For my first 11 years in Los Angeles, the city was largely devoid of high-end Latin restaurants, which was always mystifying given L.A.’s demographics. In the past two months, downtown has drawn restaurants like Provecho, CASA and Boca, all vying to fill that void. On January 16, John Rivera Sedlar opened Rivera, the contemporary pan-Latin restaurant he owns in South Park with Bill Chait and Eddie Sotto. I was invited to order off the innovative menu, which features both ancient and futuristic foods, sometimes on the same plate. My initial Rivera experience was promising.
We walked past the sleek outer wall of gold R’s and entered the lively Samba room. The hostess led us to the stately Sangre dining room, but we decided it would be more fun to sit at the L-shaped Playa bar, which offered clear views of the food prep and even showcased a leg of prized jamon Iberico de bellota.
Julian Cox switched from Comme Ca to tend the Rivera bar. He produced an exemplary Anejo Honey Sour ($14), a frothy amber cocktail with añejo tequila, fresh lemon, honey and a “flamed” grapefruit peel. Rivera uses Névé Luxury Ice, a block of designer ice from local “drink smith” Michel Dozois that filled the glass and never melted.
Sedlar was previously a Patron spokesperson for 10 years, and he developed a cutting-edge tequila program for Rivera, including seasonal tequilas infused with fruits, vegetables and spices and dispensed from an Enomatic. A glass of infused tequila costs $5 and a flight of three tequilas typically runs $10. I’d recommend ordering the flight since this is a unique experience. I had small pours of each option: grapefruit, blood orange, “mujer” – a nod to women, the “true masters of the home kitchen,” infused with Madagascar and Tahitian vanilla – Cara Cara orange and jamaica. All the tequilas were blanco except for the jamaica, which began as reposado. Three of the colorful tequilas were on the rocks, but not the mujer or jamaica. Tart grapefruit, cinnamon-tinged Jamaica and intensely sweet “mujer” were especially impressive.
Olivos sevillanos ($4) – Spanish olives, progression of stuffings – featured explosively juicy olives and slivers of Idiazabal cheese, jamon serrano de bellota, anchovy, garlic and lemon peel.
Crudo ($11) consisted of silky sea scallops, diced cucumber, crunchy purple-stained radish discs and streaks of avocado oil. Sedlar has his kitchen staff playfully sift spices onto the plate with stencils. In this case, cumin was imagined as a gas mask.
Bacalao negro fresco ($14) featured seared black cod that came apart in moist sheets. The fish was topped with crispy bites of Serrano ham and plated with tomatillo-cilantro sauce, crispy strips of grilled daikon and cinnamon shaped like a nuclear symbol.
Pato al vino ($13) was surprisingly simple by Rivera standards: crisp skinned duck confit over Rioja reduction, plated with cascabel chile that clung to the plate via a smoky chile paste.
Cordero vasco ($14) were a pair of luscious Basque lamb chops plated with a tangy dice of chorizo, piquillos, olives and capers. Allspice was alluringly shaped like a set of seductive eyes.
INDIVIDUALES larger plates
Mole ($21) showcased a juicy Kurobuta pork chop blanketed with mole and sprinkled with pepitas, almonds and sesame seeds – three ingredients in the mole. It was plated with earthy purple potatoes and “black” carrots, a dark purple variety that I’d never seen before.
Trucha ($23) – Tasmanian sea trout – came with saffron quinoa and spinach bathed in yellow gazpacho sauce. The corn husk was probably the highlight, with smoky zucchini, squash and corn kernels. The rosy trout fillet was expertly cooked, but the skin could have been crisper in order to provide some contrast. The overall effect was too spa-like.
POSTRES desserts ($7 each)
Crepas mojito – crisp-edged crepes – were served with a tart Key lime “cloud” and a beaker of white rum, all designed to mimic the flavor profile of a Cuban mojito.
Baba cachaca was a sweet roll bursting with sweet cream, plated with citrus segments and dulce de leche.
Based on a December interview with Sedlar, it’s clear that he has plenty more flavors in his arsenal, and I’m looking forward to returning to Rivera to experience them.
Adam J. Karp
June 21, 2009 at 8:42 PM
The best tortilla I have ever tasted. And unbelievable cocktails.
March 13, 2009 at 5:08 PM
We had a wonderful meal there last week. Will definitely be visiting there again.
February 17, 2009 at 10:35 AM
Here is the tequila restaurant. We will have to go one night
park » Blog Archive » Food GPS » Blog Archive » Rivera – Los Angeles, CA – February 10, 2009
February 15, 2009 at 9:14 PM
[…] bookofjoe wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptOn January 16, John Rivera Sedlar opened Rivera, the contemporary pan-Latin restaurant he owns in South Park with Bill Chait and Eddie Sotto. I was invited to order off the innovative menu, which features both ancient and futuristic … […]