Thursday, May 23, 2013

Petty Cash Taqueria - 05/22/2013

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

Sometimes you can do everything right and still not succeed; such was the case with John Sedlar's Playa which folded despite being generally well received by critics and diners alike. Fast forward little more than two months and a lot has changed; Sedlar is out of the picture in favor of Walter Manzke and Guillermo Campos Moreno of Tacos Kokopelli and the pan-Latin Playa has become a gourmet taqueria named Petty Cash.

Chips - Salsa & Tomatillo
In lieu of bread, our waitress brought out a big bowl of chips to go with the house made salsas already on the table. Pretty classic tortilla chips and salsa, they are a nice accompaniment to Petty Cash's slate of Julian Cox-designed cocktails.

He'brew Bittersweet Lenny's R.I.P.A. - Saratosa Springs, NY, 10% Rye-based double I.P.A.
Great Divide Colette - Denver, Co, 7.3% Farmhouse Saison
One of my companions was running a little late so we decided to get some beers to go with the chips while we waited. I grabbed a refreshing and light farmhouse ale from Great Divide while my friend went the opposite route and got a malt laden double IPA.

Ceviche Negro - pacific sea bass, squid, ink, mango, peanuts
We started off with a ceviche of sea bass stained black with squid ink. Though the requisite acid and spice are present, they are balanced by the earthy heft of the crushed peanuts and squid ink

Chicharrones - pineapple-carrot hot sauce
While I like the idea of fried pork rinds, the execution often leaves much to be desired with a flavor of stale oil and overly hard texture. Manzke's preparation was just how I'd always imagined a Chicharrone should be; crunchy yet airy with an undercurrent of porcine savor. Though delicious on their own, the hot sauce was an equally effective compliment with a deceptive tropical sweetness that hides a potent lingering burn.

Pig Ear Nachos - creama poblana, soft egg
The pig ear nachos were a hold over from Manzke's Test Kitchen dinner at Bestia. The pig ears are lightly fried giving some crunch to the gooey cartilaginous bits deftly brightened by the fresh cilantro. The runny egg has a soft silky flow to it that contrasted well with the toasty crunch of the chips. While still enjoyable I thought the dish felt a bit muted in terms of flavor, though that could have been the result of having overindulged on the habenero sauce that came with the chicharrones.

Kanpachi Ceviche - tomatillo, avocado
A much more conventional ceviche than the Negro we started with. The Kanpachi is noticeably oilier than the sea bass but a heavy dose tomatillo and herbs provides an austere grassy counterpoint to the fish.

Cook Ranch Pork Ceviche - nopales, pickled red onion, avocado
The last ceviche was the most interesting in the sense that it was hard to identify as pork. The meat possesses a supple yet lean texture and clean mild flavor very reminiscent of a some heavier cuts of fish.

Aguachile en Molcajete - homemade clamato, wild Sonoran chiltepin
Petty Cash's aguachile (chili water) preparation lets diners combine up to 6 types of seafood (Kanpachi, Kumamoto Oysters, Littleneck Clams, Octopus, Gulf White Prawns, Live Santa Barbara Prawn) though getting all of them makes this a $56 dish. Freshness is paramount with aguachile, because unlike ceviches where the raw fish cures in the acid for hours, here the fish is only placed in the seasoning 15-20 minutes before serving. The result is a heady bounty of the shellfish coupled with a delightfully fruity clamato. The quality of the shellfish is readily apparent even under the spicy, sweet, and sour flavors of the aguachile. We were also given glasses of piping hot michi (fish soup) and the brazenly salty fishy broth proved to be perfect chaser between bites of the aguachile.

Fly by Night - Petty Cash scotch, medley, Saler's gentiane, King's ginger, angostura, peychaud bitters, grapefruit twist
The Fly by Night is one of Petty Cash's two draft cocktails and a surprisingly boozy one at that. There is a touch of fruit evident on the nose but the palate is dominated by the sweet and smoky punch of the Scotch.

Cheesy Churros - green mole-corn dip
The manchego beignets from Manzke's Test Kitchen dinner at Bestia returned here in churro form. The fried pastries have a Cheesz-It like flavor coupled with a toasty oily crunch. While I preferred the churros on their own, the warm herbaceous sweetness of the dipping sauce did have its charms.

Oaxacan Old Fashioned - Reposado tequila, Oaxacan mezcal, house agave, angostura bitters, orange oil
Petty Cash Margarita - blanco tequila, lime, citrus-spiked agave nectar
Banana Hammock - Petty Cash rum blend, banana infusion, fresh lime, tamarind, cassia, dehydrated banana chip
The Oaxacan Old Fashioned certainly had the stiffness of its classic namesake all smoky gravitas and fresh citrus. The margarita was certainly a well put together example of the famous cocktail, while enjoyable it lacked complexity when compared to the other cocktails. I liked the Banana Hammock much more than I though I would (talking about the drink here), the drink has a vivacious tropical feel to it, fresh and fruity but not syrupy or cloying even with the addition of banana.

Deep Fried Quesadilla - white prawns, cabbage, roasted tomato sauce
Conceptually there was lots to like about this course take a quesadilla and make it even better with a quick bath in bubbling oil. Unfortunately the execution was a bit heavy-handed for me. The deep fried exterior is wrapped around a fat pouch of melted cheese which paired nicely with the ripe tang of the tomato sauce but the prawns were all but invisible.

"Pocho Style" - flour tortilla, zucchini flower, jack cheese, crema
This was a much more conventional style of quesadilla. At its heart, the combination of flour tortilla and jack cheese is reminiscent of a Del Taco quesadilla, but the tortilla has a toasty savor reminiscent of a Chinese onion oil cake while the cream adds a smooth luxurious twang.

