No Chow Love for Bizarra Capital?
My search kung fu must be poor as I'm not usually an early adopter of any particular restaurant, but I haven't found any posts on Bizarra Capital. Again, I also don't usually comment on a place based on less than a handful of visits, but since no 'hound has chimed in yet I figured I can break that custom.
THE DRINK: I had a nice variation on a whiskey sour with a hibiscus flower. I've forgotten the specific ingredients, but it was strictly B-level, post cocktail revival stuff. Which is to say it was quite decent. The beer list was pretty solid, too. Neither the cocktail list, nor the beer list was mind-blowing. However, there aren't a lot of Mexican restaurants that are providing that level of drink. The ones that are significantly above Bizarra Capital's price range.
THE FOOD: I ordered the pato taco, nopales salad, a taco chiles torreados, and some bacon wrapped shrimp.
The duck taco consisted of an incredibly thick disk of fresh masa that had been fried golden and crisp. Atop that flat base sat a very generous amount of shredded duck leg. And for $6 it had better be generous. That was sluiced with a rather sweet orange chocolate salsa and (I think) some pickled red onion. The overall effect was a touch sweet with a hint of bitter chocolate (the salsa looked like it was barely spiked with unsweetened cacao nibs). It actually reminded me just a little of b'stilla. The dish was about the size of a bread plate and was quite tasty. Light years beyond what Cacao Mexicatessen is offering with their duck carnitas taco. So, I think there is value for this $6 starter.
The nopales salad was light, considering it was really more of a fried cheese salad. What you get here is an entire nopal paddle that has been grilled, sliced horizontally, and topped with a charred, seared piece of moist cotija (oxymoron? perhaps). This is accompanied by chopped roasted serrano peppers and tomato. The cheese was similar in effect to grilled haloumi and the chunky roasted pepper and tomato warm salsa brought a touch of heat, acid, and moisture to each bite. Overall, a lovely dish.
The shrimp made me laugh out loud when they came out. I ordered them thinking they'd be a small plate of bacon wrapped shrimp to round out the meal. What appeared were gour grenade sized balls consisting of a beautiful jumbo shrimp, stuffed with cheese and ham, then wrapped in bacon and broiled. That any shrimp flavor managed to peak through was a minor miracle. I thought these monsters were definitely tasty, but not necessarily something I'd order again. They do add up to more than the sum of their parts, but they also taste exactly like you imagine them to given the description above.
The star of my meal was the taco de chiles torreados. Complex, bright, and packing a wonderful combination of different chile heat, this taco was on point. If you've tried them at Guisados, it should be the same deal. Though, here you get to sit in an old Sizzler and sip on a beer or cocktail. I had yet to explore that part of Guisados's menu so this was a new treat to me. I loved every bite of this taco and was just a little depressed that I had no room at all for a reprise.
THE ATMOSPHERE: It's an old Sizzler, that was then an old Siete Mares, that's been reworked. And I personally like it a lot. It's comfortable. The service was friendly and casual.
OVERALL: I really liked this place. If you're a fan of Ricardo Diaz's other efforts, then I can't see how you won't love this place. Diaz can stretch out a bit more here and so can you. Most of what you like from all the other Diaz joints are here on the menu, in addition to a solid beer and cocktail list. And you can request a booth. What's not to like?
RECOMMENDATIONS: I'd avoid the "basics." I really don't see why anyone would drive out to Whittier, then order a carne asada and chicken taco for lunch here when you can get those anywhere at a fraction of the cost. I recommend getting the items that aren't available other places since that's where Bizarra Capital really shines. I know I'll be back soon to work through the entire menu eventually.
BONUS: Check out Chicken Box in the vicinity for some broasted chicken. 'Cause, you know, everyone deserves a little dessert.
UPDATE . . .
THE DRINK: They were out of a saison on tap that I wanted to try so I just kept it simple and ordered a Negra Modelo. I feel like I failed in some way, but I couldn't be bothered sorting through what I was going to order.
THE FOOD: I ordered the huitlacoche quesadilla, pato taco (again), nopal asado (again), guacamole, taco de camaron, huazontles capiados, chalupitas de pescado.
The huitlacoche was simply the best I've ever had. The fact that it was wrapped in what I consider the best masa in town was just gilding the lily. There was some Oaxacan cheese and a few kernels of fresh yellow corn joining the corn smut, but this was all about the excellence of the fungus. Sometimes you have a dish and it's about finesse in the kitchen, and other times it's about knowing how to shop. Let's just say I could have made something delicious with these ingredients. For a moment I thought of the empanada de huitlacoche served at Monte Alban, shuddered in dread, and promptly forgot about that sad sack of canned fungus. This was served with a tangy salsa verde. The citrusy hit of the salsa cut the wonderful richness of the dish enough to fend of palate fatigue. Perfect. Really.
The pato taco was even better this time. The kitchen was a bit more generous with the orange chocolate salsa and the salsa itself had a bit more acidity to it this go around.
The nopal asado was still great, but the wonderful chopped and roasted tomato and serrano peppers received maybe a touch too much agave syrup and tasted a little sweet for me. In addition, the panela (correction from above) was a little less generous. Still, perfectly griddled.
The guacamole was . . . odd . . . and just so perfectly balanced. It was so simple. Finely diced and perfectly ripe avocado, diced red onion, cilantro, diced tomato, salt, and lime. It was not mashed together. It really shouldn't have been great. I suspect many will be underwhelmed by it. For me, the dish only works because it was so precisely executed. This is the exact opposite of the huitlacoche quesadilla. I've had better ingredients in my hands before. I could never have made this dish as well as Diaz did, most likely without trying hard.
