Chef Mark Peel is considered one of the fathers of California cuisine (Campanile, The Tar Pit, La Brea Bakery), but his latest epicurean endeavor was ignited by a visit to Manhattan’s Grand Central Station more than two decades ago. Back then, he was enraptured as he watched cooks at the transportation hub’s legendary Oyster Bar prepare shellfish stews and pan roasts in swiveling, steel, orb-shaped, steam kettles.
The food created with the contraptions thoroughly captured and infused all of the flavors from the ingredients, and dishes were prepared quickly. Peel was so smitten by the technique that he never stopped thinking about it. It played in his head like a song on endless loop.
Now Peel has his own version of this steam-kettle setup at Bombo in another Grand Central–Downtown L.A.’s Grand Central Market.
Bombo, which opened Thursday, is Peel’s casual, affordably priced, sorta seafood stand (and fish market) where, in his open kitchen, the spotlight shines brightly on a neat row of steel-jacketed steam kettles that cook individual portions of fish stew, steamed shellfish, and even a vegan broth. The word bombo is Spanish for bass drum, which is what the steam kettles are said to resemble.
Broth is boss at Bombo where Peel’s signature bowls are anchored by richly layered brews such as hearty beef, old-fashioned chicken, classic lobster bouillabaisse, and umami-infused vegan.
In fact, the vegan broth is a great example of the amount of building upon each concoction requires to achieve the most flavor. The deep umami-ness of kombu (edible kelp) is extracted through water, and there’s a separate liquid with reconstituted shiitake. Both are united in the kettle as the broth’s base, then onions, garlic, carrots, celery, fennel, and other spices are added. The vegan broth is designed for the Seared Tofu bowl, with a spicy vegan ragout of napa cabbage, pickled garlic, and radishes.
The Steamed Clams and Pork Sausage bowl is also a standout, teeming with lobster-broth goodness and varied textures from a gang of chickpeas and toothy ribbons of fresh egg pappardelle.
But Bombo’s menu, with no item over $14, goes beyond broths as well. Pot stickers, fish and chips, and fried chicken round out the mains. Panko crumbs give the chicken an extra light and crispy crust.
For Peel, it’s very satisfying to be back on the line cooking, especially with his shiny new steam kettles that he only started experimenting with in recent weeks. However, what gives him even more satisfaction is knowing more people will get to try his food.
“We’ll be offering good value and delicious food,” he says. “I’ve been in fine dining for most of my life, and now I need to be more efficient to keep prices affordable. It’s not foie gras for $50. I get to feed 90 percent of the people now.”
Bombo in Grand Central Market, Stall D3, 317 S. Broadway, Downtown. Preliminary hours (subject to change) are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. through March 29; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. from March 30-April 19. Dinner service will start the week of April 20.