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Playa: 99 Essential Restaurants 2011

Playa: 99 Essential Restaurants 2011

PHOTO BY ANNE FISHBEIN

My first taste of Playa, John Sedlar's small-plates restaurant in the old Grace space up on Beverly, was something called Maize Cake Bombay Taj: a thickish, palm-sized tortilla patted out from freshly ground nixtamal, passed across a griddle just long enough to crisp the surface while leaving the interior soft and steamy. The surface of the maize cake was smeared with a kind of masala paste, both tart and hot, and dotted with yogurt and bits of chewy, pungent mango pickle. There were three or four cubes of meltingly soft pork belly confited in duck fat and crisped a moment before serving. What we're talking about here is basically a luxury-class carnitas taco, a combination of well-cooked pig, salsa and tortilla, which you've probably tasted a hundred times, but twisted 90 degrees, made new by the sharpness of the pickle, the mephitic breath of the cumin and turmeric and the careful construction of the masa platform.

The Playa kitchen is Sedlar's playground, equipped with all the toys and esoteric ingredients of the modernist kitchen but playful — a lot of the dishes are plated on glass-covered photographs of the chef's native New Mexico. There are Chilean-style tamales, humitas, steamed in clamshells; thumb-size chiles gueros stuffed with seafood and tempura-fried; and his famous tortillas florales, made to order, with flowers pressed into them as if they were the pages of a romantic's scrapbook. The bar, whose cocktails are overseen by Julian Cox, pushes the boundaries of the esoteric into strange, uninhabited regions of tobacco-smoked rye whiskey, rare Spanish vermouth and bitter Sardinian honey. 7360 Beverly Blvd., Fairfax District. (323) 933-5300, playarivera.com. Dinner, 6-11 p.m. nightly; brunch, Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Full bar, Sun.-Wed., 5:30-11 p.m., Thurs.-Sat., 5:30 p.m.-1 a.m. Valet parking. All major CC. Modern Latin.

99 Essential L.A. Restaurants 2011:

Jonathan Gold's Introduction
Anne Fishbein's Photos
The Google Map

The List:

A-Frame
Akasha
Alcazar
Angeli Caffe
Angelini Osteria
Animal
Antojitos Carmen
Attari
Babita
Bludso's
Border Grill
Bottega Louie
Bulgarini Gelato
Cacao
Campanile
Casa Bianca
Chang's Garden
Chego
Chichén Itzá
Chung King
Church & State
Ciro's
Comme Ça
Cut
Dae Bok
Din Tai Fung
Drago Centro
El Huarache Azteca
El Parian
Elvirita's
Euro Pane Bakery
Eva
Fab Hot Dogs
Father's Office
Fig
Gjelina
Golden Deli
Golden State
Good Girl Dinette
The Gorbals
Guelaguetza
Guisados
Huckleberry
Hungry Cat
Ink.
Jar
Jitlada
Kiriko
Kobawoo
La Casita Mexicana
Langer's
Larkin's
Lazy Ox Canteen
Le Comptoir
Little Dom's
Lou
Lucques
LudoBites
Lukshon
Mantee
Marouch
Mayura
Meals by Genet
Mélisse
Mezze
Mo-Chica
Mother Dough
Mozza
Musso & Frank Grill
Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa
Newport Tan Cang Seafood Restaurant
The Nickel
Night + Market
Oinkster
101 Noodle Express
Palate Food + Wine
Park's Barbecue
Picca
Playa
Pollos a la Brasa
Providence
Ray's
Red Medicine
Rivera
Rustic Canyon
Salt's Cure
Sapp Coffee Shop
Sea Harbour
Son of a Gun
Sotto
Spago
Spice Table
Street
Tacos Baja Ensenada
Tasting Kitchen
Terroni
Tsujita L.A.
Vincenti
Waterloo & City

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Playa
miles

7360 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036

323-933-5300

www.playarivera.com