Photograph by Sara Remington
Downtown’s California Plaza—with its abstract water features, off-kilter amphitheater seating, and mazelike corridors—has a modernist sensibility that’s intriguing and vertiginous at the same time. Not the least of its puzzling design elements are three large egg-shaped seating pods that once signaled the entrance to Casa, a Mexican restaurant that never quite caught on beyond the business-lunch crowd. The pods are going away just as Casa owners Mario Del Pero and Ellen Chen, the couple behind the gourmet sandwich minichain Mendocino Farms, reinvent the space as Blue Cow, essentially an elaborate sandwich laboratory that should fit right in with the futuristic setting. (The original Mendocino Farms is at the other end of the plaza; other locations are in West Hollywood and Marina del Rey.) When it comes to the midday staple, Del Pero and Chen have long been ahead of the curve; their gourmet approach has spawned such places as Michael Voltaggio’s ink.sack and Westwood’s Fundamental L.A. Now with Blue Cow, named after the company’s mascot, they’ll be generating more elaborate versions of their chef-driven creations that use top ingredients sourced directly from local farmers.
In addition to a regular menu by in-house executive chef Joshua Smith (formerly of Church & State and Anisette), the space will operate somewhat like a pop-up. The first to take up the challenge is chef Jason Travi, who helmed the kitchens at Fraîche and Riva. Travi has developed a series of sausages and burgers for the restaurant, which will offer table service, a grab-and-go counter, and a full bar. “The idea is that if something does well at Blue Cow, it may find its way onto the menu at Mendo,” says Del Pero, using his pet name for the brand. “We hope it will keep all the menus edgy. The vehicle of a sandwich can make a lot of upscale foodie elements very approachable. At 9, 10, 11, or 12 dollars, people will try a lot of stuff.” // California Plaza 350 S. Grand Ave. 213-621-2249.