Echo Park needs a refreshing, new neighborhood restaurant like the Lakers need Steve Nash, and Cortez might just be it. The setting is rustic hipster enough: simple, artful chandeliers, exposed brick, pelt pelted on the wall, long, unadorned communal tables. This minimalism fits the restaurant's short menu of shared, if slightly pricey, plates on which precious few but outstanding ingredients from choice farms are intended to speak for themselves. When it works, it does so nicely, as with the furled strips of roasted Delicata squash, spiced with za'atar and a generous helping of tahini ($8) and delicious merguez sausage patties served inside grilled flatbread layered with a mellow yogurt sauce, arugula and pickles ($14). Cortez is young yet, with high ambitions. Unfortunately, putting all your eggs in such a small basket of ingredients means where one element doesn't succeed, the whole dish falls flat. Such was the case with the hearty, but ultimately one-note, pork stew ($14) and saffron cauliflower ($8) that would have benefitted from the flavor and brightness of more currants and green olives.
Eat This: As with most farm-to-table restaurants, the menu here will change as often as the season. The flatbread stuffed with merguez sausage is a substantial dish worth its $14 price tag. For dessert, don't miss the flaky, cream-filled Basque cake ($6).
Drink This: The drinks list is short, dominated primarily by lively red wines from Spain and France. Beer drinkers have fewer but similarly eclectic options. On a recent visit, a pair of Belgian beers (Poperings Hommel golden ale and St. Bernardus quadrupel) were available.
Sit Here: Pull up a seat at one of two long communal tables; otherwise, sit at the bar if you dislike sharing space with others or if you want to take a peek into the kitchen at work.
Conversation Piece: Cortez owners Marta Teegen and Robert Stelzner also own the much beloved, nearby Cookbook market, which similarly specializes in well-sourced meats and groceries.