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LA Times Critic Loves Dama’s Lush Decor and Pan-Latin Surprises

Each offers something different, but delightful

The Los Angeles Times has two new reviews out this week, each focusing on different parts of this fair city. First up is Dama, the pan-Latin cocktail and dinner restaurant at the edge of Downtown’s Fashion District.

The City Market South development is lucky to have Dama, writes Patricia Escárcega, if only because the space is so enduringly charming. She writes:

There’s a romantic throwback vision underpinning Dama, a view of Latin America that’s shaped more by the idea of Hemingway sipping daiquiris in ’40s-era Havana than the modern realities of a vast, complicated place. You can feel it in Dama’s warmly lighted dining room, which squares with the vision of pre-revolutionary, Art Deco Havana you see in the movies. The sultry two-tiered space offers up the shopworn bohemian elegance of Old World tile floors, plush wicker seating and lush tropical foliage.

And what of star chef Antonia Lofaso’s cooking and the cocktails from Pablo Moix and Steve Livigni? They each play the pan-Latin card well, which is something that’s certainly not easy to do when trying to nail down a diverse region and series of cultures across dozens of different countries. Luckily the linguica sausage “intoxicates you with its tangible crispness and a heavy perfume of garlic and pepper,” while the rest of the menu shines from “the parade of bracingly fresh seafood and the hefty batidos de banana.” The drinks are entrancing and the “expert blender drinks restore something like dignity to fruity daiquiris and piña coladas.” All in all, Dama sounds like a great time in Downtown.

Dama, Fashion District
Dama in Downtown
Wonho Frank Lee

Meanwhile up in Highland Park, Bill Addison tackles Hippo, the semi-hidden, vaguely pasta-based casual California newcomer from chef Matt Molina. It’s part of the newly-dubbed Hippoplex along with Highland Park Wine, Triple Beam Pizza, and Go Get Em Tiger, but the 80-seat dinner destination stands out on its own, he writes.

Then the place envelops you — in its toffee-colored lighting, its energizing din, and in its casual crowd, a happy-looking mix that defies any sort of easy categorization.

The food weaves from casual Mediterranean to almost Japanese in places (“anyone who’s ever eaten at a Nobu restaurant will see the inspiration of Matsuhisa’s Japanese-Peruvian tiraditos”) though more in technique than anything else. One of the bestsellers is:

a gutsy, gratifying mixed grill of sorts: one grilled pork rib crackling with fennel seed and black pepper, sausage revved with fennel to taste that spice in stereo, and cranberry beans that, in contrast to the meat, melt to a purée on the tongue.

And then there are the pastas.

The winter rotation of pastas includes a ravioli variation called triangoli filled with celery root purée in a buttered shallot sauce. The combination of gentle, earthy-sweet flavors simply makes a soul breathe easier. Cappellacci, a hat-shaped pasta, revolves with the calendar: The bundles contain sweet corn in the summer and, currently and wonderfully, a classic trio of winter squash dressed with browned butter and sage. Lasagna veers on and off the menu. Say yes when you see it.

Addison also enjoys the cocktails and has a soft spot for David Rosoff’s wine list, and he certainly “won’t blame anyone” committed to just trying the pastas the next time they go into Hippo. But really the place has more to offer from the “tightly knit network of cuisines that Molina seamlessly brings together,” all categorized under the magnificent label of California cuisine.

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