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Kris Morningstar talks Casa and tacos

January 9, 2009 |  1:31 pm


Downtown is spreading its wings as a culinary destination and it appears to be flying south. With this week's opening of chef Kris Morningstar's Mexican restaurant Casa on Grand Avenue, the upscale Latin-food invasion that has long been heading for the area is reaching its apex. (Think John Sedlar's Rivera, Gabriel Morales' Provecho and Rosa Mexicano at L.A. Live.)

With Casa operating at full tilt (Jan. 6 marked the grand opening), Morningstar took a moment out of his overwhelming schedule to talk about the ride so far:

How did the grand opening go?

So far, so good. We're going through the normal turmoil you have when you open a restaurant. Last night [for the opening], we were very busy -- toward the end we started to sell out of some stuff.

What kind of feedback did you get?....

It's been really solid. Some people were skeptical that we could do a great Mexican restaurant, but that's going away. We're just excited to push forward.

I keep hearing about the late-night "taco truck" menu you have planned. When will you start that?

The official launch will be Monday.

Will there be a special look to the food on that menu?

Not really. We actually have some stainless steel triangle wedges that the tortillas are able to rest in so they maintain their shape. Once we get going we'll have the opportunity to expand with different tacos. Right now we have four types of tacos.

What is your goal when it comes to the food?

Straightforward, flavorful Mexican fare. We don't want to do Pan-Latin or Spanish. We decided it was in our best interest to just do Mexican. Although there is a tremendous amount of influence from other cultures in Mexican cuisine.

What sold the best during the grand opening?

Our tacos did really well. We sold out of our tacos pastor. The recession makes people say, "I don't want to spend a lot, but I want to get a good value for my money." We want to be that mid-level restaurant.

What's your favorite dish on the menu?

I'm so ADD that it's hard for me to tell you that I have a favorite on a regular basis. I have pride in our classic Mexican dishes, like mole poblano, even if we are offering more modern ways of preparation. I also really like our chile rellenos with house-made chorizo, dates and queso Oaxaca. Another interesting dish we do is rabbit with chestnut sauce. Chestnuts are indigenous to the Tabasco region.

What's the best way to eat at Casa?

We're trying to make a communal eating experience in order to get people to try different flavors. We'd like people to step outside what they perceive as Mexican food. In L.A., in some ways it's become your typical combo plate with rice and beans. We're not a beans and rice place, necessarily.

Right now, the restaurant is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch, and from 4:30 to 10 p.m. for dinner. Jan. 31 will be Casa's first Saturday night, and from then on it will be open six night a week. There is an open patio that will (hopefully soon) have a functional outdoor bar -- making it one of the very few outdoor bars in downtown L.A.

Casa, 350 S. Grand Ave., L.A. (213) 621-2249. www.casadowntown.com.

-- Jessica Gelt

Photo courtesy of Casa