Saturday, February 11, 2012

Blue Cow Kitchen & Bar: Bring on the vegetables...and cocktails

Roots and berries salad
What: Sandwich wizards Mendocino Farms grows up into Blue Cow, a full bar and restaurant.

Where: 350 S. Grand, Downtown (California Plaza, across from Starry Kitchen)
What to get: Lamb Lavash, Spanish Chicken Tartine, Smoked Brassica, Root Salad, Smoked Pecan Bourbon Old-Fashioned.
When: Opening Monday Feb. 13 or thereabouts
Who: Mario Del Pero and Ellen Chen, owners; Josh Smith, Judy Han, chefs
Why: Mendocino Farms is known for its meaty sandwiches and burgers -- decadent choices like French Onion Short Rib dip or Kurobata pork banh mi. The newly-opened Blue Cow, in California Plaza Downtown, replaces the smaller Mendocino Farms in the plaza with a full service restaurant complete with attractive indoor-outdoor cocktail bar, all the familiar sandwiches with new appetizers, salads and main dishes like steak frites. We were invited to try out the restaurant before its opening next week, and for me the stars were the vegetables.
BBQ'ed brassica
 I've been craving more vegetables, and Blue Cow filled the bill with BBQ'ed Brassicas -- broccoli and cauliflower smoked in a paper bag, and Roots and Berries with shaved roasted root vegetables, wheatberries and quinoa.
Blue Cow has master mixologist Steve Livigni consulting on cocktails, and we got a taste of his pecan-infused whiskey that makes a smooth and smoky Old Fashioned with custom Miracle Mile pecan bitters. He also concocts unusual ideas like a Cherry Rickey Soda with lambic beer, lime vodka and genever liqueur or a Belgian Tripel Beer Cocktail with Scotch, apple and lemon, that somehow end up tasting just right.
Blue Cow's mission is to marry seasonal produce and carefully-sourced meats with reasonable prices and big but accessible flavors, and so far the restaurant looks like a big improvement on Casa, which never quite caught on in the space.
The outdoor patio is large and pleasant, considering its location in the rather sterile California Plaza, with a big tree anchoring the corner and some good beer selections on tap (Lil Yella Pilsner, Boont Amber, Sublimely Self-Righteous Black, Racer 5, Straffe Hendrik Quadruple).
much more room for lunchtime crowds
 Indoors, amusing touches like vintage mixers re- imagined as filament light fixtures, historic photos from Del Pero's family butcher shop and the treasured family meat cleaver carry out the farm theme with a light and stylish look.
bar snacks
Fun bar snacks include sweet and salty nuts and caramel corn; thin crispy root vegetable chips and and shrimp chips with furikake. While Blue Cow strives to keep prices moderate, the menu is full of clever thoughts like homemade flatbread for the Lamb Lavash meatballs, mozzarella mousse with the beet salad as a tasty, cost-effective answer to burrata, and Vietnamese banh xeo pancakes re-imagined as taco-like holders for savory pork belly.

lamb lavosh meatball sandwich
 And wasn't someone just looking for a Ploughman's Lunch? They've got it, complete with sausage, deviled eggs, pickles, pimento cheese toast and a glass of Alimony IPA.
California Plaza can be a little dead at night, but Blue Cow is definitely ready to change the dynamic, since it will be open until 10 pm and the patio is sure to be hopping, especially in summer.


carter said...

Sounds like it will be a great, yet affordable, addition to the roster of eating establishments open for pre-Disney Hall, RedCat, or Music Center performances.
And, yes, Casa always felt a bit disjointed, and as to their version of tilt-a-whirl booths in the patio, well....

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's "replacing" Mendocino at Cal Plaza ... is it?? I hope not!!!