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Raising the Bar

Valerie Jarvie | October 29, 2016 | Feature Features National

With playful technique and diverse ingredients, chef Kirstyn Brewer elevates pub dining to a new level at this vibrant cocktail den.
Grab a seat at the bar for a community dining vibe that's considered the best in the city.

On a nondescript wall, a neon sign announces the name and little else. Opened in 2009 by Consilient Hospitality and now owned by Raised Palate Restaurants, gastropub Victor Tangos, and its New American menu, has been a hit from the start. In 2011, a young woman from L.A.’s Westside Tavern, Kirstyn Brewer, was recruited to join the staff. Since 2013, Brewer has been at the helm of VT as executive chef, freshening the menu and gaining acclaim for inventive fare.

Passing through the subtly marked front door, we find low-­lit space beneath rustic beams. A long bar on the right and caramel leather booths lining the warm brick wall on the left flank walnut-­toned tables. Couples and small groups are conversing and laughing in a background of synthpop and old­-school hip-­hop music, generating an energetic buzz that’s auditory but not overbearing. With its dark, cozy ambiance and chalkboards, the scene is reminiscent of a modern French bistro. Most strikingly, in this cocktail-centric mecca, almost every patron is dining—a good sign!

The food menu is constructed differently from the typical individual­-sized starter-entree-sides template and covers a wide range, meant to be shared: bar snacks such as caramel popcorn with bacon and peanuts ($5) and the artisan cheese board ($16); small plates such as crispy carnitas tacos ($12) and ahi tuna nachos ($18); family­-size plates featuring proteins with sides adequate for a meal for two or more ($22 to $28); thin-crust flatbreads ($13 to $14); generous plates of salads and vegetables with flavorful treatments ($10 to $14); a cheeseburger for die­hard traditionalists ($13); and a trio of desserts (each $9.) While many dishes have origins in the familiar, Brewer’s takes are updated with global flavors and techniques. Asian ingredients such as lemon grass, wasabi, kimchee and yuzu punctuate dishes. Italian and Spanish elements are utilized too.

We throw ourselves into ordering. Our goal is to sample as many items as we might in a group sharing dishes. Fair warning: The following is far too much food for a meal for only one or two. To start, we order drinks, which are delivered promptly. The Dapper Dan ($11) looks the part of the classic cocktail, cola-colored and delivered in a coupe glass. A nod to the Black Manhattan, VT’s version is resplendent with the caramel, vanilla and orange notes of Buffalo Trace Kentucky bourbon and a slightly bitter bite from Amaro Averna Italian liqueur, mellowed with chai. Cobra Kai ($12) is a port glass of Hennessy Black cognac, Spanish sherry, Amaro Sibilla Italian blanc vermouth and Fuji apple syrup, a blend so fragrant and flavorful I could sip on it all night.

From the small plates section, we select roasted marrow bones and brisket ($13), two small, canoe-­like halves of roasted veal bone topped with finely chopped red-wine braised brisket and a lively green herb chimichurri sauce. Made approachable with toasted rustic bread for spreading, the dish has a beautiful balance of rich, sweet, salty, tart and umami elements. No doubt, it has won over many a patron unfamiliar with bone. Confit pork shoulder with saffron and pea risotto ($22) from the larger plate section blows us away with both its deliciousness and generous size. A full pound of fork-­tender pork shoulder seasoned with paprika, garlic and cumin, inspired by Italian cured meat coppa di testa and slow-cooked in fat, comes served in a pan accompanied by classic saffron risotto and arugula tossed with citrus vinaigrette.

Mac and cheese ($11) illustrates Brewer’s talent for updating nostalgic comfort foods with modern touches, this riff comprised of soppressata, baby broccoli and pasta baked in a creamy five­-cheese bechamel sauce to good effect.

For a sampling of large­-portion salads and vegetables, we choose two. Street Corn Dynamite ($11) is a playful sweet and savory hot dish made with fresh, lightly blanched corn kernels, spicy miso aioli and wasabi-­inflected fish roe, sprinkled with the fun Japanese ingredient katsuobushi, bonito flakes so lightweight they dance in the heat rising from the surface. A platter of lightly battered tempura asparagus ($10) comes drizzled with caramelized sweet and salty Southeast Asian fish sauce and yuzu kosho aioli, a spike of citrus and pepper—altogether tasty finger food.

For dessert, we can’t resist the homey Warm Sticky Toffee Cake ($9), which has been on the menu since Victor Tangos opened and is the restaurant’s most-­requested take­out dish. The warm brown sugar date cake drenched in maple toffee sauce, a scoop of whipped sweetened mascarpone its only garnish, is delicious and ample for four. After, a digestif is in order, followed by a prompt tab and text to the valet, which has our car quickly brought to the door.

As we leave, we note customers arriving. With a kitchen that serves until midnight, at Victor Tangos, the evening is just beginning. Note to self: This would be a great place for late-­night snacking, especially for a group.


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