Bar Ama – Uh, It’s a Lot Better Tex-Mex Than Spoons

27 Dec

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I don’t have that much to say about Bar Ama, Josef Centeno’s Tex-Mex restaurant in his growing dtla empire. I’ve only been once and it was fantastic. Centeno is always spot-on with flavors and always seems to have several tricks up his sleeves in creating new flavors. In this case, he dedicated this sophomore effort to his personal past — Ama is what he called his grandmother, and Tex-Mex is the cuisine of his youth.

Sorry my photos are a bit grainy. The place is dim and the phone is weak. By now, you get the idea for the decor principles of the moment: reclaimed woods, exposed ductwork, chairs that look like they were found at a rummage sale but probably cost $300 each. It will feel to you like you stepped into Baco Mercat’s sibling place, which it is.

There is a bar which dispenses trendy cocktails. Hmm . . . maybe I should try to get more excited about these current design trends. It all seemed a little more fresh when Baco Mercat opened a couple years ago, with its schoolroom chairs and BacoPop sodas.
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Ah, but the food is something to really pay attention to. First was an anti-Tex-Mex starter, the citrus marinated crudo of yellowtail. Super fresh fish, perfectly seasoned with oranges, apple, cilantro, and a hint of chile.
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Next came the puffy tacos, a staple of Tex-Mex. I think these might be off the menu now, but you should try to ask your server if they secretly still serve these. They were wonderful. The fried shells were light and flaky, the perfect complement to the rich salsas and crisp cabbage and cheese inside.
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We also had the duck confit taquitos. Wow. I love duck confit, but feared it would be wasted by getting drowned out by the stronger flavors in the taquito. The taquito was fried really well, emphasizing the crispiness and not the oil. And the salsas on top were fresh and flavorful without being heavy. With a bit of sour cream and guacamole, the duck confit was still the star of the dish. Such an interesting combination of classic duck confit with Mexican flavors. This was a revelation.
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We also had a vegetable dish, I think the spaghetti squash. The picture I took was terrible, so no visual. But I think Centeno does not get enough credit for being a master with veggie dishes. He did it at Baco Mercat and that continues here at Bar Ama.

We finished with the leche quemada, pictured below. The burnt milk pudding was wonderful — it’s basically a caramel, or dulce de leche, but not too sweet. It’s served with a whipped cream and a few interesting garnishes: fennel pollen, roasted almonds, and a big homemade graham cracker.
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Overall, Bar Ama continues Centeno’s streak of being awesome. Dude can seriously cook and takes a cuisine you think of as lowbrow and elevates it. Centeno’s control of flavors is so precise that every dish was well balanced and still strongly flavored.

Bar Ama
118 WEST 4TH ST.
Los Angeles, California 90013
213.687.8002

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