Bäco Mercat: An Exam in Culinary Poststructuralism
Some new small-plates restaurants are content to serve you hamburgers and fries. Others bring in influences from Singapore, Copenhagen or Tokyo. But the menu at Bäco Mercat, the new restaurant from Joseph Centeno of Lazy Ox, reads almost like a graduate exam in culinary poststructuralism, mixing flavors from Italy, France, and Western China, Georgia (U.S.) and Georgia (eastern Europe), Tuscany and Peru. Centeno's take on posole includes a chile-red pork broth, crisps of beef and pork, and housemade noodles that happen to look exactly like what comes out of a packet of Top Ramen. Chicken thighs are somehow manipulated to resemble fried pork ribs, then glazed with a sweet, vaguely Sichuan-style chile sauce; whole shrimp are fried with salt and pepper pretty much as they are at Cantonese seafood restaurants -- you eat them entire, shell, head and all.
Bäcos are the flatbread sandwiches, vaguely resembling pita wraps, that Centeno has flirted with at most of the restaurants he has cooked at since he was at Opus in the mid-aughts, but never served officially because he was afraid its popularity would overwhelm the rest of the menu. (Bäcos are awfully good.) Mercat is the Catalan word for
"market,'' and there are, in fact, a fair number of Catalan flavors here: the pepper-almond sauce salbitxada on a baco with crunchy bits of pork belly, fried beef, and aioli; and the thin flatbreads called coca, like Catalan pizzas, topped with lamb sausage and harissa or
green sauce and egg.
If you make it to dessert -- there is very little on this menu you won't feel like eating -- you might as well try the banana-cream cannoli, which are less Sicilian than they are the creamy puff-pastry things you find in every fancy Italian pastry shop north of Rome.
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