Josef Centeno's umlaut-bedecked flagship has all the Moroccan bistilla and Provençal brandade you could want, and the menu weds Catalan, Italian, and Abkhazian ingredients. The signature bäco pocket may hold beef carnitas dripping with salbitxada, an almond and onion sauce you haven't seen since Barcelona, but the kitchen has the spirit of a time-tested hash house, creating such efficient and brilliant combinations as buttered bread crumbs over chicory chiffo-nade or sriracha-glazed shrimp.
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Josef Centeno is such a culinary border crosser that he had to come up with his own lingo to describe the dishes. Bäco stands for the restaurant's signature puffy wraps, which reach their crescendo filled with the beef tongue schnitzel he hits with a dab of blazing harissa. Then there's cocä, the crisp flatbread he freights with things like guanciale and a fried egg (a dish he named the Salty Jowl). Despite piling bold flavor upon bold flavor—something he did at Lazy Ox as well—Centeno achieves piercing clarity in a high-ceilinged room that's been furnished with Eames-style office chairs and Edison lights. Rarely emerging from the kitchen, he lets the precision of his food carry the show. Celery root julienne dressed with ravigote vinaigrette underpins the sear of scallops, but it's the feta-poblano crumble and the lick of salmorejo, a bread-and-tomato cream, on the golf ball-size fava fritters that make this a wrap like no other.
Best Shrub Cocktail, August 2012
Shrub cocktails may seem new, but the act of mixing fruit with sugar and vinegar dates to colonial times, when folks needed ways to preserve perishable produce. The resulting syrups were then added to water for a refreshing drink. Today we have a better idea, adding shrubs to craft cocktails to imbue them with a tart sweetness. The Inca Punch at Bäco mercat, Josef Centeno's downtown restaurant, is a crimson fusion of pisco, citrus, pineapple, and a shrub made with chicha morada (a Peruvian purple corn concoction). The vinegar leaves a telltale sting at the back of your throat, which is soon mellowed by the ripe pineapple's natural sugars. Your thirst may be quenched after just one, but you'll order another anyway. For the best deal stick to the bäcos, the signature taco-flatbread sandwich hybrids that are the creation of former Lazy Ox Canteen chef Josef Centeno. (At night he ups the ante with fancier though still affordable small plates.) The bäcos are loaded with an ethnic mishmash of ingredients such as carnitas, sriracha, spiced lebni, oxtail hash, and more. » 408 S. Main St., downtown.