Friday, February 11, 2011

Playa (Los Angeles, CA)

Playa Restaurant
7360 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Fri 02/11/2011, 06:45p-11:50p

Playa Exterior
Given the smashing success that John Sedlar has achieved at Rivera, his seminal Downtown temple of pan-Latin cookery, it was almost inevitable that the Chef would have expansion on his mind. What we have debuting tonight in the former digs of Neal Fraser's Grace (and before that, the long-lived eatery Muse, which Sedlar was fascinated by), thus, can be viewed as Rivera v2.0. It's more appropriately named Playa ("beach" in Spanish, not manwhore), and rather than being a mere carbon copy of its progenitor, Playa is a decidedly more relaxed, more casual affair, inspired by the desert environs of Santa Fe (where Sedlar grew up) and the sunny beaches of Los Angeles.

Playa Interior
Playa Interior
Grace's somewhat austere façade has been dramatically facelifted with floor-to-ceiling windows and hardwood. Meanwhile, inside it's a different story altogether as well--think lighter, brighter, and less formal, with more color, more fun, the handiwork of restaurant architect Osvaldo Maiozzi, partner Eddie Sotto, and interior designer Deborah Gregory of DiG Interiors.

Playa Menu: Warm Playa Menu: Cool Playa Menu: Individuales
Playa's menu, not surprisingly, features a wide selection of Sedlar's "urban" Latin-inspired cooking, most all of it in small plate form meant for sharing, though there are a handful of larger plates as well. In charge of the kitchen is Sedlar's Chef de Cuisine, Kevin Luzande. Click for larger versions.

Playa Wines by the Glass Playa Cocktails
As for libations, wine is the charge of Sommelier Ben Broidy, who presents here an interesting, approachable, heavily Latin American- and Spanish-slanted list. In terms of cocktails, Rivera's Julian Cox once again works his magic here, designing a beverage menu to fit the varied bill of fare. Helping Cox implement his vision are barmen Davidson Fernie (La Descarga, Library Bar, Church & State), Kate Grutman (The Tar Pit, Terroni, The Doheny), Jeremy Lake (Rivera), Brian Summers (Test Kitchen, Hollywood Roosevelt Library Bar, Bar Centro at The Bazaar, Comme Ça), and Julian Wayser (Caña Rum Bar, The Doheny). Click for larger versions.

Pear Blossom Highway Two Moon July The Grail
Pear Blossom Highway [$13.00] | Pisco, Clear Creek Eau de Vie, Yellow Chartreuse, Citrus, Bartlett Pears
Two Moon July [$13.00] | Bourbon, Grape Coulis, Amaro Medley, Grains of Paradise, Paradise, Tonic
The Grail [$13.00] | Bonded Apple Brandy, Fresh Pressed Lady Apples, Spanish Red, Don's mix, Apple Espuma
Speaking of those cocktails, we began with a threesome. The Pear Blossom Highway showed off loads of pear aroma on the nose, which continued on to the palate thanks to the use of pear brandy. This sweetness was then complemented by the power of the pisco, while the Chartreuse added a slightly vegetal, astringent character. The Two Moon July was also quite tasty, with a distinct grape-y sugariness countered by the weight of the Bourbon and bitter Amaro, all with a touch of pepperiness from the Grains of Paradise. Finally, we had The Grail, my favorite of the trio. I loved its unabashed apple essence--the airy espuma especially--all accented by the sweet 'n' spicy tinge of Don's Mix and the vinous weight of red wine.

Black Bean Crème
Black Bean Crème [$7.00] | frijoles moros soup, compressed apple, calvados, tropical mint
Our meal got off to a strong start with this wonderful black bean soup. The rich, smoky, earthy essence of the frijoles was faultlessly captured here: an in-your-face smack of flavor finished with the slightest touch of heat. We all commented that the crème would be perfect just served simply over rice. However, the compressed apple was also a fitting accompaniment, with the crisp sweetness of the fruit contrasting beautifully with the weight of the bean.

Fideos Cítricos
Fideos Cítricos [$14.00] | saffron linguini caseros, tomato, shallots, fresno chiles, cumin, lime
Fideos refers to a thin, vermicelli-esque noodle commonly found in Spanish and Mexican cuisine. Here, we had a lovely presentation of the housemade linguini, cooked with a delectable spicy-sour dressing that went marvelously with the noodles. My only quibble was that I wanted their texture to be a bit firmer, a bit more al dente if you will.

