Rivera (Conexiones): A River Runs Through Latin America [CLOSED]

  • Home
  • California
  • Rivera (Conexiones): A River Runs Through Latin America [CLOSED]
Latin Restaurant Los Angeles

When chef John Rivera Sedlar opened Rivera with Bill Chait and designer Eddie Sotto in January 2009, their pan-Latin concept signaled a quantum leap forward for the downtown dining scene. Restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila promptly rewarded their efforts with 3.5/4 stars in the Los Angeles Times. At that point, a number of chefs would breathe a sigh of relief, hit the auto-pilot button and start spending less time in the kitchen. Not John Rivera Sedlar, who’s been on a “lifelong journey to teach people about Latin cuisine.” He hunkered down and developed four distinct menus to better tell the “3000-year, three-continent story of the Spanish world.”

The menu in Rivera’s Sangre room focuses on the Iberian Peninsula, Samba (the domain of bartender Julian Cox) centers on South America, and Playa Bar showcases the cuisine of coastal Mexico. Sedlar also created a fourth menu, titled “Conexiones,” which weaves together highlights from the three rooms, offering diners the unprecedented opportunity to experience a progressive dinner without leaving their seats. We were invited to Rivera to sample tastes from each room while sitting at Playa Bar, which offers the clearest views of the cuisine’s creation.

No visit to Rivera would be complete without a cocktail. Julian Cox debuted his summer list about a month before our Rivera arrival, featuring Bebidas al Estilo del Tiempo (seasonal cocktails), Cocteles Aromaticos (aromatic, stirred and strong) and Aguas Frescas (market fresh mixology). I went with the seasonal Penicillin ($12), featuring a base of Famous Grouse blended Scotch, lemon juice, ginger and honey. The refreshing yellow cocktail was smokier on nose than in the glass.

Latin Food Los Angeles
Sedlar fashioned his Cabeza de Oro ($50) after the “hombre de oro,” a legendary Mayan figure who supposedly bathed in gold dust. On a gold statuette, Sedlar stacks foie gras torchon, butter poached lobster, fresh-shaved black truffle, sweet, smoky jamon Iberico, smoked sea scallop, crunchy blue corn tortilla chips, caviar, Sauternes foam and gold leaf. This dish is over-the-top indulgent, but if you’re sharing (as we were), worth ordering once as for the experience.

Latin Food Los Angeles
Ecuadorian crudo ($14) featured silky sheets of hiramasa (yellowtail) dressed with chives and minced red onions for texture’s sake, Fresno chilies for kick and tart slices of pickled kumquat.

Latin Food Los Angeles
One of my favorite dishes of the night involved a cool Anaheim chile relleno filled with creamy burrata, dressed with juicy tri-colored tomatoes and mesmerizing salsas. The base was a tangy green salsa of tomatillo and cilantro, which Sedlar layered with a spectacular salsa of diced tomato and purpl- tipped red Martian corn, a seldom seen variety of heritage corn.

Latin Food Los Angeles
Assistant GM Lucas Riemens explained the difference between pre-Columbian and post-Columbian gazpacho, both of which are on the menu at Rivera. Before Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas, gazpacho was bread and garlic based. After his arrival, gazpacho became known as a cold tomato soup. Rivera’s Post Columbian Gazpacho ($9) featured pureed yellow tomatoes, a sprinkling of chives, Fresno chilies and shallots, large cuts of colorful tomatoes and intense discs of dehydrated cherry tomatoes. Again, Sedlar took a basic concept – gazpacho – and elevated it to new heights.

Latin Food Los Angeles
Another standout was the Flan De Elote ($11), a sweet corn flan loaded with black quinoa and lavished with squash blossom broth and cuts of squash blossom, all served in a purple corn husk that Sedlar anchored to the plate with bean puree. The sweet corn flan reminded me of the Southern-style sweet corn pudding that predominated in Nashville, but it was silkier in texture.

Latin Food Los Angeles
For his second chile relleno of the night, Sedlar turned to Tijuana, the last link in the tempura chain that originated in Portugal, traveled to Japan and transitioned to Baja courtesy of fishermen. Sedlar tempura fried a yellow chile guero that he stuffed with sweet pulled crab meat and corn kernels. He then submerged the crispy results in an intoxicating Japanese-tinged soy, ginger and scallion broth.

Latin Food Los Angeles
The clever Pismo clam tamali ($10) featured moist masa served in the shell, studded with pieces of Poblano chile, sweet corn, garlic, oregano and tender clam, with the shell partially submerged in a rich blistered green chile Meunière that tasted great spooned over masa.

Latin Food Los Angeles
Feijoada ($24) was an inspired twist on a Brazilian classic, a hearty black bean stew that incorporated bits of bacon, chorizo, sausage, jamon Iberico and beef jerky, all flavored with Malbec reduction. Twin lamb chops were treated to sous vide preparation until rosy at the center, then finished in the salamander, leading to an outer sear and ideal texture. The toppers were crunchy cress and caipirinha foam, a play on Brazil’s national cocktail.

Latin Food Los Angeles
My favorite dessert of the night was also the simplest. Hielo y Fuego ($8) involved sweet jarabe de porto (port wine reduction) and Poblano chile sorbet, which contributed a lingering spice.

Latin Food Los Angeles
Pan de Santa Teresa ($8) featured a moist slab of Spanish Lenten bread pudding, a generous helping of cherimoya ice cream, a tangy pool of vibrantly colored cactus pear esencia, salted Spanish peanuts and a pair of dried green apple slices. The prickly pear (tuna) syrup looked great on the plate, but ended up dominating the dish from a flavor perspective.

Latin Food Los Angeles
Our final dessert, Xochimilco ($8), involved a rich dome of chocolate cake flavored with ancho chile and accented with lime pepper sauce, a molded lake of avocado mousse and a crispy sheet of pumpkin seed brittle.

When Rivera opened, it was already a good restaurant, but due to Chef Sedlar’s tireless efforts, Rivera may now be the most exciting restaurant in Los Angeles. “There are 28,000 restaurants in L.A. County,” says Sedlar. “My goal is to be different from every one.” Mission accomplished.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by L.A. Locksmith, Top Gps Reviews. Top Gps Reviews said: Food GPS » Rivera (Conexiones) – Los Angeles, CA – July 30, 2010 http://bit.ly/cmTFDC #gps […]

Leave a Comment