Sunday, April 17, 2011

Life's a Beach: Playa

Playa is the newest restaurant from New Mexico native and Jonathan Gold favorite, Chef John Sedlar. It's a pan-Latin, quasi-small plates, bustling space on Beverly where Grace used to be.

The first thing you notice upon entering Playa is a giant and impressive wall of spirits (now that's my kind of beach!). One would expect the nice selection of tequilas and mezcals (including at least five from the Del Maguey single village line), but there was also an impressive selection of whiskeys, including Scotch, American and Japanese, with full lines from High West and the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and some good standards from distilleries ranging from Glenfarclas to Springbank. There wasn't necessarily anything rare, but it was a much more complete selection than I usually see in LA restaurants (or bars for that matter). They will also make you a customized cocktail if you tell them what you like; everyone at my table who had one was very satisfied.

This was my first taste of Sedlar's cuisine, which I would describe as based on but not restricted to Latin flavors; one motif seemed to be a use of Indian flavors with Latin ingredients. I call it quasi-small plate because there is an extensive small plate menu but also and entree list. We indulged in both.

Much has been made of the maize cakes on the menu, but these were basically updated tacos, and while generally good, they didn't strike me as any sort of revelation, though I very much enjoyed the cauliflower cake which featured purple and white cauliflower, nicely caramelized. The best sounding of the cakes, the Bombay Taj, featured pork belly and Indian spices, but the pork was a bit dry and the flavors didn't seem to coalesce.

Among the other small plates though, there were some real standouts. The Octo-Palm included grilled octopus, dried red onions, hearts of palm and a roasted tomato. The octopus had a super-rich flavor and a mouthfeel that was more like a tender filet than octopus. The dried onions and the roasted tomato were little flavor bombs that added to the richness of the dish.

The Tamalli Chipotle looked like a tamale but was made with wild mushrooms and had a deep mushroomy flavor. It was served with a few slices of perfectly cooked, tender and spicy filet mignon.

The favorite dish of the night, though, was the Flan De Elote. A rich, corn custard topped with huitlacoche. The custard was light and creamy and the addition of the huitlacoche added just the right savory, slightly funky note. We ordered a second dish.

All of the entree dishes were also very nice. Duck was crispy and well cooked, though the "garbanzo creme" it was served on tasted like a very bland hummus. The New York Strip was well cooked, and the skate wing, fried and sliced, was lovely, crispy and sort of addictive.

Desserts were generally good but nothing fantastic.

Aesthetics are big at Playa. The photo above is one of their floral print tortillas, and many of the dishes are served on large plates which feature themed photos. The night we were there they were all scenes from A Clockwork Orange, some of which were a tad creepy, in a fun way (I particularly liked one of a woman doing yoga surrounded by cats, though I can't recall that scene from the film).

The space itself is quite loud and was very warm, though it was one of those unseasonably warm April nights that we had this weekend, so they may not have had their AC up as high as they will in the summer.

The service was friendly and informal, and they were very happy to accommodate diner's wishes, on or off menu.

Overall, Playa is a fun experience, and I enjoyed Sedlar's playful take on Latin cuisine.

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

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