Loyal readers of TreasureLA already know that it’s an exciting time to be a food-adventurer in Los Angeles. There is always a talented new chef, interesting new concept that usually involve the word “fusion,” and our stable of established and top-tier chef’s like John Sedlar continues to grow.
With over 60 institutions participating in the SoCal art celebration Pacific Standard Time, it’s also an exciting time to be a museum curator groupie. If you are like me and consider yourself both a food and museum lover, you must get over to Playa or Rivera by Mar. 31 for a “secret” menu conceived by Chef Sedlar, Mixologist Julian Cox, and artist/Del Maguey founder Ron Cooper.
The space itself I preferred over Sedlar’s more formal and splintered Rivera restaurant. The beautiful bar, the lighting, mirrors, brick, movement – it all reminded me of the vibrant LA that I love. In fact, this was the first meal I can remember in a long time where couples on both sides of me engaged me in small talk (I do take pity on nice people on bad dates in cozy restaurants) – I much preferred this over the grandiose booths at Rivera. It was a great place to celebrate food, drink, and art in SoCal.
The first dish of the night was a crudo assortment of fresh and smoked seafood served with kumquats, fresno chiles, lime, and red seaweed. The crudo was served on a print of Beatrice Wood’s 1970 piece “Fish Platter,” featured at the Santa Monica Museum of Art PST exhibit “Beatrice Wood: Career Woman.” The dehydrated seaweed brought the dish (crudo & artwork) together for me, and the copita of chichicapa mezcal that accompanies the dish is a lovely touch that awakens the dish’s subtle flavors.
The main course on PST menu is fire-grilled breast of chicken with Cobb salad quemada, goat cheese, and “incendiary” salsa, plus a welcome heavy hand with the kosher salt. I’m reluctant these days to order meat that has been cooked sous-vide, but the moist chicken in this deconstructed Cobb salad was cooked beautifully. The plating, from the chicken to the salsa and bacon around the poached egg, brings Ruscha’s 1968 painting “LACMA on Fire” featured at the Getty Center to life. The flavor, texture, and presentation all had me saying, “So good, right?”
You know what has been missing from every Thai dish I’ve ever had in LA? Fresh corn. Playa’s spicy Thai shrimp tamale was not on the PST menu, but still presented with some flair – on a James Dean feature in Esquire. Fresh corn masa, shrimp, basil, mint, cilantro, lemongrass, Thai chiles, ginger-garlic salsa – this I will be ordering again.
The only dish of the night that didn’t live up to expectations was the Octo-Palm. The dish featured grilled octopus, palm hearts, scallions, oven-dried cherry tomatoes, and oven-dried red onion. Nothing was improperly cooked, and it was still tasty, but the sum of the parts didn’t add up like in the other dishes. Of course, you can’t call any dish plated on top of Katy Perry’s cleavage a complete disappointment.
The meal rebounded quickly with another non-PST dish: a maize cake with black garlic and olive “soil,” exotic mushrooms,
l’explorateur cheese, porcini espuma, and chives. At first I noticed the intensity of the ground-up and salty mushroom ash. Then I played with the foam, but I wasn’t plunged into a state of nirvana until I got a bite of the goat cheese with the ‘shrooms. I’m a fungus fanatic, and the kitchen did the beautiful mushrooms justice.
Rivera, Playa, Short Order, Picca, Sotto – when I go to any restaurant serving Julian Cox’s cocktail creations, I don’t even bother looking at the wine or beer list. Cox’s lists are among the most reliable in the city. One of my favorite cocktails of the year so far is the Manhattan-variation “Untitled” on Playa’s PST menu featuring chichicapa mezcal, cocchi vermouth di Torino, Olorosso and grapefruit peel. It’s inspiration is from Larry Bell’s 1964 untitled piece at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego. I loved it so much that I begged Julian to make me one on a recent visit to Picca.
A Oaxacan the Clouds features Single Village Mezcal, fresh lemon juice, agave nectar, roasted tomatoes, crispy sage, and Piment d’Espelette. The acidity from the roasted tomatoes was a nice contrast to the sweet and smoky flavors. Even better use of the Single Village Mezcal was the Ball Drop inspired by Ron Cooper’s 1969 work at Cal State Long Beach. Joining the mezcal was London Dry Gin, fresh lime, Velvet Falernum, yuzu tincture, and cayenne – the tingle on my lips from the cayenne proved a nice finish.
A trio of “sorbet splashes” served on Carlos Almaraz’s 1982 piece “Beach Trash Burning” at the Fowler Museum marked the meal’s end. Smoky roasted pineapple mezcal, spicy poblano chile lime, and sweet hibiscus pomegranate – each sorbet worked well individually but the ability to combine either smoky, spicy, and/or sweet into each bite really made this dessert memorable for me.
While I had a memorable one-night stand with the pricey escort that goes by the name Rivera, Playa is the girl-next-door that I fell in love with. And I can’t wait to bring her chocolates and flowers, hoping she still has some undiscovered talents and new talents to show me.
The 3-course, $37 Pacific Standard Time menu at Rivera and Playa ends Mar. 31, 2012.
7360 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Pet Peeve PS: Can we stop calling things a secret if the restaurant tells everyone? Playa handed every diner a separate PST menu, which is worse than Umamicatessen printing the words “Secret Menu” on their menu, where you have to at least ask what’s on the menu.