Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Croquer: Malo Mañana
Malo Cantina on Sunset, perched on the border of Los Feliz and Sunset Junction (and cozied up to Elliot Smith's famous wall) has long been one of my favorite spots for an all-around pleasant dining experience. While from my first visit I admit to taking petty issues with this and that, it was the content satisfaction upon leaving and desire to return that made the lasting impression. Sure, the bar is dark, cramped and sticky, the dining room drab and dinny, and the patio an extension of the concrete parking lot... But Malo is also the first tequila bar I've frequented where a bartender has gone out of her way to engage me with her vast knowledge of her subject, where I actually learned a thing or two about tequila-making and mescal, and enjoyed samples from their extensive collection to wash down the scrumptious beef and pickle tacos. She kept me coming back, saddling up at the bar, ready for my next course (and tastes!).
Then I tried the Al Pastor.
It's been a happy honeymoon ever since!
So when I heard the news about Malo's new weekend brunch undertaking, naturally I was excited although aprehensive. Could they make the cut and hold onto quality? Or would they suffer the common fate of a watered-down excuse for more open business hours?
True to form, I was quick in line to find out.
First I will admit what I initially was going to omit, that in one weekend, I actually brunched at Malo.. twice. So then, now that it's out in the open, Saturday: It was a late start, we rolled up outside a 1:15 (brunch ends on both days at 2:00pm). The dining room only had a few occupied tables, but we opted to dine al fresco, which was equally sparse. I was immediately taken with the menu, the cover listing many new "brunch cocktails". The first several were standards, with "brunch" tacked onto the name, but as I read my mouth began to water (and wonder). I decided to try the refreshing sounding Cucumber Margarita (fresh cucumber, Milagro silver, tabasco, lime, agave nectar) and my date decided on the Watermelon Margarita (fresh watermelon, Milagro silver, basil). Both hit the spot, although the cucumber was slightly on the watery side. I ordered the Chilaquiles con Huevos, which were delicious if not overwhelmingly one-noted - The large mound of homemade chips were sauteed with eggs, cheese, drenched in a tangy salsa roja and sprinkled with green onion. What the dish lacked was a side. A small dent into the mountain and I was ready for a flavor compliment of some kind. I would recommend this dish, but definitely to share. My date had the Huevos Rancheros which were picture-perfectly baked in a cast iron skillet, made up of 2 fried eggs, black beans, corn tortillas, cheese and ranchero sauce. After another round of Malo's tart house margaritas, we were sufficiently pleased and ready for our day sitting on astroturf sunning, in a warehouse parking lot sipping carbonated wine in a can and Colt 45 (that's another post entirely).
When Malo seemed the only logical choice for brunch on Sunday, I knew I would definitely get a review out of the weekend. We arrived before noon, to a surprisingly similar desolate scene. A table outside was harder to score this time however, as there appeared to be several long tables reserved. We were seated in a sunny corner, so immediately required margarita refreshment. Despite the multitude of options, I went with the Cucumber again, as I was told the Fresa Margarita was incredibly sweet (though the allspice and black pepper listed ingredients intrigued me). Today I opted for the Pozole Poached Eggs, and my date the Scrambled Egg Tostadas per the server's suggestion. Not a bad hint at all, the homemade tortillas were piled high with black beans, scrambled eggs, cheese, tomato, green onion and nopalitos (cactus meat), covered in a spicy creamy "Oaxacan" sauce. Delicious! I was envious, until I tried my pozole.
I had missed this on the menu the previous day, thank goodness for second chances. This dish is truly an innovation. Two foods high on my fave list are perfectly poached eggs and homemade chicken pozole. I can't say I would have ever thought to combine them though. The cast iron skillet set in front of me held two eggs exquisitely poached in the rich tomato broth (adding an amazing depth of flavor to the eggs) with shredded white chicken, hominy, corn tortillas, cheese and green onion. The only thing left to be desired was a little spice, which a few dashes of Tapatio completed.
It was the perfect brunch meal.. Not too heavy, but tantalizing and comforting.
I know Malo is only a couple of weekends into their brunch service, and in maintaining their reputation for reliability, I know in coming weeks nabbing a patio table, much less any won't be nearly as easy.