Saturday, November 11, 2023

Corteza at Sendero (Los Angeles, CA)

Corteza at Sendero
900 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015
Sat 11/11/2023, 06:20p-09:55p

Sendero Entrance Signage Corteza at Sendero View

My latest birthday dinner brought me to Sendero, a new multi-concept affair that opened on February 23rd at the Ritz-Carlton at LA Live. The restaurant is actually composed of four distinct areas. We were here for Corteza, a seafood-focused Latin-American spot. There's also Leña, an Argentinean-inspired steakhouse, as well as The Agave Library, a sort of chef's table serving a menu paired with agave spirits. Last up is Volante, a kitchen counter-style experience that hasn't opened yet. The man in charge of all this is Kevin Luzande, a familiar name, but one that I haven't heard in a while around these parts.

About the Chef: An LA native, Luzande was born in October 1983 to a Filipino-American household, and got interested in food in part due to his family's visits to the Philippines. Following high school graduation in 2001, he attended culinary school, and during this period, started working at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey. After completing his studies in 2003, he continued on at the hotel until 2006, then moved to Las Vegas the following year for a line cook position at David Burke Modern American Cuisine at The Venetian. He stayed there for a year, but left in March 2008 and came back to Southern California, where he secured an Exec Chef gig at The Kress in Hollywood. In March 2009, Luzande was hired by John Sedlar and transitioned over to Rivera, where he became CdC.

He then opened sister restaurant Playa in February 2011, but the place only lasted about two years, shuttering in March 2013. Shortly before the closure, the Chef took over the kitchen at Buddha's Belly in Santa Monica, but was only there a few months. He soon joined the team at Acabar, and opened the restaurant in July 2013 alongside Octavio Becerra. Acabar ended up folding in April 2015, and following, Luzande left the US and went down to Mexico to run the show (along with Oscar Torres) at Acre Restaurant in San José del Cabo. He decamped in 2018, did some traveling across Central and South America, then stepped away from cooking before being lured back last year by the folks behind Sendero.

Corteza at Sendero Bar
Corteza at Sendero Lounge
Sendero takes over the former home WP24/Nest space on the 24th floor of the hotel, and the space has been reimagined by the team over at EDG Design. Shown above is the bar/lounge section of Corteza.

Corteza at Sendero Dining Room
And here we see Corteza's dining area.

The Agave Library at Sendero
The Agave Library is basically a private dining room.

Volante at Sendero
And this is Volante, a chef's counter type of setup that's yet to open.

Corteza at Sendro Menu: Pa la Banda Corteza at Sendro Menu: Empanadas, Principales, Dulces Corteza at Sendro Cocktail List Corteza at Sendro Wines by the Glass & Beer List
Corteza's menu is decidedly pan-Latin American, but with a distinct seafood bent. Also shown here are the restaurant's selection of (rather pricey) cocktails, beers, and wines by the glass. Click for larger versions.

Tlayuda Chips, Salsa Macha, Escabeche
Freebies that hit the table included tlayuda chips, salsa macha, and escabeche-style pickles.

Arepas - Colombia [$20.00] | duck confit / chipotle black bean / cotija / preserved lemon crema
We'll start with the arepas, which were definitely a highlight. I was a big fan of their simultaneously soft yet crisp consistency, as well as how the salty, savory flavors of the duck meshed with the beans, all while that tangy crema completed the package. You'll probably want to get these.

Palo Santo (Smoking) Palo Santo
Palo Santo [$26.00] | bookers unfiltered / carpano antica rosso / cynar amaro / bitters / palo santo smoke
Our first cocktail arrived with some tableside theatrics, and showed off a wonderfully sweet, fragrant, woody smoke commingled with aromas of dark fruits. On the palate, the drink was rich and viscous, its bittersweet qualities combining seamlessly with smoke and boozy heat.

Queso Gobernador
Queso Gobernador - Mexico [$25.00] | oaxacan string cheese / shrimp / chintextle paste / tostada
Shrimp came out gratifyingly textured and deeply flavored, with a palpable brine, and worked great with the quesillo while the tostada served up a tempering crunch.

Tiradito - Peru [$24.00] | hokkaido scallops / aji amarillo / gooseberries / pineapple
In this near-monochromatic rendition of tiradito, sweet-n-saline cuts of scallop were paired with tart fruit and an even more piquant ají amarillo sauce.

Anticuchos - Bolivia [$28.00] | ribeye skewer / aji panca + garlic rub / potato confit / peanut huacatay salsa
Rib eye was a bit tougher than I'd like, but really delivered in the taste department thanks to its wonderfully heady amalgam of sour, spicy, and savory flavors. Hearty, subtly sweet potatoes made sense as an accompaniment, but my favorite thing here was that nutty, zingy huacatay salsa, which was a superb complement to the beef and which I sort of want on everything now.

Flor de la Gente
Flor de la Gente [$26.00] | novo fogo cachaca / jamaica syrup / lemon / egg white
This scarlet-tinted cocktail blended floral, fruity, and citric nuances with a bitter edge and the fluffiness of egg white.

Charred Octopus
Charred Octopus - Costa Rica [$24.00] | pineapple / red fresno salsa / tri citrus
Octo came out chewier than I was hoping for, though the savoriness and salinity I wanted was there, and linked up with the bright, fruity flavors in the dish.

Aguachile Negro
Aguachile Negro - Baja, Mexico [$24.00] | cardinal prawn / yuzu / avocado / nasturtium
Raw shrimp showed off a supple, snappy consistency, their cool, briny nature augmented by a smoky, earthy marinade while the avocado and nasturtium lightened the mood.