Maize Cake Bombay Taj
Maize Cake Bombay Taj [$11.00] | pork belly confit, chile-lime jicama, mango pickle, masala, chana crisp, raita espuma
Here, Sedlar takes a detour from Latin America and lands squarely in India. The flavors of the subcontinent were expertly interpreted in this dish. The pork belly was clearly the star of the show, yet at the same time, it was adroitly complemented by the sweet-spicy-savory components on the plate. I found the peppery zest of the greens especially enjoyable, and the maize cake really did do a great job in grounding the dish.

Maize Cake Breakfast
Maize Cake Breakfast [$11.00] | 63° egg, pan-seared potato, espuma de queso, black trumpet mushrooms, truffle cheese
With an ingredient list containing egg, potato, cheese, and truffle, there was almost no way that this could've turned out bad. And indeed, it was one of our favorite dishes of the night. The course presented the flavors of breakfast beautifully, with a tremendous interaction between the salty potato and luscious egg mitigated by the astringency of the greens, all while the truffle and mushrooms added touches of earthiness to the fray.

A Oaxacan the Clouds Survival Guide
A Oaxacan the Clouds [$13.00] | Mezcal, Roasted Farm Tomatoes, Crispy Sage, Pimenton D'espelette
Survival Guide [$13.00] | XO Armagnac, Calvados, Miele de Corbezzelo, Creole Bitters
Our next cocktail was A Oaxacan the Clouds, a lovely blend of smoky and spicy savors, nicely perked up by the succulent sweetness of tomato and vegetal aroma of sage. The Survival Guide, meanwhile, was even better. I really appreciated its base of Armagnac and Calvados, sweetened up by the application of honey, then given a kick by the bitter-sweet-spicy-herbal combination of Creole Bitters and licorice root.

Humitas [$15.00] | baja surf clam, red bell pepper, queso ranchero, fresno chiles, chives, lime pesto
A humita is a pre-Columbian dish of cornmeal dough (masa), and here, Sedlar presents a reinterpreted version of the classic. It was one of my favorites of the night, and I adored the snappy consistency and brininess of the clam, and how it played with the sweetness of the bell pepper and creaminess of the cheese, all under the overarching tang of lime pesto. Just a stupendous mélange of flavors, all moderated by a base of cornmeal.

Arroz con Pato
Arroz con Pato [$16.00] | duck confit, baby vegetable pickles, arroz blanco jus, fresno chiles, chives, micro cilantro
Next up was clearly one of the best preparations of duck confit that I'd ever had (probably second place, behind a version by Ricardo Zarate). We're talking falling-apart tender flesh and nicely crisp skin, teeming with rich, dark, heavy, unabashedly "duck-y" flavors, all countervailed by the tart kick of the pickles. If anything, I'd like to have more rice on the plate.

Flor de Calabaza Tempura
Flor de Calabaza Tempura [$11.00] | squash blossoms, Spanish bacalao, veal reduction, chorizo jus, capers, castelveltrano olives
I'm generally not a huge fan of stuffed squash blossoms, but this was certainly one of the stronger variations I've had. The use of bacalao gave the dish a marked saltiness that I enjoyed, while the chorizo contributed just a slight prick of heat. The piquancy of the capers and olives, however, was a bit too much, as they took my attention off the salt cod.

Tamalli Chateaubriand
Tamalli Chateaubriand [$13.00] | wild-mushroom duxelles dumpling, filet mignon, chipotle béarnaise
You could almost think of this course as a French-ified tamale. The meat was as tender as you'd expect from filet mignon, with a surprisingly rich savor and lovely char, all accented by the smoky weight of the chipotle béarnaise. The traditional masa was amped up by the inclusion of mushrooms, and the combination of the cornmeal and beef was immensely satisfying.

