This week’s crop of LA Times restaurant reviews is a double-decker, with both Patricia Escárcega and Bill Addison focusing their efforts on the massive Manufactory at the Row in Downtown.
First up is Escárcega, who spends time addressing Tartine Bianco, the more casual side of the 44,000 square foot building, which houses multiple restaurants, a marketplace, and a wholesale production facility. Ultimately, she is high on the big, easygoing cafe, where bread rules supreme. And, on the right night, the place can feel like it lives up to its lofty (and lively) expectations.
At dinner time, the thing you see on almost every table is the bread plate — a thick hunk of Tartine’s country loaf, a wedge of long-fermented sesame bread and some tender oat porridge sourdough, paired with things like tangy eggplant dip; a creamy butter bean hummus; and a sublime bowl of buttery, peppery warm ricotta. At Tartine Bianco, the bread plate is perhaps the whole point of dinner.
Then again, on quieter weekday evenings the Row can come off like a “semi-private compound for the ‘creative class’,” with Escárcega adding that the property is still finding its core customer base. “Outside the Friday and Saturday night dinner rush,” she says of Tartine Bianco, “reservations rarely seem to be required.”
Still, there is a lot to like about the menu at Tartine Bianco once inside, including a pretty special patty melt for lunch. And then there’s this bit of sunshine:
Large-format dishes shine: a slow-cooked lamb shank is blissfully tender and stewy. A whole Thai snapper, sheathed in a lightly spicy batter, is phenomenally crisp and moist. Almond wood-fired rotisserie chicken, crisp-skinned and smoky, is an old-fashioned dish attuned to the very best kind of backyard barbecue cooking.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the open dual kitchen sits Alameda Supper Club, a counteracting sit-down dinner spot meant to shine more of a light on Chris Bianco’s cooking than Liz Prueitt and Chad Robertson, whose breads and pastries rule supreme at Tartine Bianco. Critic Bill Addison says that, while some of the dinner dishes cast a perfect Cal-Ital sunbeam, others fail to live up to the glow of Chris Bianco’s name. It starts with the pastas:
These pastas are utterly agreeable, a statement that can be applied to the food here on the whole. The salads come sharply dressed, asparagus arrive attractively scored from the grill, a rib-eye bathed in garlic butter and filleted black cod gilded with thyme have been expertly cooked. This is a fine restaurant, and if you’re looking for an intimate and pleasant (though not inexpensive) date night restaurant downtown, you could stop reading now and book an easy-to-score reservation.
Addison doubles down, saying Alameda Supper Club “yearns” for more of Bianco’s influence and perspective, because otherwise the place leaves him with “a general impression of over-politeness.” In sum:
I want more dishes to leave such a distinct impact. I’m looking for the rich exchange that’s possible between the out-of-town principals and our energized moment of dining in Los Angeles. How does this accomplished team better build on their successes elsewhere and also enter into a more meaningful, direct dialogue with the city’s culinary culture? When I can taste the answer at Alameda Supper Club, I’ll know the restaurant has found its lasting direction.
And, finally, both Addison and Escárcega teamed up for a primer on the place as a whole, including the morning coffee and pastry takeout window and the market bar. Consider their notes in this separate page to be something of a capsule review of everything Manufactory does (or does not do well), from the “delicious” almond-filled frangipane croissant to the market bar’s “standout choices for a light meal.”
Manufactory. 757 S. Alameda St., Los Angeles, CA.