Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Playa - 08/05/2011

7360 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 933-5300

My deepest thanks to Komal, Holly, and Will for arranging an impromptu birthday dinner at Playa. The restaurant has been on my radar since it first opened though after missing the opening night, my sense of urgency dropped off appreciably.

Since opening in 2009, John Sedlar's original Rivera has established itself as the epitome of pan-Latin cuisine in Los Angeles. With his new venture, Playa-Rivera, Sedlar seeks to create a more casual affair; encapsulating LA's laid-back costal spirit into the food, drink, and decor in a style dubbed "urban Latin cuisine"

A Diving Bell - Single Village Mezcal, English Gin, Lime, Falernum, Caramelized Pineapple Gomme, Yuzu, Cayenne Pepper
Fittingly, my first experience with mezcal was during the Playa preview at Test Kitchen. Since then I have developed an appreciation for the liquor's smoky almost petrol-y flavor. The mezcal is immediately apparent with a subtle savoriness that intertwines beautifully with the refreshing citrus and Cayenne's biting heat.

Chinese Democracy - London Dry, Arrack, Lime, Jackfruit Gomme, Micro-Amaranth
This was probably the most approachable of our initial cocktails, delightfully tropical with citrus and pineapple notes, the nuanced funk of the jackfruit adds the slightest bit of intrigue to an otherwise straightforward libation.

Poison Arrow - Añejo Tequila, Jamaican Rum, Peach Brandy, Canela, Orange Peel
The Swarm - Reposado Tequila, Mango, Douglas Fir, Fino Sherry, Lime, Hellfire Bitters, Bee Pollen
Betty Ford Mustang - Amaro Nonino, Lime, Pineapple, Market Cherries, Yellow Chartreuse, Punt Y Mes
Will arrived a bit late and wasted no time in catching up, ordering three cocktails simultaneously. The Poison Arrow lived up to its name with an aggressive heat tinged with orange oil. The swarm was my favorite of the trio, running the gamut of flavors from sweet, bitter, and spicy. The Betty Ford Mustang started off sweet and finished with a creeping herbaceousness from the yellow chartreuse.

Maize Cake Breakfast - 63° egg, pan-seared potato, truffle cheese espuma, market mushrooms
The first course was a vision of pure beauty, built around classic breakfast staples of egg and potato, the dish expressively captures the familiar warmth of the morning meal. One of my companions said she could eat this everyday for the rest of her life.

Octo-Palm - grilled octopus, palm hearts, scallions, oven-dried cherry tomatoes, oven-dried red onion
Sedlar has always taken something of an unconventional approach to plating and at Playa he has taken to placing pictures under the food. The theme of tonight's pictures was radiation, including pictures taken from the recent disaster in Fukushima. While I appreciated the concept, someone testing fish for radiation probably wasn't the best way to whet my appetite for a seafood course. All joking aside the sous-vided octopus was delicious, the persistent smokiness was complimented by the concentrated essence of the cherry tomatoes and the contrasting bitterness of the arugula.

Papas Salsa Verde - kennebec potatoes, avocado, chiles, serranos, micro cilantro
The Papas Salsa Verde were literally a plate of potato chips with salsa. Despite its simplicity I couldn't get enough of the unabashedly salty papas and the forceful verve of the salsa verde.

Arepas Caracas - venezuelan corn cakes, wood-grilled shrimp, mango, chiles
The Arepas came highly recommended and indeed the starchy heft is simple yet satisfying. The mango and chili make their presence felt with a spicy-sweet counterpoint, but the shrimp were completely invisible.

Maize Cake Wild Mushrooms - black garlic and olive "soil", exotic mushrooms, l'explorateur cheese, porcini espuma, chives
Where the first maize cake was expressive and savory, this was more reserved, celebrating the dusky tones of the mushrooms. The triple cream cheese was a surprise, its luxuriant pungency provided a lift to the weighty flavors of the fungi.

That Misheard Rolling Stones Number - Blended Scotch, Single Village Mezcal, Blanc Vermouth
A cocktail of Scotch and Mezcal sounds like something that is sure to put hair on your chest, but this was surprisingly approachable. Like a steel fist in a velvet glove, the floral sweetness of the vermouth tempers the woody backbone of its stronger brethren.

The Rhythm Is Gonna Getcha - English Style Rum, Coca Cola Redux, Lime Foam
Basically a Cuba Libre, this was almost too simple for the cocktail program at Playa. The drink's saving grace was the foam, which heightened the impact of the lime and provided the drink with a silky mouth-coating texture.

Mussels Meltdown - Vapor Cooked Mussels, Charred Tomatillo-Serrano Salsa, Avocado-Lime Crema
This was easily the best course of the night, the interaction between the richness of the chorizo, the salinity of the mussels, and the complex resonant piquancy of the charred tomatillos was nothing short of masterful. After we finished with the mussels we devoured the remaining broth which reminded me of Ludo's vaunted Chorizo Soup.

Tamale Chipotle - wild-mushroom duxelles dumpling, filet mignon, chipotle béarnaise
This looked like it was meant to be a Latin take on a classic French steak with mushroom and Bearnaise, but the dish never came together. The steak was nicely done and quite enjoyable whereas the tamale was extremely heavy and with a gritty weight and monolithic sweetness.

Mezcal - Long Green Chile Relleno, Braised Pork Cheeks, Pineapple, Almonds, Chichicapa Mezcal Sauce
I was expecting a bit more flavor from a dish named Mezcal that features braised pork cheek. Instead of a smoky porcine sapor, the dish conveyed a meandering blend of the disparate ingredients.

Diplomatic Old Fashioned - Diplomat Whiskey, Bitters, Sugar
After ordering old fashioned cocktails all night, our waitress finally brought Will an actual Old Fashioned. While the drink doesn't break any new ground, the flavors seemed so focused making this my favorite preparation of this timeless cocktail.

Beer in a Bowl - Campari, Gin, Grapefruit, Champagne Beer Hops
Despite its vibrant ruddy hue, this cocktail does indeed taste like a humble lager on the attack. Once you get past the hoppy attack the drink is actually has an expressive floral bitterness characteristic of something like a Negroni.

Coconut - meringue, french buttercream, goat’s milk vanilla ice cream, goat cheese crumbles
The desserts were all gifts generously provided by the restaurant. The "coconut" had a wonderful airy and vibrant look and feel that translated perfectly on the palate. Not surprisingly the combination of vanilla, pineapple, and toasted coconut reminded me of the classic ice cream flavor but with a slightly savory twist.

Sundae - goat’s milk ice cream, hazelnuts, cocoa nibs, blue cornmeal chocolate chip cookies
While it took a bit of work to actually eat this artfully presented sundae, the dish was well worth the effort. The combination of caramel, chocolate, nuts, and ice cream is classic but works so well here especially with nuanced tang of the goat's milk. Coupled with the visceral textural contrasts of the semi-soft ice cream, and dense cornmeal cookie. this dessert was hands down the table favorite.

Pastel Café - mocha sponge, espresso crème, toffee honeycomb, colombian chocolate ice cream
The final dessert of the night was surprisingly nuanced despite featuring a slate of heavy flavors. I especially appreciated the offsetting sweetness and textural contrast of the toffee honeycomb.

After the preview dinner at Test Kitchen, I wrote that the menu still needed some fine tuning and since then it seems Sedlar has done just that and while the flavors didn't always work those that did, did so with a vengeance. Sedlar has taken his familiar pan-Latin cuisine and injected a degree of levity and creativity that feels at once playful yet refined.

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