El Rodeo #2 The Spice Trade An Andalusian: 3 Ways
El Rodeo #2 [$13.00] | Tobacco-Smoked Rye Whiskey, Canella Ceylon Tincture, Toasted Guajillo, Fresh Citrus
The Spice Trade [$13.00] | Double-Aged PX Rum, Galangal, Kaffir Lime Tincture, Bitter Lemon Soda
An Andalusian: 3 Ways [$13.00] | Pasofino / Palomino / Furioso, Reposado, Cocchi Americano, Spanish Vermouth
Our final round of cocktails brought us El Rodeo #2, which arrived at our table looking somewhat like a mini pint of hefeweizen. It tasted much more interesting however, with a spicy sweetness and tangy citrus kick, all over a subtly smoky whiskey base. The Spice Trade, on the other hand, was a much more piquant affair, with an almost numbing effect from the sharp, piney flavors of the galangal, joined by a prick of zest from the kaffir lime. We finished with An Andalusian: 3 Ways, which offers drinkers a choice of three types of Sherry depending on whether the libation comes before, during, or after a meal. Named after three breeds of horses--Paso Fino, Palomino, Furioso--the three varieties of Sherry are Fino, Amontillado, or East India. We had the Paso Fino, a delicate, citrusy sweet concoction that I rather enjoyed.

Ensalada Flan de Elote
Ensalada Flan de Elote [$9.00] | fresh corn custard, huitlacoche sauce, queso cotija, market lettuces
Here, a hemispherical mound of corn flan beautifully captured the pure, unmitigated essence of elote. I appreciated the woodiness imparted by the huitlacoche, while the cheese added further heft to the dish. The key for me, though, was the mâche, which provided an offsetting tang that superbly balanced the course. A must-order if you're a fan of corn.

Octo-Palm [$13.00] | grilled octopus, palm hearts, scallions, oven-dried cherry tomatoes, oven-dried red onion
Octopus was prepared sous vide, then grilled. The end result was subtly sweet, with dark flavors and a light bit of char; I would've liked a more tender consistency, though. The cephalopod was nicely paired with the palm hearts, while the cherry tomatoes added further points of sweetness to the salad. The crux of the dish, however, was the arugula, which provided a well-placed, offsetting bitterness. Interestingly, this reminded me very much of a similar octopus salad that I had at Angelini Osteria.

Maize Cake Salsa Semilla
Maize Cake Salsa Semilla [$11.00] | fresh burrata, salsa verde, arugula salad, amaranth, sal de colima
Our third maize cake came topped with a large dollop of burrata, arugula, amaranth microgreens, and a semilla condiment of dried chile, pumpkin seeds, and peanuts. The burrata was clearly the focus of the dish, and was deftly complemented by a classic pairing of arugula. What elevated the course, though, was the semilla, which imbued things with a simultaneously earthy, smoky, and sweet flavor finished with the lingering essence of pepitas.

Papas Salsa Verde
Papas Salsa Verde [$7.00] | kennebec potatoes, avocado, chiles serranos, micro cilantro
These were potato chips basically, dressed with a commixture of avocado, chile, and cilantro. The papas, expectedly, were crisp and wonderfully salty, yet beautifully counterbalanced by their tangy green accoutrements, and I especially enjoyed the slight bit of spice on the finish. Perhaps the best potato chips that I've ever had.

Maize Cake Wild Mushrooms
Maize Cake Wild Mushrooms [$12.00] | black garlic and olive "soil," exotic mushrooms, époisses cheese, porcini espuma, chives
The earthiness of the mushrooms here was clearly the focus of this course. The 'shrooms were certainly delectable alone, but the additional weight of the Époisses was absolutely crucial, adding a layer of luxuriousness that completed the course for me. At the same time, the maize cake base definitely helped ground the dish, and I quite appreciated the countervailing bitterness of the greenery.

Maize Cake Cauliflower x 3
Maize Cake Cauliflower x 3 [$8.00] | caramelized, oven-dried, and hibiscus-pickled cauliflower, oven-dried jalapeño, curry espuma
I'm somewhat of a cauliflower whore, so I was looking forward to our last maize cake of the evening. The three variations of cauliflower were nicely presented here, deftly conveying the various facets of the vegetable, and I liked the bit of heat contributed by the jalapeño and curry.

Lipsticks [$13.00] | red fresno chiles, crab, corn, olive oil sorbet morado, rosemary oil, sal de colima, citrus-beet pintura
Next up was perhaps the most visually striking plate of the evening. Lipstick peppers arrived stuffed with crab, with the sweet brine of the crustacean playing rather well with the inherent sugariness of the chile. Meanwhile, the corn provided more saccharine flavor, while the floral character of the sorbet took things up another notch. Despite all this, the crab was still the star of the show.

Tortillas Florales
Tortillas Florales [$8.00] | maize cakes with organic flower petals, indian butter
Sedlar's Tortillas Florales have quickly become Rivera's most talked about dish, and for good reason. They're handmade using ground dried corn, then impregnated with flowers and herbs, browned on a griddle, and served warm. Always satisfying, they taste earthy, yet with a profound depth not found in typical tortillas. Spread on some of that "guacamole," and the effect is almost magical.

