LAReview

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Cafe Basque image
7.3

Cafe Basque

This spot is Permanently Closed.

FrenchSpanish

Downtown LA

$$$$Perfect For:Date NightDrinking Good CocktailsDrinks & A Light Bite

The people behind Cafe Basque know their way around a hotel lobby. This restaurant on the ground floor of The Hoxton in DTLA used to share the same chef as Le Coucou (located in New York’s 11 Howard Hotel), a fancy French place known for polished service and high-end cuisine in a white tablecloth setting. But that’s not what you’re getting at Cafe Basque. 

This cozier, less formal French-Spanish spot ditches grand chandeliers for something closer to grandma-core. Think white lace valances, framed photographs on every wall, and vintage lampshades you’d dig out at a Pasadena yard sale. These homey touches create a warm bistro ambiance, but they don’t help much with prices—beyond a drink or two and some light bites, the food at Cafe Basque doesn’t quite measure up to the splurge.

The good news is that the best things to eat here tend to be the cheapest: the pintxos. These salty two-bite snacks are simple but easy to like, including ribbons of cured ham that melt on your tongue, and toothpicks of olives, anchovies, and pickled green peppers that go hand in hand with a glass of sparkling txakoli.

Cafe Basque image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Cafe Basque image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Cafe Basque image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Cafe Basque image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Cafe Basque image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Cafe Basque image
Cafe Basque image
Cafe Basque image
Cafe Basque image
Cafe Basque image

But as you move toward the larger dishes on the menu, things are more hit-and-miss. We definitely enjoyed the more substantial pintxos, like a thin, just-cooked Spanish tortilla with a dollop of sweet pepper puree, and the fried calamari with a so-light-it’s-almost-translucent crust, but save for a crisp-skinned striped bass in a green herb and shellfish broth, most of the entrees were either forgettable or downright confusing.

As much as we might fantasize about savoring a double-vermouth martini while gazing out of the restaurant’s tall street-facing windows like a character in a Jean-Luc Godard film, there aren’t many reasons to make eating a full meal here an immediate priority. But if you’re just in need of a cozy, romantically lit hotel bar where you can sip on something chilled, eat a few small plates, and look good doing it, Cafe Basque can make that happen.

Cafe Basque image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Food Rundown

Cafe Basque image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Olives, Anchovies & Pickled Green Peppers

This pintxo's name leaves very little to the imagination. It's savory, briny, and punchy—a lot of flavor packed onto a toothpick. Plus, it pairs so well with the bar's excellent double-vermouth martini that it might as well be a garnish.
Cafe Basque image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Tortilla De St. Jean De Luz

A typical Spanish tortilla might be as thick as a novel and require a half-carton of eggs. But the one at Cafe Basque is served as an ultra-thin frittata made up of 90% tender potato slices and caramelized onions. The best part of this dish is the dollop of creamy and sweet red pepper puree, though it doesn't make a lot of sense next to the equally sweet onions.
Cafe Basque image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Talo

The little quail eggs on these corn wafers give us the same serotonin boost as that video of a hamster eating a tiny burrito. Cuteness aside, there isn't much else going on here. The wafer is bland, and the only flavor coming through is a subtle smokiness from the roasted eggplant puree.
Cafe Basque image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Calamars

All you need to know about this calamari: it arrives hot from the fryer, it's crispy, and it's delicious. They're not reinventing the wheel here, just frying up some nice squid. Extra points for the tangy squid ink aioli used for dipping.
Cafe Basque image

photo credit: Garrett Snyder

Tuna À L'Huile

This simple bright red starter is another highlight, visually and taste-wise: two sheets of raw bluefin tuna swimming in earthy, savory espelette olive oil and sprinkled with a touch of salt.

Grande Salade

The Euro-hotel version of the "big salad" from Seinfeld, this $26 dish is just a large tub of greens topped with things from jars—marinated artichokes, olives, anchovies—and a slightly runny egg. Nothing offensive, but not worth it unless you're eating with a large group in dire need of roughage.
Cafe Basque image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Like A Txangurro

This crab gratin is just OK and probably not something we'd order again. It has a nice crust when it comes out of the oven, but the sweet, finely minced crab meat is almost entirely lost in this hot, breadcrumb-topped bake.

California Rockfish Ttoro

If Dante's Inferno had a 10th Circle of Hell for expensive food, that's where you'd find this dish. It's a $31 bowl of broth with a tiny morsel of fish, a thumb-sized piece of squid, two (three?) mussels, and a single prawn. They do offer free refills on the broth, but it's salty enough that you probably won't crave seconds anyway.
Cafe Basque image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Striped Bass Au Vert

A winner. The combination of tender, flaky fish with crispy skin and a parsley-infused cockle broth the same color as the grass on the Microsoft Bliss wallpaper is your best bet among the entrees. The broth provides a subtle brininess that cranks up the mild flavor of the fish.
Cafe Basque image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Canard Grillé “Souvenir D’Irouleguy”

This grilled duck screams fancy French bistro: high price, small portion, and a lot of technique that disappears in a few bites. For $32, you get a few slices of perfectly pink, dry-aged duck breast that melts in your mouth. The bland-ish almond puree on the side tastes strangely like mashed cauliflower and doesn't add much, but the sweet cherry confiture is a nice touch.
Cafe Basque image

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Basque Cheesecake

The version at Cafe Basque might not have a runny, custardy center, but it's still a solid slice of fluffy cheesecake. The blackened, extra-charred crust adds a touch of bitterness and keeps it from falling into too-sweet territory.

FOOD RUNDOWN

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