MODERN AMERICAN FARE WITH STIFF DRINKS IN CHINATOWN
With downtown Los Angeles real estate, no matter how dodgy the area, at a premium for bar and restaurant space, it’s no surprise that nearby Chinatown has become the new “it” place. And one of the new go-to spots for great eats and impressive cocktails is 643 North.
From Michael Ourieff, owner of Michael J’s Catering, is an modern, yet cozy and intimate space serving a wide array of eclectic eats infused with a modern twist as they attempt to redefine the notion of contemporary comfort food. Chef Oz Ramuco has crafted a unique menu featuring his take on New American cuisine. And Bar Manager Adam Acuff, from Far Bar in Little Tokyo, has crafted an impressive cocktail program featuring a rotating selection of local craft beers and wines, and Build Your Own Martini and/or Manhattan bar.
“I wanted a full bar and an inventive menu that would stand out in the core of downtown,” Ourieff explains. “Looking at everything that is happening downtown, it’s not just about what’s opening, it’s about what is innovative.”
During our recent visit for dinner, we started with (surprise, surprise) a couple of cocktails. I just couldn’t resist ordering the Don’t Drink This made with Evan Williams Single Barrel, maraschino liqueur, Dolin Sweet Vermouth, and Fernet Branca (and fire!). Come on, you name a drink Don’t Drink This and I immediately want one. Think of this as a really nice Old Fashioned. Thank goodness it wasn’t some kind of joke where they warned you not to drink it. This one is a winner.
We also went with the Green Meanie, made with Fighting Cock, Green Chartreuse, Rosemary maple syrup, lemon juice, and Meyer lemon bitters. Maybe this cocktail should have come with a warning as it was loaded with too much rosemary for my liking. It was like drinking perfume. I’ve come around to the notion that drinking should not be work and this was one I just couldn’t swallow.
Jumping headfirst into the menu, we started with the Small Bites section and split the very nice Charred Broccolini prepared with brussel sprouts, pancetta and fresh cracked pepper, along with the unique Toad in the Hole, made with egg, smoked trout, remoulade, water cress, and brioche, as well as the Wild Mushrooom Medley, a fine mix of roasted shitake, oyster, lobster, crimini, and goat cheese—the cheese was so rich and decadent…this dish is so damn delicious.
Another Small Bite we couldn’t pass up was the Braised Pig prepared with sweet, tangy and spicy braised suckling pig, served in a bowl with pickled onions, habañero and ciabatta bread on the side. I really wanted to love this one but the overwhelming feeling was simply that spicy is not a flavor (if that makes sense). Just because it’s spicy doesn’t mean it has any real taste. This one was disappointing.
In need of a drink to get my taste back on track, I went with the Go Figure, made with Avion Reposado, Benedictine, Carpano Antica Formula, Fig Thyme Syrup, and Pinot Noir. The combination of tequila and wine was bold and so was the flavor.
I also love the idea of the Build Your Own Martini or Manhattan. This gives you the opportunity to play bartender and not play it safe and instead get creative with your drink. We opted for the Manhattan. Adam Acuff chose Basil Hayden bourbon, Bianco dry vermouth, Meyer Lemon bitters, and a lime twist to garnish. It was a solid Manhattan but nothing compared to mine!
Getting the chance to make my own Manhattan, I took the opportunity to heart and made, no lie, the best Manhattan I’ve ever had. And here’s the winning recipe: Whistle Pig Rye, Punt e Mas aromatic vermouth with a little Bianco (I have to confess that the addition of a little Bianco was all Adam and I’m thankful for that), Black Mission Fig bitters, with a fig garnish. Spectacular! Truth be told, this is an $18 Manhattan at 643 North but I had a bartender at another bar say it’s more like $30 elsewhere, but it is so damn good! One of these bad boys will get you going and then you can switch to the less expensive Don’t Drink This, which will cost you $12.
I’m a sucker for White Pizza so I had to have one and 643 North’s is made with roasted Brussels sprouts, applewood bacon, crème béchamel, sharp provolone and white truffle oil. I tore into this one but honestly, it was a bust. Crust + cheese = a no flavor mess. Maybe we choose the wrong pie? Some people say you can’t mess up a pizza but that’s not true and unfortunately, this was bland proof.
From the Larger Bites, our entrees included the delicious Jumbo Prawns, served with ratatouille, puff pastry and lemon butter sauce, and the Ossobuco Ravioli—braised veal, house-made ravioli, baby heirloom tomato, broccolini, parmesan broth and parmesan cheese. The Ossobuco Ravioliis definitely a hearty and filling choice. While the 643 Burger and the Sriracha Chicken Sandwich were so tempting to order (next time), I have no regrets about ordering the delicious veal shanks ravioli.
“I really want 643 North to become a destination for people visiting downtown, waiting for a train at Union Station or for those that live in the area,” owner Michael Ourieff says. “For us, it’s not just about the food and the cocktails; it’s about the overall enjoyment of each guest. It’s about the atmosphere we create and how our guests feel when they are here. My favorite thing is to getting to know the customers and making each and every person feel welcome and important. I look forward to sharing that with every guest who comes to visit 643 North.”
Walking from table to table, Ourieff definitely connects with all his customers. Nice touch.
Opting for a liquid dessert (that’s just me), I had to get one of the Demitasse Coffee Cocktails, and the #1 with Avion Reposado, Cointreau, chocolate extract, mole bitters, Kyoto drip reduction, and orange peel was a great after-dinner selection. Dessert options include Tiramisu, Flourless Chocolate Cake, Butter Cake, Lemon Tart, Profiteroles, and Crème Brulee, all solid options, but I don’t think you can beat a coffee cocktail, especially with mole bitters! I want another right now.
So make a fun night out of it starting at Chinatown for dinner and drinks and then see where the night takes you, maybe to downtown or jump on the train and make it an adventure. Or just start and end your evening at 643 North and take in the eclectic cuisine and cocktails. Your fortune in this Chinatown haunt calls for a good time out.
643 North is located at 643 N. Spring Street. Hours: 11am to 10pm Sunday through Thursday; 11am to 11pm Friday; and 4pm to 11pm on Saturday. Call 213-687-8888.
By: Jose Martinez.
Photography courtesy of: 643 North