Alto Moncayo | Veraton
Alto Moncayo | Veraton [$68.00] | Campo de Borja, 2008
With our mains, we decided to order up some wine, specifically the 2008 Bodegas Alto Moncayo Campo de Borja Veraton, a Spanish Grenache produced from 60-year old vines. I rather enjoyed it, finding it to be a bold, lusty wine, showing off loads of dark fruit and spice while still remaining relatively smooth and subdued.

Skate Wing
Skate Wing [$18.00] | tamarind-cinnamon gastrique, red lentils with chorizo, purslane salad
Our first "big" plate brought us skate wing, falling-apart tender with a slight sweetness augmented by a sauce of tamarind and cinnamon. I quite liked the fish, though the spice of the accompanying chorizo and earthiness of the red lentils really completed the dish for me.

Puerco [$26.00] | chile-rubbed pork tenderloin, salsa verde, pea tendrils, manzana, sage
The puerco, without a doubt, was one of the stronger presentations of pork that I'd had in a while. The meat was superbly succulent and tender, with a delightful spicy-smokiness that complemented the dish's inherent porcine savor rather nicely. At the same time, the tang of the paired salsa verde was key, and I appreciated the countervailing bitterness from the pea tendrils. I could've done without the apples, however.

Pan-Seared Loup de Mer
Pan-Seared Loup de Mer [$25.00] | maître d' butter, five sauces: romesco, chimichurri, verde, ají amarillo, ají panca
Loup de mer was beautifully cooked--crisp out the outside, but leading to a somewhat rare, creamy interior with a lovely ocean-y relish. The sea bass was delicious alone, but was deftly elevated by the inclusion of five sauces (the presentation of which was inspired by a dish Sedlar had at Celler de Can Roca). I especially enjoyed the sharp spice of the ají panca and the complexity of the chimichurri.

Twice-Seared Duck
Twice-Seared Duck [$19.00] | garbanzo crème, pepitas, white and black sesame, blood orange olive oil
Seared rare, duck arrived gorgeously flavored, with the heady, hefty savor of the bird expertly balanced by the pepitas and sesame, while the garbanzos did an excellent job in tempering the dish.

Cauliflower / Alliums
Cauliflower [$6.00] | oven-roasted, indian spices, green chiles, chana crisp
Alliums [$6.00] | vinegar-caramelized whole shallots, cipollini, cebolla verde
Along with our mains, we also tried the two sides on offer. I started with the cauliflower, which was smoky sweet, but unfortunately too soft; I wanted a crisper, less cooked through consistency. We also had a side of shallots, cipollini onions, and green onions. I liked the textures at play here, but I found the dish overly saccharine.

Playa Menu: Azucar
With the savories dispensed with, it was time for the sweet stuff. Click for a larger version.

Desserts at Playa come courtesy of Pastry Chef Rommel De Leon. The Manila-born chef attended the California School of Culinary Arts' Le Cordon Bleu program, graduating in 2007. Following, he worked a stint at Dubai's iconic Burj Al Arab hotel, then moved back to the Southland to bake at Cookie Casa and cook at Glendale's Cafe Rosemary. In 2008, De Leon transitioned to a Chef de Partie role at Little Dom's in Los Feliz, then moved to The Hollywood Roosevelt as a Pastry Cook. BondSt was next on his agenda, followed by a tenure at La Maison Du Pain. 2009 saw the Chef take on the Pastry Sous Chef position at Rivera, and in 2010, he would become the Pastry Chef at Bastide, before joining Sedlar back at Playa.

Amarillo [$8.00] | ripe mango fan, corn shortbread, passionfruit and tamarind gelées, black rice ice cream
Our first dessert brought us sweet, succulent slices of mango, perfectly paired with black sesame ice cream. That combination of fruity and earthy flavors was superb, and I also enjoyed the additional complexity and textures imparted by the passion fruit and tamarind gelées. Very nice spicy-floral finish here as well.

Flora y Terra
Flora y Terra [$7.00] | vanilla cake, strawberries, pomegranate, candied chiles piquillos, strawberry-anise sorbet, cava consommé
My favorite dessert of the bunch. Certainly, the commixture of strawberry and vanilla is nothing new, but what was novel was the use of anise, which lent an overarching licorice-like flavor to the entire dish that played impeccably with the sweetness of the fruit.

