Playa, the second Latin restaurant from Rivera chef John Sedlar, opens this Friday, February 11 in the Beverly Boulevard space formerly home to Neal Fraser's Grace. Turn the page for details, including Sedlar's new menu items, Julian Cox's inspiration behind Playa's cocktail program, and Sedlar's first word on “Reflexiones,” a Playa-esque spin on the chef's famous Spiceology, or spice-blends-meet- graphic-design.
In the months since Sedlar and his restaurant team took over lease, Grace's concrete exterior has given way to Playa's floor-to-ceiling windows, the white tablecloths to earthy wooden tabletops, and formal, mosaic-like light fixtures to hanging light fixtures reminiscent of oversized sea urchins. When we asked Sedlar about his inspiration behind the more casual design, he told us: “The décor is influenced by the earthiness of my native Santa Fe and the free spirit of Southern California's beachside life. In the atmosphere, we try to capture how you feel when you're in such magical places: the light, the air, the sense of place, and the dynamic spiritual combination of relaxation and excitement.”
It's that combination of relaxation and excitement that describe the range of experiences that Sedlar hopes Playa diners will have inside his second Latin restaurant. “You can stop by for cocktails and a bite before or after a night on the town,” says Sedlar. “You can meet up with friends for a high-energy party. You can linger over a serious multi-course meal with some of the best Latin wines found anywhere in L.A. You can have a romantic evening for two at one of our quieter tables in the back.”
While Sedlar hails from Santa Fe, he gives L.A. full credit for his inspiration behind Playa's urban Latin vibe. “Los Angeles, being our country's gateway to all of Latin America, is poised to become ground zero for creative Latin food. And through Playa's urban Latin cuisine I'm striving to create food that is both relaxed and sophisticated, rooted in the past and looking towards the future, global yet particularly Angeleno in its sense of playfulness and creativity — in short, uniquely L.A.”
Most of Playa's menu is made up of small plate interpretations of Latin foods, like Fideos Citricos (homemade saffron linguini with fresno chiles); Tamalli Châteaubriand (wild-mushroom duxelles dumpling, filet mignon, chipotle béarnaise); Arroz con Pato (duck confit, baby vegetable pickles, arroz blanco jus, fresno chilies, chives, micro cilantro); pan-seared Loup de Mer with five different pan-Latin salsas; and desserts such as Corona de Aragon (meringue with French buttercream and goat's milk vanilla ice cream) and Luna Mezcal (chocolate cake with mezcal ice cream, caramel corn, and Spanish peanuts).
But it's his homemade maize cakes that Sedlar's really excited about. “Thicker than common tortillas,” says Sedlar, “these are made to order from freshly cooked and ground masa with unique spices, seeds, nuts, and herbs. Then we add layers of global ingredients and inspirations–combinations like Bombay Taj's curry spices, chutney, and sous-vide pork belly–around which they can be folded and picked up, or eaten with a knife and fork.”
Sedlar's contributions to the menu didn't stop with the food; he brought on Rivera's Julian Cox to create Playa's cocktail menu. Cox, who won the 2010 Starchefs' Rising Star award and developed a strong tequila program and cocktails linked to Latin American ingredients at Rivera, was encouraged by Sedlar to be a bit more relaxed this time: “I've encouraged Julian to cut loose, to look back to the history of the ingredients in his cocktails, and also to look to the present and future with what's going on globally. He's telling fascinating stories through his creative cocktails at Playa.” Cox's cocktail team includes Test Kitchen alums Brian Summers and Jeremy Lake, as well as Library Bar's Davidson Fernie.
Sedlar, who is perhaps as well known for Rivera's Spiceology program — quotes and graphic designs made from colorful spice blends — as he is for introducing L.A. to indigenous Latin cuisine, has developed a Playa-specific Spiceology alternative called “Reflexiones,” which he tells us is “a dynamic interaction between iconic imagery, food stories, and select dishes on our menus.” We'll just have to wait and see exactly how that translates onto the plate. Like on Friday.
Visit Playa's website for more information or call (323) 933-5300 for reservations.