One of the most beautiful restaurant interiors in Los Angeles is Toca Madera in Beverly Grove. Designer David Krumins of Davis Ink incorporated a mix of distressed metal, with concrete tiles, quartz stone, hanging rope, plush upholstery and leather accents throughout the dimly lit lounge. In the center of the room is a dramatic mammoth crystal quartzite center bar. The bar staff carefully pour cerveza, wine and ignite dramatic fiery cocktails.
Guests passing through on their way to the outdoor dining patio will notice an intimate lounge area behind the bar, with an in-house DJ spinning lively music that seductively pulsates throughout the restaurant. Moorish lights illuminate sexy Dia de los Muertos art that hangs on the walls.
The evening my husband and I dined at Toca Madera, the back patio area was full, so we sat in front at one of the sidewalk tables looking out to Third Street. Toca Madera translates to “knock on wood,” and throughout the evening, we felt lucky to dine at the upscale Mexican-style restaurant. Our server Whitney recommended we try the new chef’s signature menu prepared by executive chef Pablo Ibarra and his team. Each dish made quite an impression when it was delivered to our table. Both the food and drinks are decorated with edible micro flowers, and the smoky ones dazzled our senses.
Besides tortilla chips and salsa, guests receive a pretty bowl of creamy guacamole sprinkled with lime-enhanced pepitas and bright red pomegranate seeds.
I enjoyed the guacamole with my cocktail, La Vida, which is made with Espolon Resposado, fresh carrot and lemon juice, fresh ginger and wildflower honey.
Space heaters kept us warm throughout the night, which started with ahi tuna that arrived on three thin white medallions of jicama. On top was pickled kohlrabi, samba aioli, daikon sprouts and fried garlic. My only wish was that the base was thicker to hold all the layers, so I could pop each one into my mouth, instead of using a fork.
The second starter, taco el padroni, was spectacular. It was served on a circular wood base under a smoking tall glass lid. Once lifted, the aromatic vapors rose and evaporated, revealing an exquisite small blue tortilla that was topped with grilled Japanese A5 Wagyu. Dots of bright orange escabeche puree, made with pickled carrots and onions, elevated this taco to a new level. On top there was a slightly sweet and creamy whipped creme fraiche, sprinkling of micro greens and shimmering and edible gold leaf shavings.
For entrées, we ordered the Branzino Zarandeado served Jalisco-style. Chef Pablo butterflies the whole fish and grills it until the skin is crispy. It’s gorgeously presented on a platter with more escabeche purée, grilled tomatillos and avocado salsa, charred cherry tomatoes, sliced radish, cilantro and a sprinkling of greens and tiny purple flowers that tasted like oysters.
Another entrée on the chef’s signature menu is a 40-ounce American Wagyu named the Toca Tomahawk. It’s rubbed with a chipotle charcoal and artisanal salts, and cooked with garlic and truffle butter.
New side dishes include truffle mac and cheese, truffle fries and street corn in a bowl. The corn is cooked in boiling water with spices, herbs and salt and cut off the cob. It’s then mixed with lime juice, a little queso fresco and chile powder. It was simple, light and delicious.
Save room for the visually impressive desserts, especially the three-layer tres leches cake served with mixed berries, a mint leaf and flower. We also enjoyed a small key lime tart made with a slightly sweet graham cracker crust, and meringue that was torched gently until caramelized. Pretty yellow flowers offer a pop of color on the plate.
Sitting outside under warm heaters to enjoy thoughtfully curated food and beverages will ignite an unmatched sensory experience for guests dining at Toca Madera. $$$ Open weeknights at 4 p.m. and weekends at 11 a.m. 8450 W. Third St., (323)852-9400.
This article was featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on Nov. 12, 2020