Coconut [$8.00] | pineapple-coconut bread pudding, tropical fruit salad, roasted pineapples
Here, the focal point was placed squarely on the bread pudding, which was a dense, heavy affair, with an almost cheese-like quality to it. As such, the tart sweetness of the pineapple was crucial in balancing out the dish.

Pastel Café
Pastel Café [$9.00] | mocha sponge, espresso crème, toffee honeycomb, colombian chocolate ice cream
The spherical object you see was made from chocolate, and was subsequently melted by the application of what I believe was a hot chocolate-fruit sauce. The resulting admixture was necessary in offsetting the coffee flavors in the rest of the dessert, and I especially appreciated the additional sweetness and textural component provided by the toffee honeycomb.

Luna Mezcal
Luna Mezcal [$8.00] | chocolate cake, chocolate glaze, mezcal ice cream, caramel popcorn, spanish peanuts
Our final course of the evening was a fitting conclusion to the meal. The chocolate cake itself was fairly standard, but what set the dessert apart was the mezcal ice cream, which contributed a funky, smoky character to the dish that really went well with the chocolate. At the same time, the floral flavor of the sorbet was tremendous as well, adding a complex counterpoint to the mix that wrapped things up nicely.

I fully expected to enjoy my time at Playa, and the restaurant did not disappoint. Compared to Rivera, the food here tends toward the more casual, the more playful, but simultaneously, it's also sophisticated, unequivocally contemporary, undeniably creative, and most importantly, delicious. Sedlar's trademark pan-Latin flavors are here in full force, respectful of the past, but imbued with a modernist sensibility as well--a fitting restaurant to continue the culinary legacy at 7360 Beverly.

John Sedlar, Bill Chait


Blogger Kung Food Panda said...

Great work as usual running the gamut. I'm looking forward to trying Playa. Hopefully sooner than later.

Monday, February 14, 2011 1:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for the great review on Playa... this is rommel de leon, the pastry chef. Looking forward to meeting you on your next visit.

Monday, February 14, 2011 2:18:00 AM  
Blogger sygyzy said...

Wow, this place really looks amazing. The cocktails are imaginative and the food looks stunning. Thanks for the review Kevin.

Monday, February 14, 2011 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger Hall-e said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Monday, February 14, 2011 12:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Holly W said...

Oops. Accidently published under wrong profile!

As I was saying...Some of those presentations are quite stunning. I like the artwork on the plates.

Great post as usual; Can't wait to go myself

Monday, February 14, 2011 12:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Ann said...

I can't believe you guys ate 27 dishes! And dinner service seemed to operated smoothly w/o any opening night issues.

Monday, February 14, 2011 5:33:00 PM  
Blogger EpicuriousTravels said...

How many companions do you usually dine with? There's always plenty of food. :) I bet I can still eat everything though haha.

Monday, February 14, 2011 6:30:00 PM  
Blogger Acumen said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Monday, February 14, 2011 10:50:00 PM  
Blogger Pepsi Monster said...

Dude, I was disappointed I couldn't go on Thursday night for the Test Kitchen reunion. Apparently, the place messed up our reservation for that night.

It looks good. I might go in the future, but after not in the near future. I'll wait until the buzz dies down a bit and also I'm getting over the disappointment of not going on the Test Kitchen Reunion.

Monday, February 14, 2011 10:51:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Whitener said...

went here last night because of your post. the lady and I were very please with the whole experience. we will for sure go again.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 2:18:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Danny: It actually wasn't that hard to gamut, much easier that Red Medicine, for example. A hungry team of four should be able to do it.

Rommel: It's good to see you back with Chef Sedlar. I've updated the post with a brief bio for you; please let me know of any errors or omissions.

sygyzy: You're quite welcome. Any plans to make it out?

Holly: What was wrong with that profile??? In any case, I do like how the photographs on the plate mix things up a bit.

Ann: The only services flubs involved us getting more than we ordered. Thus, we actually ate closer to 30 plates!

Jennifer: On this night, I had a party of four, which is a good number to have logistically if you're planning a gamut. I think that you could've handled it.

Mike: Yeah it was too bad I couldn't make it Thursday either. However, I heard it was way too packed that night, and food may have suffered. And what's "Acumen," if you don't mind me asking?

Chris: Great to hear! Which dishes did you two have?

Friday, February 18, 2011 2:31:00 AM  

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