Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Playa (Los Angeles, CA) [3]

Playa Restaurant
7360 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Wed 03/06/2013, 07:30p-09:45p

Playa Exterior

When John Sedlar's Playa first debuted two years ago, it was hailed as a more casual, more of-the-moment version of the Chef's flagship Rivera. Situated inside the building that once housed Neal Fraser's Grace, it featured a more laid back interpretation of Sedlar's pan-Latin cooking, centered around beach-y themes and Baja California. I quite liked it, and the restaurant garnered its share of critical acclaim as well, but for some reason, I guess it simply never caught on--just not the right fit for the neighborhood I suppose. I think a lot of us were surprised when the place announced its closure on March 4th, especially with regard to how quickly the shutter was happening, just two days later. Given the prominence of Playa, a revisit on the last night of service was certainly called for.

Playa Menu Playa Cocktail List
The menu had been revamped in recent months, with Chef Sedlar adding a number of Chinese-Mexican fusion dishes, ostensibly a result of a trip to Chinesca, Mexicali's Chinatown (the largest of its kind in the country, started by Cantonese immigrants brought in to build Valle de Mexicali's irrigation system). Just as we did on opening night, we planned on ordering the entire menu, a feat made significantly easier due to the fact that 7 of the 19 savory courses had run out! Cocktails were a must naturally, and we made sure to run the gamut there as well. Click for larger versions.

CIELO VERDE GAZPACHO SALAD CONE [$9.00] | cucumber / tomato / jalafuego & padron chiles / avocado / garlic petals
Dinner commenced with a trio of "Baja Cones," the first of which featured some produce from the rooftop garden. The bite did recall the essence of gazpacho, though there was a distinct guacamole character to it as well. No matter, the cone worked it out, with the crisp brightness of the veggies proudly conveyed.

HAMACHI TARTARE CONE [$13.00] | yellowtail / black cobra chiles / pac choi salad / miso / sesame oil / black sesame seeds
Yellowtail was rather tasty, arriving to the table enrobed in deep, dark, Asian-y nuances courtesy of the miso, though the fish could've been a touch more apparent on the palate. I found the savory crunch of the cone especially key in this presentation.

CHINESCA CHICKEN SALAD CONE [$10.00] | pulled roast chicken / toasted almonds / ginger / pac choi / napa cabbage / rice vinegar-chile dressing
The last cone was my favorite of the threesome. In fact, it just might've been the best chicken salad I've ever had, with the hefty weight of the bird beautifully paired with its various accompaniments, and the vinegar-chile dressing adding a tart, overarching element that tied everything together.

Baja Rickey / Anejo Honey Sour / Chili Limon
Baja Rickey [$12.00] | 4 year aged white rum, benedictine, fresh lime, angostura, tamarind soda
Anejo Honey Sour [$8.00] | tequila, honey, lemon, flamed grapefruit
Chili Limon [$10.00] | aged rum, islay scotch, fresh lime, caramelized pineapple syrup, piment d'espellette
Our first round of cocktails started with the Baja Rickey, which I actually thought was overly sugary (I imagine from the tamarind), though the drink did have a sort of refreshing astringency on the close. The Anejo Honey Sour was more to my liking, with the tequila clearly the star of the show in the drink, deftly contrasted by the sweet and sour notes of the honey and lemon--nicely integrated. The Chili Limon was also a winner, with the smoky Islay nose transitioning gorgeously to the sweet, tart, boozy base of the drink, all while the finish gave us long, lingering notes of smoke.

POTSTICKERS PUERCO PIBIL [$9.00] | roasted pineapple salsa / pipián verde
Pot stickers were nice enough, imbued with the heady weight of the puerco, though I'm not sure if the meat was highlighted in the best way possible. That being said, I appreciated the lingering spice to the dish, and the brightness of the pineapple did serve as a nice counterpoint in the course.

PIQUILLOS RELLENOS [$9.00] | black beans / caramelized onion / piloncillo / chipotles
Stuffed peppers turned out to be a table favorite, the cheesy, charred, smoky combo of Fontina and Gruyère working in unison with the sweet flavors of the piquillo. We actually ended up ordering another round of these toward the end of dinner.

TACOS JAVIER PLASCENCIA [$11.00] | swordfish achiote / ensalada alta tijuana / guac
Here, Sedlar pays homage to Javier Plascencia's famed swordfish pibil tacos. The fish itself arrived smoky and savory from the achiote, while the pairing of guacamole and red onion added a well-placed burst of color and levity to the dish.

KUNG-PAO CAMARONES [$16.00] | rooster beak chiles / cacahuate salsa / bean sprouts
Sedlar's riff on the ubiquitous kung-pao was another highlight of the meal. This shrimp were nicely done, not overcooked and still snappy, and went superbly with the classically Chinese nuances in the dish. I loved the creeping undercurrent of spice here, and the bean sprouts offered up a delightful crunch and lightness to the mix.

