Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Playa - 03/06/2013

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

Running a restaurant isn't easy but if there is one man who seems to have found the secret recipe it is Bill Chait. Though not a chef himself, Chait has been at finding partners to the kitchens while he focuses on the business side of things. The formul has worked extremely well and Chait's portfolio reads like a list of LA's hottest restaurants with Rivera(John Sedlar), Picca(Ricardo Zarate), Sotto(Steve Samson and Zach Pollack) and Bestia(Ori Menashe) just to name a few. So it came as something of a shock when I heard that Playa would be closing its doors. Run by Chef John Sedlar, Playa has enjoyed critical acclaim ever since its inception but according to the press release "the concept has not met the high expectations John and Bill." Interestingly the restaurant has been serving a Mexican/Chinese fusion menu for the last few months, quite the departure from its original casual pan-Latin fare and perhaps a sign that the team was trying to turn things around with a drastic change in direction.

HAMACHI TARTARE CONE - yellowtail / black cobra chilies / pac choi salad / miso / sesame oil / black sesame seeds
This was satisfying enough with plenty of pungent spice and soy though considering the hamachi itself isn't of particularly high quality so perhaps its for the best that the fish is lost under the glare of the chilies.

CIELO VERDE GAZPACHO SALAD CONE - cucumber / tomato / jalafuego & padron chilies / avocado / garlic petals
Our second cone was made up of vegetables from the rooftop garden above Playa. Though dubbed a gazpacho cone the various vegetables ebb and flow rather than offering a singular flavor though the chilies do provide an even consistent heat throughout.

CHIESCA CHICKEN SALAD CONE - pulled roast chicken / toasted almonds / ginger / pac choi / napa cabbage / rice vinegar-chile dressing
This was the least successful of the three cones, the pulled chicken had a decent flavor but the dry meat was almost like a dense meaty cement when taken with the cone and almonds.

POTSTICKERS PUERCO PIBIL - roasted pineapple salsa / pipián verde
The potsticker skin was a bit over-hard but the filling had a delightful dark porcine sapor that is deftly counterbalanced by the sweet spice of the pineapple salsa and the pipian verde.

Baja Rickey - 4 year aged white rum, benedictine, fresh lime, angostura, tamarind soda
Anejo Honey Sour - tequila, honey, lemon, flamed grapefruit
Chili Limon - aged rum, islay scotch, fresh lime, caramelized pineapple syrup, piment d'espellette
The Baja Rickey tasted more like a fruit-flavored soft drink than a cocktail, even our companion who hates alcohol was hard pressed to taste the booze. The Anejo Honey Sour was probably the most balanced cocktail with the woody bite of tequila comfortably diluted by the honey and citrus. The Chili Limon was the most complex of the trio; the savory overtones of the Islay have an almost electric interaction with rich tropical sweetness of the pineapple and rum.

, PIQUILLOS RELLENOS - spanish piquillo peppers / fontina / golden raisins / chorizo
Along with the mussels, the piquillos were the hands down favorite for the entire table. The sweet and vegetal flavor of the peppers contrasts sharply with the smoky heft of the chorizo while the mozzarella offers a neutral creamy balance the combination has a simple appeal reminiscent of a sausage and pepper pizza.. Likewise each element contributes a textural element: fleshy peppers, firm sausage, and tender cheese that compliment one another beautifully.

KUNG-PAO CAMARONES - rooster beak chilies / cacahuate salsa / bean sprouts
Despite the rubbery consistency of the shrimp the dish had a fantastic flavor reminiscent of a dry-fried beef chow fun with an intense heat from the addition of habanero chilies.

TACOS JAVIER PLASCENCIA - swordfish achiote / ensalada alta tijuana / guac
These tacos are named for Javier Plascencia, a popular chef from Baja who has been lauded for spearheading the revival of Tijuana cuisine. Personally I found the tacos a bit dry and under-seasoned while the salad added some much needed moisture, it didn't do much to counteract the blandness.

