One of the great things about living in LA is the easy access to all things Latino. Where else in a western country can you find more Spanish language radio station than English? Well, maybe Miami.... but I digress.
For my dear friend Grace's 30-something-th birthday, I volunteered to take charge since I'm kind of a control freak when it comes to evening activities (I just think my ideas are better :P ) and I had just written a post about places to host birthday parties so I was brimming with ideas.
I chose Casa as the spot to host because I thought it was in a good central location in downtown LA with lots of semi-enclosed casitas that looked totally cute in the pictures, a good looking nuevo-latino fusiony menu, and an innovative cocktail menu utilizing highbrow tequila.
During the course of this event, I interacted with lots of people who work for this restaurant. I made the reservation a week ahead and the restaurant manager Michael was totally cool and accomodating of all my requests. A marginal corkage fee (which I ended up not needing since no one brought their own liquor), no cake cutting fee, and willing to work with the moving parts of my party. The hostess Arlene called me twice during the week just to confirm my reservation and ask what type of space I would want. I thought that was nice. Courtney, our waitress, was on top of her game and making sure we had everything we needed throughout the night. Shawn, another manager looking guy, was totally helpful and hands on when all my friends were getting lost and couldn't find the restaurant or parking! I even had a brief chat with Chef Morningstar about the menu and some of its highlights.
Apparently, the much talked about Guac y Mole is no longer offered, but instead a 3 dip appetizer thing is on the menu. The dips are a chipotle salsa tasting thing, a peanut mole, and a roasted tomatillo salsa, the last being my favorite with its smokiness from the roasting process and sour tang of the tomatillo. None of us really cared for the peanut mole which reminded me of Thai satay sauce. We weren't too crazy about the mushroom quesadillas either. Not too much flavor and the seed sauce just wasn't cutting it for us. The tacos that I tried were all very good, but the standouts for me was the shrimp taco with its succulent meat and delicate batter on a bed of crunchy greens, wrapped up in a chewy homemade tortilla.... yum! Mi amigas also raved about the carne asada tacos, but they got eaten up so fast I never got a chance to try them! So I guess that means they were good :P
The ceviche we weren't too crazy about. It was ok, but not a standout dish in my opinion. But the chile relleno was rich and luscious in that slow-cooked sort of way. It was a mix of ground chorizo and dates, stuffed into a poblano chile, then topped with cheese and some mystery sauce that I can't remember.... but who cares when it tastes that good! Let me wipe up my drool while I describe their margaritas...
My first cocktail was their Smokey Margarita which was a mix of whiskey and a highbrow tequila whose name I can't remember right now in a house smoked salt rimmed glass. While tequila is something cringe inducing and reminiscent of drunken nights at the sports bar for most people, this drink reminded me of what good tequila can be.... sharp, smokey, with just a subtle bite. Even my tequila averse friend deliciouslife thought it was a good margarita. My party of 12 ended up ordering several pitchers of the house margarita throughout the night, but even those were also quite tasty and not the burning-esophagus stupid-drunk kind of margarita.
There was a small mixup of the birthday cake situation and a different waitress (not Courtney) started taking it out of the box and putting candles on it while we were still eating. Once I realized what was happening, I quickly walked over and blew out the candles and said "not now, later" and Courtney came over and was like "That's not your cake!" But the waitress in question later pulled me aside and profusely apologized for the mixup. It's cool.... everyone makes mistakes :)
The Parking Situation
The only thing I would really change about this place is the parking situation. They currently do not have valet parking. Apparently they have 2hrs of free validated parking somewhere on Olive St, but the night I was there (Saturday), it was closed. Street parking is also pretty limited since the place is quite near the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Some people parked in a $5 pay lot somewhere near the restaurant, but I STILL don't know where it is. Also, the restaurant itself is kind of hard to see from the street since it's signage is about half a flight of stairs below street level. My suggestion to Casa would be to have clearer signage of the restaurant that is readily visible from the street with clear instructions on where to park -OR- offer valet parking!!
All in all, we had a really fantastic time at this wonderfully cute new restaurant. food - good, drinks -good, people - nice, decor - lovely. I can see this place being a very popular happy hour spot for the locals who work nearby. Hopefully they work out some of their parking kinks soon it can be a dinner/drinking destination soon :)
Casa Cocina y Cantina
350 South Grand Avenue
2 California Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90013