We've started a nice weekly tradition of taking morning hikes in and around Los Angeles every Saturday. Along with the major expulsion of calories through physical activity comes the compulsion to replenish those lost calories almost immediately with a satisfying, hearty lunch. That's where Gish Bac comes in - the gold pot at the end of this week's excursion up along the derrière of the Hollywood sign.
Inside that pot? The delights of slow-cooked meats, including goat and lamb barbacoa specials on the weekends and an intense mole that'll make you believe in God. Located on a quiet patch of mid-city just off the corner of Crenshaw and Washington, is Gish Bac - barely a year old - that represents twenty years of refining recipes in the catering business for owners David Padilla and Maria Ramos.
Of course, Gish Bac had just been written up as a hidden gem by Bill Esperza in the LA Times on Thursday. Only two days after printing, the article hangs proudly framed on the wall. But, the hoards aren't rushing in yet. We're welcomed in just like the other hungry regulars and invited to sit wherever we'd like.
We start with a round of horchata and a trip to the salsa bar to supplement the gratis chips. Our barbacao dishes are preceded by an appetizer of pancita (below), which our attentive server makes sure we're well aware contains stomach and innards. The dish does little to disguise the straight-forward presentation of offal. It's rich, iron-y and quite satisfying with a squirt of lemon, if not just the slightest bit visually and texturally off-putting. Most of us at the table pick at a few bits of it and save our appetites for what's to come. Angela - with her are you seriously not gonna eat that? attitude - nearly scrapes two plates of it clean.
One of our dining companions, currently on a hiatus from meat, goes for the chile relleno torta - a relatively simple sandwich slathered with black-bean paste and stuffed with lettuce, tomato, avocado, mayo and queso. Like wheeling a keg into an AA meeting, the tasty offal and slow-cooked meats being passed around the table are ample temptations for our temporarily pescetarian friend. Which isn't to say the torta fails to assuage his appetite, just that I see his eyes flitter with envy on more than one occasion. This is, no doubt, a place to come if you like your meat.
Aaron (who writes the blog Savory Hunter and is patient enough to put up with the two of us during our weekly hikes) and I decide to tackle the duo of barbacoas heralded in the LA Times piece. The barbacoa blanco (below) features pit-roasted lamb served alongside an ambrosial black-bean puree. Perhaps the best part is the bowl of consomme, ripe with stock and drippings and perfect for ladling over the unctuous meat. Of course, the lamb is the lesser favored of the barbacoas. Perhaps a little on the greasier side, it's mainly just overshadowed by the delectable goat.
The barbacoa enchilada (below) is the goat course, served stewing in its savory juices. The much leaner and strongly flavored meat is literally fall-off-the-bone tender and delicious whether on its own or wrapped in the accompanying corn tortillas and topped with the side dish of crunchy cabbage slaw.
As good as the slow-roasted goat may have been, it's the chicken mole negro that arguably steals the show. A staple on any Oaxacan menu, Gish Bac's black mole is made with over thirty ingredients. The result yields a deep, complex and smoky sauce that coats every bite of chicken with its thick, chocolatey character. There's a wide range between good and bad moles, with the latter being nearly inedible. Gish Bac's is neither good nor bad. It is astounding. Each bite of the chicken - pulled off the bone, slathered in the dark, thick mole and wrapped in the corn tortilla- only made me crave more. I could sit here and describe this mole all day, but Esperza perhaps captures it best in his review with only one word- 'brilliant'.
Before we're able to roll ourselves out the door, something catches our eye at a neighboring table. Our server enthusiastically tells us about these clayudas - pizza-sized, thin, crispy tortilla that plays bed to a smorgasbord of meats, vegetables, cheese and beans. For a moment, we consider our appetites. The remaining space in our already expanded stomachs might be able to squeeze just a little more. But common sense wins out. We pay our reasonably low check and save the clayudas and other such wonders for an inevitable repeat visit.