Mexican chef Diego Hernández is best known for his restaurant Corazón de Tierra in Baja's Valle de Guadalupe, which has racked up admirers and accolades, including a ranking of No. 39 on The World's 50 Best Restaurants of Latin America. Hernández recently made his much-anticipated L.A. restaurant debut with Verlaine, taking over the old Dominick's space in West Hollywood. After a rocky start, Verlaine has become just as thrilling as we all hoped it would be. For proof, look no further than the unassuming, dark red, oily liquid that comes alongside the ceviche of the day. The ceviche itself, generally made with Hiramasa yellowtail, is vibrantly fresh and lightly flavored with cilantro and lime. It comes with house-made tostadas on the side, and two ramekins, one with mayonnaise and one with that red stuff, a “matcha” sauce made from fried guajillo chilies and scorched peanuts. It has a dark smokiness, the edge-of-burnt peanuts presenting a radical kind of nuttiness. If the matcha sauce is indicative of Hernández's ability to present beautifully intricate flavors, his grilled oysters showcase an opposite talent, one in which simplicity is king. It's tempting to use some kind of Eurocentric comparison to sum up Verlaine, something along the lines of how Hernández's talent for burnt peanut sauce is just as impressive as the skill of a chef who has mastered sauces with cream or butter at their core. But that would undercut the newness of this food and the history that came before it. At his best, Hernández delivers some of the most thrilling food I've eaten in L.A. this year.
Credit: Anne Fishbein