Birds of Paradise
Birds of Paradise [$26.00] | diplomatico rum / plantation pineapple rum / st. germain / guava / lemon
This cocktail was a bit of a crowd-pleaser due to its commingling of tropical notes with a subtle, underlying bitterness that kept things in check.

Tuna Tostada
Tuna Tostada - Ensenada, Mexico [$24.00] | sea urchin / avocado / salsa macha / pickled pearl onion
Ruby-hued cuts of tuna displayed a refined brine and umami that melded easily with the nutty heat of salsa macha, and I appreciated the contrast offered up by the creamy avocado and all the pickle-y bits. However, I wasn't sure if the uni really added all that much here.

nixtamal tortillas
glazed root vegetables
salsa molcajete (And Accompaniments)
Barbacoa - Mexico [$50.00] | short rib / nixtamal tortillas / glazed root vegetables / salsa molcajete
Corteza's take on barbacoa delivered with its satisfyingly tender texture and delectably dark-toned tastes. Though delish alone, the beef really sang when wrapped up in one of those floppy tortillas with some salsa verde, microgreens, and pickled red onion. I quite liked those homey root veggies on the side, too.

OG Crusher
OG Crusher [$26.00] | don julio blanco / nixta corn licor / pineapple / tepache
This next cocktail demonstrated a cacao-like characteristics along with plenty of pineapple, all juxtaposed against some bitter, minty elements and that eggy foam.

Empanadas Tucumanas
Empanadas Tucumanas - Argentina [$19.00 × 2] | prime beef / boiled egg / castelvetrano olive / chimichurri / criolla
The empanadas were a must-try, and didn't disappoint. I reveled in the beef's mouthwatering spicing, and appreciated the texture of the pastry as well. Accoutrements, meanwhile, included a tangy salsa criolla and an agreeably oily, herby chimichurri.

Toasted Bread
7 Seas Cataplana
7 Seas Cataplana - Central America [$85.00] | chorizo broth / littleneck clams / loup de mer / shrimp / octopus / serves 2
A seafood stew featured a rich, salty, almost bisque-liked broth infused with a smidge of heat. The liquid was pretty scrumptious, and did a nice job intensifying the various mariscos present, though I will say that the shrimp were on the overdone side. I had no complaints with that smoky, crusty bread on the side.

Aloe Frozeca
Aloe Frozeca [$26.00] | grey goose / chareau aloe / lemon / sparkling rose / campari sorbet
Our penultimate cocktail was super floral, but possessed a countering touch of astringency and some mintiness from the Chareau.

Empanadas Hongos
Empanadas Hongos - Argentina [$18.00 × 2] | hen of the woods mushroom / bell pepper / garlic / chimichurri / criolla
The mushroom empanadas were also winners, and I thoroughly enjoyed how their woodsiness married with the two condiments.

nixtamal tortillas
soy onion & salsa verde (And Accompaniments)
Aged Snapper Zarandeado
Aged Snapper Zarandeado - Nayarit, Mexico [$72.00] | chili paste / soy onion / salsa verde / nixtamal tortillas
Luzande's take on pescado zarandeado was another highlight. The snapper was properly juicy and a joy texturally, while its seasoning and spice were also spot-on. I took great pleasure in constructing my own tacos using the fish.

Flourish [$26.00] | casa migos reposado / aperol / orgeat / citrus
The evening's final cocktail combined fruity, spicy, and prickly flavors in an effective manner, though somehow, I managed to taste Lucky Charms marshmallows in the drink.

Calabaza Chocoflan
Calabaza Chocoflan - Mexico [$19.00] | chocolate sponge / pumpkin custard / cinnamon ganache / pepitas
It was now time for dessert, the responsibility of Pastry Chef Francois Behuet (Pendry WeHo, Bottega Louie). This first one was appropriate for the season, with its sweet spices and pumpkin flavors, accented by an almost mole-like nuttiness that worked for me.

Dia de los Muertos
Dia de los Muertos - Central America [$19.00] | cocoa crumble / pepita brittle / milk chocolate mousse / passionfruit
This Day of the Dead-inspired dessert brought loads of tropical passion fruit right up front, offset by some delightfully crunchy, chocolate-y, nutty bits.

Torta de Mil Hojas
Torta de Mil Hojas - Chile [$18.00] | puff pastry / pastry cream 'madame' / caramelized apples / toasted almond
Last up was the "thousand layers cake," with its pleasingly autumnal, apple-forward flavors, deftly accented by toasted almonds. What was most impressive, though, was the thin, delicate, shattery nature of the pastry. A table favorite, and a delicious conclusion to the meal

Kevin Luzande is someone that I feel I encountered fairly often back in the early 2010s, but after he left the Southland, I'd always wondered what happened to him. Thus, it's heartening to see him back in action. Despite a couple quibbles, we were generally pleased with the food tonight, which sort of reminded me of what the Chef was putting out back in the Playa days, but gutsier and more diverse. This place is a welcomed addition to the Downtown dining scene, and I wouldn't be surprised if I eventually return to give Leña a shot.


Blogger H.Peter said...

I'll be making my first USA trip in a long time this month and Latin/Mexican cuisine tops my list.
Can't wait! Arepas for sure and then some

Tuesday, January 09, 2024 10:48:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

I think that makes sense, given that the cuisine probably isn't quite as available back home.

Saturday, January 13, 2024 1:00:00 AM  

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