101 Best restaurants of Los Angeles
CENTENOPLEX (ORSA & WINSTON, BAR AMÁ, BÄCO MERCAT)
The two restaurants that sit side by side downtown near the intersection of 4th and Main streets do not appear to have much in common. Orsa & Winston is a 32-seat tasting-menu restaurant that merges Italian and Japanese cuisines, a gambit that rarely succeeds. It does here. Bar Amá is the California embassy for Tex-Mex cuisine, where queso, cheddary enchiladas and picadillo-stuffed peppers receive the noble rendering they deserve. (If you don’t accept Tex-Mex as one of America’s salient regional cuisines, let’s meet at the bar and have it out over nachos and margaritas.) Josef Centeno, a San Antonio native who has cooked at high temples of gastronomy across America, is chef and owner of these opposites, which stand as equals. By the way: In case tasting menus don’t appeal — even $85 five-coursers serving beauties such as rice porridge with uni cream, Hokkaido scallop and Parmesan — please don’t overlook Orsa & Winston. Centeno began serving an a la carte roster of “snacks” at the restaurant this year that keeps growing in its ambitions; the squid ink spaghettini puttanesca is reason enough to swing by, and you’ll find his handmade pastas on the a la carte lunch menu.
Centeno may be the city’s most creatively restive chef, which is evident at each of his restaurants but arguably most so at Bäco Mercat, the longest-running of his downtown trio. The many countries that touch the Mediterranean Sea provide its primary inspiration, but its geoposition can never be exactly pinpointed. A dip of eggplant, fava beans and za’atar and abalone in browned butter with tomatoes and capers remain constants (for now), but pounce when fried chicken with coleslaw and patatas bravas is a special. Collectively, Centenoplex represents a chef at the apex of his powers, a single downtown block with portals to many cultures.
Wine and beer. Street and lot parking. Credit cards accepted.Read the Los Angeles Times review »