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The Amalur Project: Sergio Perera and Company Pop Up at Cortez (Vinegar Dust! Foragers!)

Rye toast with pickled root veg and vinegar dust
Rye toast with pickled root veg and vinegar dust
A. Scattergood

If you haven't been checking your Facebook page, Twitter feed, Instagram account, etc., lately, you may be sadly unaware of the latest temporary food-as-art installation, the Amalur Project, which last night debuted at Echo Park's Cortez. I'm sorry. But the happy news is that, as is often the case, there's always dinner tonight.

The Amalur Project is brought to you by Spanish-born chef Sergio Perera, who has, according to the website, cooked in such notable kitchens as Arzak, Jean-Georges, Mugaritz -- and, perhaps most importantly, his grandfather's kitchen. Joining Perera in the project is Burbank-born, Japan-raised Jacob Takehiro Kear, who cooked at Lukshon in Culver City and Tapas Molecular Bar in Tokyo and most recently was chef de cuisine at Eva. Also in the (tiny) kitchen is Steve Monnier, born and trained in France, and who has cooked at many laudable restaurants there and here, including L'Orangerie (which may trump everybody else's fancy credits, if you're an L.A. Francophile foodist).

Yes, the chefs have pilgrimaged to Noma. Yes, they forage. Not only do they trudge out into the surrounding local hills and dales and beautiful forests but they employ professional foragers to do so for them, namely Pascal Baudar and Mia Wasilevich, who have a ton of insanely laudable credits, too.

hirame, kobujime, buckwheat, ume kombu tea, plum sorrel
hirame, kobujime, buckwheat, ume kombu tea, plum sorrel
A. Scattergood

The Amalur Project's current pop-up runs Monday and Tuesday nights at Cortez, as that restaurant is closed on those two nights, and will extend through May 21. Dinner comes in the form of two $55, four-course prix fixe menus, one vegetarian and one not, which you pre-select on the website.

Yes, you have to book your reservations and pay in advance (see: Trois Mec) on PayPal, but if you've ever been to Cortez, you'll know how absurdly small the space is and thus how potentially problematic to orchestrate. You might also consider the kind of crazy sourcing that goes into your meal (see: YOU try keeping a bunch of cattails you've just picked from some lovely stream somewhere bright and snappy and beautiful when you're stuck in traffic on the 210).

Kear tells us that 60% of Amalur's product on any given night is foraged, including the cattails, which, if you think about it, is pretty awesome. Especially considering that foraging here in the summer isn't quite as cool and pastoral as in, say, Finland.

Back to Noma. "Yes, Sergio and I are inspired by the whole Nordic food movement," Kear emailed last week. But, he said, citing a sun-bleached laundry list of extraordinarily talented L.A. chefs who are also thus inspired, "we want to create something more simple, and that means to only use four components per dish and let the flavor pop when you consume it." As for what this means to them, one of the components of a leek dish on both menus is "watercress stems." And yeah, they were kind of great.

Black sesame gougieres, mallow, (inedible) rocks
Black sesame gougieres, mallow, (inedible) rocks
A. Scattergood

Other things to know. In addition to the two fixed menus, the chefs in question probably will give you lots of adorable amuses. Last night's included one of rye toast, pickled root vegetables, foraged greenery and vinegar dust (!); and a kind of brilliant dish of black sesame gougieres, mallow and more foraged greenery that was presented on a small pile of black pebbles that looked alarmingly like the actual melty cheese-filled pastries. (See also: Your gorgeous food as terrarium.)

There was also an extra dessert: two smallish caramelized milk meringue sandwiches set on a very chilled stone slab. Nicely tangy yogurt sherbet, dehydrated yogurt: You get the idea. And wait, there's more. There are "snacks" available a la carte for extra cash: the cattails; plus charred Little Gem lettuce, lardo, more greenery and vinegar; or also, last night, carrots, carrot caramel, cocoa and crispy milk skin, which was as close as you can get to wild orange (both veg and color) on a plate and have it work and be very delicious and not be, say, a 5-year-old in art class.

Yet other things to know. Cortez, again, is tiny -- and composed of a snug bar and two communal tables. If you hate communal tables, either suck it up or go catch a Dodger game instead. You will be given tongs along with your other nonfoodist, normal-people utensils. If you hate these, too, see previous comment. The chefs, happy with their gorgeous cuisine, probably will serve you much of your food, and not because the service sucks (it does not) or they secretly know you.

(Disclosure: I've gone foraging with Kear once before while reporting a story but had never met Perera nor his girlfriend nor his girlfriend's mother before in my life. Hi Bree!!!)

Some last things. You can buy booze (beer and wine) or bring your own (corkage fee). Also if there's a baseball game at Chavez Ravine, be prepared for traffic, but probably not in any way that will mess you up overly. Also maybe remember to tip your server if you've pre-paid.

The Amalur Project will be doing another pop-up in addition to the one at Cortez: on Saturday, May 4, and Sunday, May 5, at the Vienna Café (also called Sal's Los Angeles). Unsurprisingly, dates and times may change, since that's the nature of pop-ups. And finally, and perhaps best of all, there will almost certainly be more plates of short ribs, salsify, fried burdock and licorice in our future.

celery root, caramelized veg jus, tapioca pearls
celery root, caramelized veg jus, tapioca pearls
A. Scattergood

cattails, yogurt, rye, cumin
cattails, yogurt, rye, cumin
A. Scattergood

tongs, napkin
tongs, napkin
A. Scattergood

And in somewhat related news:

- Will Forage for Food? Chefs at Eva Take Weeding to a New Level

- The 5 Things You Need To Know About Cortez in Echo Park


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Cortez

1365 Allison Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90026

213-481-8015

www.restaurantcortez.com


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