5 Spice Sangrita / Gold Rush / Beer and a Ball
5 Spice Sangrita [$12.00] | blanco tequila back, lime, orange, pomegranate, chinese 5 spice
Gold Rush [$8.00] | bourbon, honey, lemon
Beer and a Ball [$10.00] | campari, aperol, grapefruit, sage, lime, beer
Round #2 of drinks brought us a two-parter in the form of the 5 Spice Sangrita, which paired Espolon blanco against a savory, spicy, jammy concoction that actually worked well when consumed with the liquor; one of my dining companions compared the effect to an "alcoholic Fruit Roll-Up." The Gold Rush, meanwhile, was quite familiar, with the interplay between honey and lemon forming a classic companion to the whiskey. Finally, we had the Beer and a Ball, a refreshing cocktail that proudly showed off the bittersweet character of Aperol and Campari while conveying the crisp effervescence of Miller High Life (yes, you read that right).

TAMAL CHIPOTLE [$15.00] | wild-mushroom corn masa dumpling / sliced filet mignon / chipotle béarnaise / watercress
Interestingly enough, I thoroughly enjoyed this dish the first time I had it, but it ended up falling short this evening. The steak was fine, tender and beefy as you'd expect, and the earthy masa made sense too. However, the chipotle béarnaise dominated the dish, effectively overwhelming most of the other flavors at play.

AREPAS BARRIO [$13.00] | corn cakes / pork belly / jalafuego chiles / charred green onions / queso panela
Arepas weren't exactly models of finesse, but were tasty nonetheless, with the pork belly pairing well with the smoky, cheesy components in the dish, all while the corn cakes grounded the course.

PASTRAMI TACOS [$10.00] | blue corn shells / pastrami / sauerkraut / ballpark mustard
Pastrami tacos were as good as they sound, with the supple, mouth-watering slices of meat pairing flawlessly with the tangy shreds of sauerkraut and pepper present.

CHORROS AL VAPOR [$13.00] | vapor-cooked mussels / charred tomatillo-serrano salsa / longaniza sausage / avocado / grilled rustic toast
Playa's mussels are known throughout the land, and for good reason, as they were utterly fantastic. The bivalves were spot on: firm, yet supple and snappy, with a subtle brine that paired beautifully with the smoky, savory broth. The bits of longaniza tossed in were an added bonus, and served as the icing on the cake in this perfect mussels dish. Not only did we ask for more bread to sop up the remaining liquid with, we drank it straight from the bowl.

Jane's Addiction / Opium Cocktail / The Cold Open
Jane's Addiction [$12.00] | vodka, manzanilla sherry, fresh lemon, angostura, lemon peel, seltzer
Opium Cocktail [$8.00] | tequila, plum wine, champagne, lemon
The Cold Open [$12.00] | tea infused scotch, smith & cross rum, jamaican rum, tiki bitters, sugar
Our last set of cocktails got off to a good start with the Jane's Addiction, an eminently balanced drink that perfectly blended the contrasting elements present; I especially enjoyed the finish, redolent of sherry. The Opium Cocktail was less successful, putting forth a sour, acidic, astringent character that was rather harsh on the palate. Finally, we had The Cold Open, a delicious cocktail that married the aromatics of tea with a combo of whiskey and rum, all while the sugar and bitters added a sweet-spicy veil to the drink--nice!

XINJIANG ALMOND GELATIN FRUIT SALAD [$8.00] | cactus pear / asian pear / buddha's hand lemon syrup / almond galleta
Dessert kicked off with a dish that reminded me of the almond jelly you get at Chinese restaurants, but a bit more interesting and multifaceted, with the mild taste of the gelatin balancing out the sugary smack of the prickly and nashi pears.

NIEVES CHINE [$8.00] | chinese ice creme / latin french sorbet
Sorbets arrived with a distinct Asian-y influence to them. I believe I tasted ginger and even suan mei.

MEXICO CITY SUNDAE [$10.00] | vanilla ice cream / habanero caramel / passion fruit / blue cornmeal cookie
We ended with a simple sundae, which I actually quite enjoyed, the lush, creamy, and unabashedly sweet contents of that Mason jar given a jolt by a touch of habanero caramel.

Diners, including myself, seemed to be pretty happy with Playa, but from what I gather, the investors in the place weren't quite as thrilled, and it probably just wasn't a hit financially. A shame really. As for what's next, the space will remain in the Bill Chait family of restaurants, and John Sedlar will still be involved in the next incarnation, though Chef de Cuisine Kevin Luzande is out, probably to start his own solo project (fingers crossed that it involves his native Filipino food). They're taking a few weeks to retool, but given the short timeframe, I don't expect drastic changes to the interior, but I do hear that the Cielo Verde rooftop garden will be more integral to whatever's taking over the spot.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i wanna try those cones!

Friday, March 22, 2013 8:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Andy Gavin said...

I've been a huge Sedlar fan since the Bikini/Abique days and it's always sad when the general/trendy public doesn't get it with really good food.

Friday, March 22, 2013 9:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

THis place was good till they changed to that chinese mexican theme. Too expensive for the tiniest portions of below average food.

Sunday, March 24, 2013 2:37:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Jipeng: Which one?

Andy: Ah that was obviously way before my time, but I did have a taste during that special dinner a while back.

Anon: Perhaps they changed it because the old menu wasn't doing well? A last ditch attempt?

Thursday, April 04, 2013 1:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Andy Gavin said...

I went specially to Riveria for that retrospective too :-)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 5:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Andy Gavin said...

Forgot to link to it, my retro meal was here.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 5:58:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Andy: Nice man. I need to get back to Rivera, especially now that Playa's gone.

Monday, June 03, 2013 6:40:00 PM  

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