I remember thinking that Casa was a really cool spot in the middle of Bunker Hill in Downtown LA when I went last year for dinner with a friend. One of the few places in the neighborhood that was still open and alive, sitting outside in the open air surrounded by Bunker Hill's skyscrapers was an experience I hadn't had before. Unfortunately, I don't remember any of what I ate. It just wasn't very good. However, when faced with the dilemma of taking a visiting friend out for a LA meal in Bunker Hill again, Casa seemed like the only choice (Starry Kitchen, which is a pretty decent restaurant that should be tried, just didn't have the ambiance I thought a visitor would be interested in.)
I was surprised to find that Casa had been replaced by Blue Cow Kitchen - a new venture by sandwich makers Mendicino Farms - which promises to bring fresh, local foods to my table. I've always wanted to try Mendicino Farms for lunch, so going to its swankier sibling was a no brainer. The outside patio seating area looks much as it did during Casa's time, but the interior is now an electric gathering of eclectic pieces, melding a natural wood look with a modern (dare I say postmodern?) metal and plastic industrial thang and accented by random mementos from who knows where. You could be forgiven for thinking it might not work, but somehow it does. I'm convinced it's the cool blue accent lighting throughout.
The menu is modest, but detailed. You get to know what you're going to eat and often where its coming from, in line with the farm to table idea. We decided to go with Blue Cow's Roots and Berries salad, the Butternut Squash soup with pumpkin seed oil and pistachios, and the 90s Wedding Chicken with mashed potatoes and veggies. Note though, that the menu rotates seasonally, in line with sourcing of local foods and the collaborations that Blue Cow Kitchen is doing with visiting chefs, so you might not find these dishes on there.
The salad was delectable, a smorgasboard of roots like carrots, beets, and radishes, sweetened by the berries and given some oomph with a saffron vinaigrette. The soup was bold and creamy goodness, a welcome dose of warmth on an unusually cold LA night. The chicken came in a generous portion, definitely enough to share. Tender, if a tad on the bland side, it was still a satisfying entree. The only problem was the grossly over-salted mashed potatoes. In Blue Cow's defense, the manager was not only apologetic about it, but thankful for the feedback.
Having just opened officially a month ago, the dose of salt in my mashed potatoes can be forgiven. The rest of the meal was good enough that I'm really excited about seeing what Blue Cow does going forward. It's not cheap, but what trendy farm-to-table restaurants these days are? Regardless, it's a welcome addition to the Downtown LA food scene; a place in Bunker Hill to hang out, and also where you can get a pretty good meal and feel good about it too.
Sorry for the poor quality pictures, only had my old phone with me that night!
The Roots and Berries Salad
Butternut Squash Soup
90's Wedding Chicken
Interior of Blue Cow Kitchen