Of course any and every review of Silver Lake’s remarkably prosaic-sounding Bar Restaurant will have to mention its basic name. But in a surprise turn, LA Times critic Bill Addison seems smitten with chef Douglas Rankin’s dishes and the place’s overall 80s throwback aesthetic despite its moniker. Rankin, an alum of Ludo Lefebvre’s Trois Mec, does a mostly French bistro menu with just enough modern touch to give it that Silver Lake flair. Throw in the vibe, bursting with nostalgic tunes and Art Deco design touches, and Bar Restaurant is a near runaway hit for the cooler-than-cool neighborhood.
Addison seems to nail the ambience with this paragraph:
Booths in the long, narrow dining room are separated by partitions painted a minty shade of green. Stubby, Art Deco sconces jut from beige walls; the light after sundown is the color of drawn butter. Dried palm fronds spring out of planters. Towering, textural floral arrangements by the Boy Who Cried Flowers brighten the dimness. It’s so 1980s in here you might expect Don Johnson to show up in a white suit and start haranguing a patron at the bar.
Food, as expected, is a major highlight of the experience, and at times Addison draws parallel’s to New York City’s wine-focused Wildair in Lower East Side, an equally hip neighborhood:
Rankin’s wink at mussels and frites is the wittiest thing on the menu. Tan mollusks bathe in Dijon cream; a submerged slice of milk bread toast manages to retain its crunch. To finish, the kitchen blankets the whole situation with curly fries. It’s weird and triumphant. For $32, it’s also an expensive high-low masterpiece; for the price, the mussels are deshelled and cooked just to plumpness...
Home in on the lamb tartare, with its tug between the unusually gentle meat and the assertive buckwheat. Manhattan wine bar Wildair (whose food also advanced the “layered look” ethos) pairs buckwheat with beef tartare as a signature dish; Rankin’s rendition with lamb leans more to Lebanese kibbeh nayyeh — I’m here for it.
There are a few misses on the menu, from the wakame bearnaise to the too-generous mushroom French onion soup, but the kitchen makes up for it with some great desserts, namely the brie Anglaise over pain perdu and fancy chestnut Mont Blanc.
Meanwhile, Patricia Escárcega highlights three women taqueras, who often get overshadowed by the mostly male-dominated taco scene. First, Tacos La Madrina’s taquera Maria Cárdenas, who operates a truck all the way out in Hesperia, some 80 miles from LA. Cárdenas has a compelling story, having to overcome tragedy and a difficult family life to open one of the Victor Valley’s most popular taco spots. The LA Times critic says, “People line up for her al pastor, chile-blistered beef birria and her excellent tacos de tripas, slender tubes of offal that she serves half-crisp and half-tender.”
Closer to town, Escárcega shines a light on Elvia Huerta, who pops up with Evil Cooks, at places like Smorgasburg. Huerta used to cook at UCLA’s busy student kitchens but found the work “grueling,” so she traded job safety for pork “marinated in recado negro chile paste,” and cactus “nopales a la milanesa” tortas. Finally, Rosario Rios operates Tacos de Canasta o Al Vapor Rosario in Boyle Heights, preparing hundreds of tacos a day in the neighborhood’s most recognizable street stand.
All three stories are pretty fantastic, with Escárcega writing, “For Rios, and fellow taqueras Maria Cárdenas and Elvia Huerta, the taco business has conferred the kind of financial and professional agency historically denied to women. It has given them freedom.”
Finally, Time Out critic and Food Network personality Simon Majumdar reviews Formosa Cafe, giving it a solid three stars for David Kuo’s Chinese-American menu in the historic West Hollywood space, which received a full remodel last year from 1933 Group. Majumdar writes, “The food at the Formosa Café is definitely good enough to prompt a visit on its own, particularly for those who have yet to visit Little Fatty in Mar Vista; the fact that the dishes can be found in a restaurant now restored to the appearance of its glory years is an added bonus.”
- Review: At Silver Lake’s Bar Restaurant, the name doesn’t say it all [LA Times]
- Las Taqueras: 3 women in the male-dominated world of tacos [LA Times]
- Formosa Cafe Review [Time Out]
- All Week in Reviews [ELA]