The bäco is back, and this time, in a starring role. Josef Centeno's Bäco Mercat is slated to open Monday, Oct. 24 for lunch.
The chef and owner describes his signature dish as "a sandwich-taco-pizza hybrid that encompasses my style of cooking in a sandwich: a lot of flavorful meat and sauce combinations." The name derives from Centeno's concept of a global taco.
You may remember the much-celebrated bäco from the chef's past restaurants. He masterminded the bäco at Meson G, refined it at Opus and carried it over to Lot 1. Occasionally he serves it at the Lazy Ox Canteen, the bistro praised for its adventurous blend of international ingredients, where he is chef and partner.
Bäco Mercat will serve six variations. The original features crispy pork belly and beef carnitas with two Catalan-style sauces: romesco and salbitxada. (Food from Spain's Catalonia region, including Barcelona, has strongly influenced his cooking, Centeno says.) Another dubbed "carne picada" involves blood sausage and lamb merguez. Poultry-lovers can eat a chicken escabeche version. The "crispy shrimp" bäco gets topped with pickled green tomatoes and caraway pepper sauce. Vegetarians are covered with a pickled veggie variety. The "bäco crispy," a spin-off, is a flat bread baked with toppings similar to those in the sandwiches. Centeno says it's comparable to the pizza-like Spanish coca.Centeno keeps on combining cultures with his "bazole" (no umlaut), a blend of Mexican pozole (typically simmered with pork, dried chiles, garlic, herbs and spices) and Japanese tonkotsu ramen broth (pork stock). Centeno says he'll also add "a spike of harissa [North African hot chili sauce] for good measure." Noodles made in-house will complete the bazole. How do you eat it? With a Bäco Mercat spork, of course. Gradually, Centeno says, he'll add sides and daily specials, including salads and desserts.
Bäco Mercat will offer wine, beer and a "handful of spirits" either plain or mixed. But forget the cranberry juice and Mai Tai mix. Instead, choose from an array of original sweet-and-sour sodas. Celery, pineapple-Szechuan or peach-and-black pepper for the adventurous; or strawberry, rhubarb and cherry.
As well, Centeno will present "bäco pop," his own soda made with cane sugar in ginger, orange, and juniper flavors. Teas and coffees will be on hand from Sugarbird Sweets & Teas and Handsome Coffee Roasters, respectively. "Mercat" is Catalan for "market." Accordingly, Bäco Mercat will sell several of its creations: olive oil, bäco bread, sodas, tea (a Sugarbird collaboration) and the bazole spork.
Bäco Mercat is located in the 105-year-old San Fernando Building along with Pete's Café in downtown L.A.'s Old Bank District. The location is a half-mile from the Lazy Ox Canteen in Little Tokyo, where Centeno will continue as chef.
The 1,700-square-foot space holds 59 seats, with 12 more on the patio. The kitchen is nestled behind the bar, offering a peek at the action. Soaring ceilings, a wall of windows, polished concrete floors, brass accents and a wide mirror with "Bäco Mercat" lettered in gold make for a striking interior. Take note of the old schoolhouse chairs that Centeno finished himself, along with "a string of other stuff," he says. Paint-splattered jeans, shirt, and hands are proof. He half-jokingly calls the style "refurbished chic."
In its first two weeks, Bäco Mercat will only serve lunch (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.). It will open for dinner Tuesdays and Wednesdays (6 to 10 p.m.) beginning November 8. To make a reservation, call the restaurant between 3 and 5 p.m.
Bäco Mercat: 408 S. Main St., Los Angeles; (213) 687-8808.