The Cute Gardener has a habit of following ex-Patina chefs around Los Angeles. I don’t blame him because anyone who can hold high court in Patina’s exquisite dining room is bound to evolve on their own once leaving those hallowed kitchens.
I have a habit of following the trail of exotic Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors around Los Angeles always looking for the next pickled pepper, puffed bread or sour cheese that will tickle my fancy.
Together these two habits brought us to Acabar where we heard Patina and Palate alum Chef Octavio Becerra was creating a taste bud’s tour along the ancient Asian spice trail. Housed in a Moroccan-style pimp’s palace of a building complete with lots of mirrors, mosaics and a lounge area reminiscent of an opium den, I was a sucker from the moment we stepped foot through the gaudy, over-sized golden door.
I haven’t done a flat out food porn blog entry in ages but this restaurant merits it completely. Original concoctions, bold and addictive flavors, and a respectful nod to the proper quantities of spice had me scrambling to remember ingredients and recipes in my head all evening so that I could attempt to imitate them later at home.
We were told to order the porn bread early as it would take 25 minutes to cook and we did. Who could resist with a name like that? I was envisioning cheesy and crusty sin. It did get delivered to us, slipped erotically from a hot metal tube onto our plate but resembled more of a mushy sweet potato cake studded with aged cheddar and bacon than bread. Still, the flavors were delicious and I could have eaten the whole log alone not to mention the almond honey butter that compelled me to stoop so low as to actually lick the knife.
The best dish of the evening was a long and horizontal plate filled with caramelized cauliflower, braised perfectly tender with simultaneously buttery and tangy sauces of currants, dill and za-atar. The accompanying pile of pickled peppers was the best I’ve had in a decade.
More like dense little meatballs than what I usually consider arancini, these mini rice balls were stuffed with lamb, crispy risotto, winter squash and went soothingly well with a mint and pickled walnut salad.
I normally order shrimp toast when I see it because I love the concept. I always imagine it will be plump bits of shrimp and the crispiness of toast but what I normally find is soggy breaded shrimp pastes or the like. This was exquisitely fried to a puff with a dandy little fried egg on top, encapsulating nice bits of rock shrimp, Thai basil and notes of fish sauce.
The krispy kelebek dessert, although verdict is out on how authentically made, was a flaky, heavenly pile of sweet layered dough accented with persimmon, cassia and rum preserve and a honey pistachio labneh. Just those three words: honey, pistachio and labneh spell Unorthodox Foodie in Armenian.
The roasted pear duo tartlette’s tart shell was too hard for the beautiful fruit inside of it but I let the CG polish that off while I dove into the cinnamon, tahini, date ice cream. Another three words that describe objects created for my specific tongue.
A cocktail list by historical eras offered up fun ways to order drinks. I, of course, chose an archaic sazerac of cognac, rye, Peychaud’s bitters and an absinthe rinse while the CG went for a classic Cuban of cognac, apricot liqueur and lemon, which I fancied immensely. For dessert we shared a nice light rum, of which choices were many alongside a rambling bourbon and other spirits menu.