Friday, October 12, 2012

No. 224: Towne (Downtown)

While the L.A. Live area is not devoid of decent dining options, the choices are a bit limited. There are places like Rivera, which can get rather spendy, and then there are spots like Bar & Kitchen or Corkbar, which are great but I almost always order food as an afterthought to drinking there. So I was happy to check out Towne upon receiving a media invite and scanning through its menu & profile. Alas, a casual-chic sit-down spot for dining.

Upon entering, the restaurant layout had a Bottega Louie feel to it, with distinct areas for bar/lounge, dining room and a to-go cafĂ© and patisserie. But thankfully, the actual decor is a lot less gaudy and the room's acoustics are way better, so I don't have to scream to carry a conversation with the PR rep and my dining companion, One More Bite.

Towne Drinks
Between the three of us, we pretty much ran the cocktail menu gamut; there were many solid choices but my favorites are definitely the Clover Club (a classic that's prepared solidly here) and the South Park (essentially a Rum Manhattan, but I love the balance between the rich, sweet-smelling Zaya Rum against the not-quite-sweet Punt E Mes, rounded out with the Peruvian Chuncho bitters.)

Pretzel Rolls
I rarely comment on bread service at restaurants, but the jointed pretzel rolls here with mustard butter were a standout. I would've wolfed more of these down except I know there are likely many more courses to come!

Watermelon Salad
Being a lover of greens, I'm glad we got to try the Greek watermelon salad, refreshing and vibrantly flavorful at the same time. Compressed cubes of sweet melons are complemented with equally cooling cucumber slices and crunchy mixed greens, offset by the intense briny bits of olives, crumbled feta cheese and vinaigrette dressing.

Seared Scallops
Another starter-ish dish I enjoyed was the seared dayboat scallops, eclecticly prepared with figs, pickled radish, tender bok choy -- all floating in a seasoned coconut broth. Like One More Bite's comment, the aromas evoke Thai curry, but actual flavor is so much lighter, more delicate and not spicy at all. And while this isn't bland, I do appreciate the injection of sweet, tart and bite offered by the fig & radish.

Crab & Sea Urchin Spaghetti
Pasta-wise, the spaghetti with crab and sea urchin was superb. It was rich but not-too-heavy and even in this savory dish, you can taste the sweetness (and 'the sea') of the seafood in every bite.

Of the meat dishes, while I enjoyed the glazed beef cheek pot roast (wonderful with the slightly charred gnocchi!) and the whole roasted branzino (crispy skin and firm & flavorful meat, need I say more?), they paled in comparison the glory that is the Crispy pork shank for two.

Pork Shank Being Carved
And it really could've easily fed 3-4 (maybe more if there are other courses,) I absolutely love the contrast between super-crispy skin and the meltingly-tender meat that practically falls off the bone!

Crispy Pork Shank
Also appreciated is the mustard spaetzle and sweet & sour cabbage to sop up all those delicious juices (and to make the dish a slightly more balanced meal.)

Towne Desserts
Of course, despite being beyond full from all the savories (and we actually wound up doggy bagging quite a bit of the spaghetti & pork shank to go,) my second stomach opened up for their desserts. After our heavy fare, I was hoping they'd send out lighter sweets (like the macarons) but the majority of them were on the rich & dense side. Having said that, I'm glad I got to try the butterscotch pudding that's topped with blueberry gelee and mini meringues and the peanut butter crunch bar with ginger-caramel ice cream, since I love the eccentric accompaniments to these otherwise 'typical' desserts.

Overall, I'm impressed with Towen's offerings. I know the term New/Contemporary American gets tossed about a lot, but I do really enjoy their modern twists and updates to classic-sounding fare. And while the price point is slightly above an "everyday" joint, it is definitely reasonable for a casual get-together with friends -- which I'm planning to do so I can try more of their fare (while re-ordering that shank!)

What Do Others Say?
- ShopEatSleep said it's the place to go for diners who desire "an upscale dining experience but also want comfort food."
- Gourmet Pigs noted that some creative touches "may seem gimmicky to you, but when they're done well, why not go along and have fun with it?"
- e*starLA said "There really is something for everyone whose mission is to taste and drink beautiful, delicious things."

Additional photos on flickr set here

709 9th Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90015


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