The taco de camaron was straight out of the Guisados playbook. What I was impressed with was the execution of the shrimp themselves. Most places just can't help overcooking shrimp. These little guys were just north of undercooked. I get shrimp cooked like this about as often as I get a properly cooked omelet so the chipotle crema and cabbage were just a bonus.
The huazontles were totally new to me. Battered in a light egg and cheese cloud, fried, then anointed with a rich, spicy red sauce with very lightly cooked sliced onions. The flavor reminded me of a diabla sauce. Something you might get a plate of shrimp sauteed in at Coni'Seafood, but lighter. These are really special, primarily because you can't get these anywhere else. And though they are vegetarian, light they are not. Between the batter and oiliness from their bath in the deep fryer, the huazontles were pretty filling.
The chalupitas de pescado came six to an order. Each chalupita consisted of a very thin corn tortilla about 3 inches in diameter. That was topped with a reduced salsa (3 red, 3 green). On top of that was a little melted queso fresco and then diced white fish was the last layer. These were light and highlighted by the salsa, which was bright with a citrusy and fruity flavor. I would recommend sharing this plate as an appetizer. I found it delicious, but got to be a touch one note as a main course on its own.
THE ATMOSPHERE: Improved! The ceiling has been painted a uniform black. Part of the ceiling is studded with upside-down roses (Diaz says that is his Grandmother's garden). The back wall has a large Aztec mural. It's coming along. I can see this place slowly coming into shape.
OVERALL: Brilliant. This meal knocked me out even more than more first trip.
RECOMMENDATION: Patronize places like Bizarra Capital or lose them. The place was pretty much dead on a Saturday night. The prices are insanely reasonable. The chef is taking risks with the menu. After speaking with him, I can tell that that Chef Diaz is eager to continue to rotate new dishes he's got in his back pocket. But this place needs to be much busier than it is before he can start to spread out a little more.
BONUS: If you're a fan of Dorados, get on it quick. Word is that Diaz may look to shut that one down soon.
The retooled Sizzler has none of the charm of his other restaurants. ZERO. Not Dorado, not Cook's, not even Guisado's. The lunch menu (when this restaurants is available to me) mostly consists of items culled from the 3 other joints: (fantastic) tacos, tortas, ceviche.
While the aguachile, chicken torta and the quesadilla were all tasty, the experience isn't better than taking out the Guisado taco 6-pack and swigging a witbier at home.
That said, the dinner menu is vastly different, and probably warrants several trips.
I agree with you re: the decor being the weakest of all four Diaz restaurants. I kind of like the dumpiness, but I can't defend it. I'll say that I believe Diaz opened this restaurant in record time and that if the place does brisk business the decor may get filled out a bit.
I will disagree about a lunch at Bizarra being no better than a take-out order from Guisados. The beauty of this place for lunch is that you can cull items from Dorado *and* Cook's *and* Guisados. That's worth a little something in my book. I love that I could get an augachile and then a chiles torreados taco. A little Dorado + a little Guisados.
re: cacio e pepe
What if you happen to live on Atlantic Blvd in Monterey Park? Down the street from both Cook's and Dorado?
Or if you live in Boyle Heights? And go to Guisado's on a day they offer both ceviches AND carne en su jugo? Ceviche is but merely a diced agua chiles, and chiles torreados is a menu standard @ Guisado's .
Again, The Cap's dinner menu is uber interesting, (read: destination restaurant), but the lunch menu borderlines useless. OTOH, it's a perfect place for jacked up City of Downey city council members to have $300 lunches.
Sure, if one happens to fit those narrow parameters and one likes hopping in a car between courses for lunch, then sure, Bizarra's lunch menu is a miss. Useless. Almost an insult to the city, really. The lunch menu brings nothing new to the scene, except to put all the hits from the Diaz restaurants under one roof and pair that with booze. How is that bad, exactly? But to each his own.
I ate off the dinner menu, though, and it is spectacular. On that we can fully agree.
The photos over on Yelp look amazing. Consider this one of the chorizo taco http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/bizarra-capital-whittier?select=033iW4muIMwxYnsWwiirFQ#WhnlPPIaFH-XFwbx6OyIWg and this one of their aguachili tostada http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/bizarra-capital-whittier?select=033iW4muIMwxYnsWwiirFQ#NaOpnftiZ-EzUEGcxKfQOg and finally this one of their huitlacoche quesadilla http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/bizarr... - all of them look wonderful. Is this place close to your house? If so I nominate you for the lucky hound of the month award.
Thanks for posting. If I'm ever out that way this place would be a must try.
re: cacio e pepe
I wouldn't mind living a "wittier" life, but Whittier...I guess I'm with you on that one. How did this place get onto your radar? Maybe I'll have to organize myself for a completely unrelated to reality visit.
ADD: Hours according to the LA Times http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jun/...
re: cacio e pepe
Psst. The Bottle Room in Whittier (near the College, which seems like it's in the same vicinity as Bizarra) is excellent. Especially the "black and blue" burger (w/ blue cheese and duck fat onions.... yum, yum, yum). I don't know much about Burmese food, but I thought that Golden Triangle (also near the College) was also great (just be forewarned that the service can be very, VERY slow)....
+1 on both Bottle Room and Golden Triangle. I've been meaning to try Bizarra Capital but every time I find myself in Whittier I seem to wind up at one of those two instead (okay, sometimes at El Atacor...)
If anyone's interested, tonight (9/29) is the last night of LA Beer Week at Bottle Room; they're pouring flights from Lost Abbey. Was there Monday night for the Russian River flights (Blind Pig, Pliny the Elder, Temptation, Supplication) and 'Pliny Pig' and it was wonderful.
At Golden Triangle, our default choices are the tea leaf & ginger salad, and whichever curry the waitress recommends...