Al Pastor - adobo-chile rubbed pork shoulder, onions, avocado
This was easily the most interesting sounding of the tacos. The sclow cooked pork shoulder is seasoned with pineapple juice and almost dissolves into pork meal on the tongue. The avocado and onions add a much needed moisture that brings everything together.

Dorados - crispy rolled potato tacos, avocado, tomatillo, cotija cheese
This was the least successful of the tacos for me. The crispy shell has quite a bit of flavor but the potato filling was too bland and a bit monolithic.

Baja Fish Taco - beer-battered pacific sea bass, pico de gallo, cabbage
Manzke doesn't stray far from the classic fish taco recipe he just does it better than everybody else. The lightly fried fish has a pronounced salinity married with the perfect amount of creamy mayo, crunchy bitter cabbage, and lush pico.

The Obligatory Vodka Drink - vodka, fresh lime, rose water, ginger, candied rose petal
Nacho Libre - pisco, lime, caramelized pineapple syrup, Jamaichael Jordan, egg white, creole bitters
Tangy, spicy and refreshing the Obligatory Vodka Drink doesn't break new ground though the candied rose petals were a tasty treat. The Nacho Libre was overly florid for me thanks to the hibiscus tea that gave the drink a flavor reminiscent to a potpourri wax candle

Charcoal Grilled Octopus - chile de arbol, peanuts, jack cheese
The grilled octopus is tender but with a substantive meatiness and smoky, earthy, and bitter with the barest twinge of mole-like dark chocolate sweetness.

Charcoal-Roasted Portobello Mushroom - asparagus, jack cheese, pipian
Despite my fondness for mushrooms I struggled with this taco. The large chunks of Portobello felt a bit overwhelming at times and there wasn't any contrasting element to give the dish some balance

Cook Ranch Pork Carnitas - salsa verde, guacamole
The Carita was definitely one of the stronger tacos, the pork is mostly lean with just enough rendered fat to give the taco a sense of unctuousness with plenty of green stuff for contrast and a quick hit of spicy zest from the salsa verde.

Prime Beef Striploin Carne Asada - refried beans, guacamole
A very light carne asada, I would have liked a bit more heft and char on the meat though I did appreciate the extra succulence that the lower temperature provided.

Tlacuache Raicilla - Valenciana Agave, Jalisco
La Valentina Sotol - Sotol, Durango
Minotauro Mezcal - Cenzino Agave, Durango
Mezcal has been gaining traction in bars but still lags far behind its cousin tequila in terms of popularity. Our waitress mentioned that Petty Cash offered three types of artisanal mezcals so naturally we decided to try them all. The Raicilla was the mildest of the three spirits, it still had some of the smoke but went down sweet and smooth without the characteristic burn. Unlike Mezcal, the Sotol is not made from agave but a plant known as the Desert Spoon or Sotol and the La Valentina has a similar flavor if a bit harsher and heavier on the petrol notes. The Minotauro was the happy medium between the other two and offered an anise tinged sweetness shrouded by smoke.

Buck Dynasty - your choice of spirit(mezcal), house fermented ginger beer
We left the choice of spirit to the bartender and he opted for a mezcal. The spicy sweetness of the housemade ginger beer is readily apparent at first but the mezcal shows up on the finish with a lingering smoky bite.

"Dirty" Horchata - long grain brown rice, pecans, Chinese cinnamon, evaporated milk
Damn Handsome Cold Brew Coffee - La Granja rancho, Columbia full-body, on tap
With their rapid opening, Petty Cash hasn't gotten around to designing a dessert menu though I'm told Manzke's wife will be in charge of pastry so we decided to try some of their non-alcoholic beverages. The horchata was the best I've ever had with plenty of cinnamon sweetness as well as a creamy heft. Likewise the cold brewed coffee was one of the best I've ever tasted, a bit of acid is present but the taste is dominated by aromas of toasted nuts and dark chocolate.

Crispy Brussels Sprouts - morita-cauliflower crema
Though I'm not a fan of Brussels sprouts I did like the initial potato chip like saltiness though I didn't care for the bitter aftertaste. The base of the bowl was smeared with a sauce made from morita and cauliflower that tasted almost like a smoked cheese sauce.

"Roof Top" Baby Green Salad - cucumber, radish, pepitas, sungold tomatoes, avocado-lime dressing
Playa's Cielo Verde rooftop garden provided much of the produce for Sedlar's restaurants and we were told it would play a role in Playa's successor as well. The salad was quite refreshing a mix of nutty greens and lush tomatoes with a light tangy dressing.

We initially skipped the guac to save room for the more interesting dishes which proved to be a good decision as this proved to be enjoyable but fairly pedestrian.

Baby Beets - grilled corn, black quinoa, kale, tamarind, pistachio, cotija cheese
Given that I was bursting full and this dish pairs two of my least liked foods: quinoa and beets; it was all I could do to take a single shuddering bite that had our waitress staring at me with a worried look, probably wondering if I was going into a seizure.

Despite being a taqueria, I found that I enjoyed the appetizers and ceviches far more than I did the tacos though they were by no means bad, they needed a bit more polish. Overall the restaurant feels a bit rushed, the lack of a dessert menu was the most glaring problem, but there were some service gaffes as well. These issues notwithstanding, the concept itself makes a lot of sense for all parties involved; Chait and his partners get an accomplished chef at the helm; Manzke gets to stay busy while working on his own place; and diners get a restaurant that serves equally well as a casual hangout spot or a dinner out.


Charlie Fu said...

the prices of these tacos makes my chinese heart cry a little. Still, looks good though.

Epicuryan said...

Says the guy who drops hundreds on wine without batting an eye, but I agree 4 dollars a taco or even 6 for 21 was steep. Personally I was more into the ceviches and the munchies than the tacos.

Anonymous said...

fix the address!