Wednesday, October 5th. The morning started off with torrential downpour. Yes, torrential downpour because we spoiled Southern Californians tend to over-exaggerate when the temperature dips below 75 Fahrenheit degrees and the happy yellow sun doesn’t show up on our smart phone’s 7-day weather forecast app. Living in Orange County, I always dread driving up to traffic-congested Los Angeles, even on a normal day, much less on a day of unusual rainfall.
But it was day 4 of Los Angeles Restaurant Week (easier referred to as dineLA), and the event only lasts two weeks (October 2-14, 2011). I wanted to try as many restaurants as my eating out and gasoline budgets (and uh, waistline) would allow, so I made the epic treacherous trek up to Los Angeles. Fortunately, I didn’t need a sherpa to accompany me. But more importantly, I was meeting my friend Brittany who I had met at a yoga retreat last year in Costa Rica. We had a lot of catching up to do, so rain or shine, it was going to be a night on the town for us. Apparently, my song and prayer to the weather gods worked when I was in the shower earlier because when I left at 6:00 pm for our 7:30 reservation, the happy yellow sun magically showed up and was setting nicely in its warm glow to the west. With no rain and relatively light traffic, I arrived at our chosen restaurant, Playa.
“What I’m striving to achieve at Playa is an urban Latin experience, a dynamic combination of earth and sea, rustic flavors and textures and fresh, briny air, the fractured desert light of Santa Fe and the vibrant energy of modern Los Angeles.” – John Rivera Sedlar
If the name John Sedlar doesn’t ring a bell yet in the Los Angeles trendy restaurant circle, it may be more familiar now after he had just been named this year’s Esquire Chef of the Year. And Playa, his new restaurant that just opened this past February, has also been named as one of the magazine’s Best New Restaurants in 2011. To learn more about the talented Chef John Sedlar, Betty Hallock from the Los Angeles Times wrote an insightful piece about him here.
My arrival to the world of Los Angeles proved quite uneventful as I forgot to bring a victory flag to stake my claim from a successful trek up the 405 Freeway. But the excitement of trying out a new restaurant awaited. After valeting my car, typical in the LA restaurant scene, I walked into a visual orgasm of sea urchins flying high above in an eclectic setting of upscale urban design. Playa’s aesthetic concept features a hard white brick wall, dark wood floors joined by geometric-shaped tiles, and the softness of the sea urchin chandeliers, all combined to reflect the taste of its menu of earthy and rustic flavors and textures. Opposite the dining area on the other side is the bar with an impressive wall display of spirits that requires a ladder to reach the top. Apparently, Julian Cox is the master mixologist at Playa, which we did not have the pleasure of meeting. But based on Brittany’s feedback of her Anejo Honey Sour cocktail and other online reviewers, his concoctions must be pretty good.
One of the great things about eating at participating restaurants during dineLA is that a selection of three-course prix fixe menu is offered at a special price. Our server, Joe, recommended one of Playa’s Maize Cakes. It wasn’t on the dineLA menu, but Brittany and I decided to try it anyway and ordered one from the restaurant’s regular menu. We ordered the Maize Cake Wild Mushrooms, which is something of a handmade tortilla topped with exotic mushrooms, l’explorateur cheese, chives and porcini espuma. Perhaps, what especially brings out the earthy and rustic flavor in this dish is the use of garlic and olives finely ground to emulate soil, which is generously spread on the tortilla. The mushrooms were just a tad bit dry for my taste, but overall, this dish is rich in texture, flavor and creativity.
Onto the dineLA menu, our first dish was an appetizer of two bowls of soup served on one plate. I am a self-professed biggest lover of soups and can honestly say that the two soups served were some of the bests I’ve ever eaten. One is the Mexique Tomatillo Soup, made with green peppers, tomatillos, and cilantro. And the second is the Peruvian Aji Amarillo soup, which is made with hot yellow chile peppers typically used in South American dishes. The simplicity in visual presentation adds to the sophistication of this dish, one that hits the palate with the perfect amount of heat and acid combined.
Being a vegetarian, I ordered the Green Chile Relleno with Mushroom Duxelles for the next course. I’m a big believer that visual presentation is equally as important as the taste of the food. In this dish, I love and appreciate the attention into making a simple green pepper interesting and dimensional by giving it the right amount of blackened fire-roasted char where the top of the pepper is cut off for stuffing the mushroom. And of course, the red chile sauce and roasted garlic chevre sauce add to the depth and flavor of the dish.
For Brittany’s next course, she ordered the Duck Enfrijolada, which is shredded duck confit over blue corn tortillas with a black bean puree, fresh brunoise onion, julienned radicchio, goat cheese, sautéed hon shimeji mushrooms and red wine chile sauce. Although I didn’t try it, I saw how much Brittany enjoyed the dish, and she said that it was quite delicious.
Finally, with just enough wiggle room left for desserts, we were presented with a plate bursting with colorful fresh fruits and star anise cactus-shaped cookies, playfully named Neon Tumbleweed. The sauces are made from the puree of the fruits used, which I completely scraped clean off the plate with my fork. No need to be mindful of dining etiquette between girlfriends, especially when the food is that good. And the second dessert plate was a Blue Corn Meal Crepe with candied grapefruit zest and grapefruit grand marnier served with cinnamon ice cream and caramel sauce. Deliciously divine.
Overall, Brittany and I both loved dining at Playa. We were impressed with the ambiance, the food and the service. While this year’s dineLA is quickly coming to an end, we look forward to going back soon to taste some dishes from their regular menu.
7360 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036