Thursday, September 16, 2010

Test Kitchen | Sedlar - 09/15/2010

9575 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
(310) 277-0133

Given his existing relationship with Bill Chait and Julian Cox, Chef John Rivera Sedlar's visit to Test Kitchen was almost a foregone conclusion. Unlike other chefs who used the Test Kitchen forum to have fun and show off their skills, Chef Sedlar seems intent on using the restaurant for its original purpose, demonstrating the food of his upcoming restaurant Playa, formerly named R26.

The Deliverance Cocktail - Moonshine / Almontillado Sherry / Orgeat / Concord Grapes / Arugula
All of Julian Cox's skills were on display tonight as gave us a preview of Playa's cocktail program. The cocktails were more complex with the Deliverance being a prime example. The potent booziness of the moonshine and sherry is balanced by the wine-tinged sweetness of the orgeat and Concords.

Luchador's Lady - Reposado Tequila / Pineapple Gomme / Spiced Hibiscus Tea / Egg White / Cinnamon
Next up was a drink I likened to a cinnamon twist on my initial taste. Though my companion pointed out a distinct plum note, no dobut the result of the spiced hibiscus and pineapple. The egg white provides a pleasing thickness that compliments the sweetness of the drink, a lovely dessert cocktail.

Mayahuel Coctel - Mezcal / Yellow Peach / Don's Mix / Creme De Peche / Meyer Lemon
Mezcal is often confused for tequila, though this classic Oaxacan is also made from agave, the flavor is substantially different. As this was my first experience with the liquor, I was completely unprepared for its disconcerting smokiness though I warmed to the cocktail after my initial discomfort.

01: Salsa IV - Maize Cake / Arugula / Burrata / Semilla Salsa / Amaranth
Rivera is legendary for its fresh tortillas, so it stands to reason that the meal would start with one. The salsa itself was like nothing I've ever tasted. Instead of a tangy spicy tomato-based salsa, Sedler presented us with a "salsa" of nuts and seeds, which imparted an earthy tone to the salad of arugula and burrata.

02: Chow, Darling - Lipstick / Martian Red Corn / Rosas / Crab
With splashes of bold red, this was one of the most visually arresting courses I've seen in a long time. The focus of this dish is a blend of fresh crab and roasted pepper, the pepper's vegetal char compliments the natural sweetness of the crab. The "lipstick" sauce is a sticky mix of fresh berry and sweet red corn that would be overly sweet, but for the savory verve of the EVOO ice cream.

03: Apocalypse Wow - Ghost Pepper Cocktail / Santa Barbara Prawn / Chinese Mustard / Peach Habanero
When the plates were brought to the table, we were immediately hit with the briney aroma of the sweet crustacean. Featuring both habanero and ghost peppers, this could have easily ended up being a fiery mess, but the kitchen's command of the spice, left the richness of the prawn intact. The compliment of peach and pepper added a spectacular spicy/sweet interplay with the heat winning out and building to a strong finish.

Autumn Sour - Pear Infused / Apple Jack / Lemon / Grade B Maple
The maple syrup made this drink like a sweeter version of the Luchador's Lady with the cider like essence of the Apple Jack substituting for the cinnamon of the earlier drink

Pride of Oaxaca - Mezcal Cognac / Lemon / Champagne
Not sure what constitutes a mezcal cognac nor how it differs from regular mezcal. The cocktail itself was an Oaxacan twist on a French 75; fresh with a savory smoky edge.

Dealers Choice - Bourbon / Wild Baby Arugula / Honey / Lemon
I chose a savory bourbon cocktail for our final libation and was impressed with the results. The smoky bourbon and nutty bite of the arugula are countered by the honey/lemon

04: Black - Belly / Cebolla / Calabasa / Andean Menta Negro / Kabocha
The final savory was a confit of pork belly with sweet squash and onions. In one of the few missteps of the night, my pork belly was severely overcooked and dry, though my companions both quite enjoyed theirs. Had the pork been better this would have been a strong course, with the tangy salsa verde keeping the heft of the squash in check.

05: Afterglow - Frutas Mezcalero / Smoked JalepeƱo
In keeping with the contemporary vibe of the dinner, the dessert features a unique combination of fruit, spice, and of course more mezcal with a flavor profile that ran more towards bitter and herbaceous than saccharine. I thoroughly enjoyed the mezcal cream which concentrated the flavor of the spirit in a light airy body. Coupled with the spicy caramel, the mezcal added a slightly savory character to the fresh fruit.

Reflecting on my time at Rivera, I marveled at the simple deliciousness of Sedlar's interpretations of classic Latin cuisine. It was evident from the first course that Sedlar has a very different style in mind for his new restaurant, decidedly more adventurous and progressive. This evening's menu featured a couple very strong courses as well as a few misses, but even those courses had elements that I appreciated. Though some fine tuning is in order, I suspect that Sedlar has another critically acclaimed restaurant on his hands in Playa

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