Casa seems to incorporate his yin and his yang.

Full bar. Lot parking. All major credit cards accepted. 350 S. Grand Ave., downtown, (213) 621-2249 or www.casadowntown.com.

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