TAMAL CHIPOTLE - wild-mushroom corn masa dumpling / sliced filet mignon / chipotle béarnaise / watercress
I had mixed feelings about this dish during my first visit and the course proved just as vexing this time. While I was better able to appreciate the buttery earthen heft of the duxelle tamale, the steak was overcooked and the chipotle béarnaise remains a smoky cloying disconcerting mess.

5 Spice Sangrita - blanco tequila back, lime, orange, pomegranate, chinese 5 spice
Gold Rush - bourbon, honey, lemon
Beer and a Ball - campari, aperol, grapefruit, sage, lime, beer
First up was a deconstructed sangria. A sip of the first cup burns a fiery trail down the throat while the second soothes the burn with a thick viscous syrup reminiscent of a fruit roll up. The Gold Rush was the most balanced of the trio with an insistent flavor of bourbon tempered by soothing lemon and honey. The Beer and a Ball is doused with champagne hops which coupled with the bitter liquors and grapefruit gives the cocktail a flavor of beer with a wedge of citrus.

AREPAS BARRIO - corn cakes / pork belly / jalafuego chiles / charred green onions / queso panela
I quite enjoyed the Arepas the last time I was here but this time around the corn cakes were uncomfortably dry as was the pork belly. To make matters worse, the pungent cheese and intense bitterness of the charred onions simply did not fit with the muted savor of the belly.

PASTRAMI TACOS - blue corn shells / pastrami / sauerkraut / ballpark mustard
This was a pleasant Latin reimagining of the New York deli classic. The thin shell and piquant sauerkraut add an element of restraint to the smoky hot dog-like heft of the pastrami. Comforting and familiar but with a simple textural twist.

CHORROS AL VAPOR - vapor-cooked mussels / charred tomatillo-serrano salsa / longaniza sausage / avocado / grilled rustic toast
This was one of my favorites from my previous visit and hands down my favorite mussels preparation. The mussels are wonderfully tender but it is the broth, having absorbed the essence of the mussels, tomatillo, and sausage, that stands out. A cross between lobster bisque and tomato soup the broth bears both the salinity of the former and the zesty twang of the latter with a healthy dose of smoky heft from the sausage.

Jane's Addiction - vodka, manzanilla sherry, fresh lemon, angostura, lemon peel, seltzer
Opium Cocktail - tequila, plum wine, champagne, lemon
Cold Open - bourbon, tiki bitters, burnt orange
The Jane's Addiction was a bit heavy on the seltzer for my liking though the flavor was quite nice sort of like cross between sparkling lemonade and ginger ale. The Opium Cocktail was the strangest drink of the night, clear notes of effervescence with notes of preserved plum made me think of a suan mei soda. The Cold Open started out reminiscent of an Old Fashioned, but the bitters added a weighty note of coconut on the finish.

XINJIANG ALMOND GELATIN FRUIT SALAD - cactus pear / asian pear / buddah's hand lemon syrup / almond galleta
Having never been a fan of almond jello, the kindest thing I could say about this was that the gelatin didn't taste like the dessert that inspired it. In fact the dish didn't taste like much at all even with the fruit.

NIEVES CHINE - chinese ice creme / latin french sorbet
The trio of ice creams/sorbet were all quite good with unconventional flavors of ginger, melon, and sour plum.

MEXICO CITY SUNDAE - vanilla ice cream / habanero caramel / passion fruit / blue cornmeal cookie
This was the star of the dessert courses. Though the cookie was a touch crunchy, it served to sop up the melted vanilla ice cream. The runny ice cream is infused with the vibrant essence of passion fruit while the habanero caramel adds an intriguing lick of sugar and spice to the mixture.

During my first visit I thought the food at Playa could be hit or miss and this meal was just as inconsistent. Though the Mexi-China flavors didn't really work for me; my two favorite courses being the piquillos and the mussels, I still appreciated Sedler's willingness to experiment with different concepts. After the meal, Sedler came by our table and assured us that he plans to reopen the space in the near future and though he didn't have all the details, he did tell us the rooftop cielo verde garden will play a large role in the revamped restaurant.

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