Corazon y Miel (Bell, CA)

Corazon y Miel
6626 Atlantic Ave
Bell, CA 90201
Dining date: 4/5/14

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Corazon y Miel opened just about a year ago and has been well-received in its short life. Located about 10 miles southeast of downtown in Bell, California, it’s not exactly in a part of town I think about for dining destinations. But chef Eduardo Ruiz is crafting modernized interpretations of Latin cuisine that has the whole city (and more) taking notice. Mentioned in a number of best new restaurant lists, Ruiz was recently named a semifinalist for the 2014 “Rising Star Chef of the Year” James Beard Award.

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The restaurant’s menu is broken up into small and large plates, many meant to be paired with drinks. A full bar, including a unique cocktail list and a carefully crafted beer list, is available. We picked a handful of both small and large plates to share for this dinner.

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Playa Brunch (Los Angeles, CA)

Playa
7360 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Dining date: 7/22/12

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I’ve stepped into Playa a few times for Julian Cox’s cocktails, but this would be only my second meal here (the first was dinner).  I recently had an OpenTable dining certificate about to expire, and picked Playa due to strong brunch recommendations.

Playa is one of John Rivera Sedlar’s restaurants (the other being Rivera in downtown), with food described as “urban Latin.” I’m not totally sure what that means, but the brunch menu is an intriguing mix of traditional brunch plates with Latin influences and some more original ones. Cocktails, crafted by Julian Cox, are top-notch; a wall of liquor and a bar full of fresh ingredients promise good things to come.

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A Beer & A Ball campari, aperol, grapefruit, sage, lime, hops infused champagne

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This was one of my favorites from a previous visit. Grapefruit citrus is the main flavor that came through with a little sparkling wine. A little bitter and a little herbaceous.

Dramble aged dark rum, fresh lemon, simple syrup, all-spice dram, muddled raspberries

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Raspberry and citrus (from the lemon) were the main flavor profiles in this refreshing cocktail. Loved the presentation.

Tortillas Florales con marmeladas y conservas

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This is one of the signature items at both Rivera and Playa. These tortillas were easily discernible from the store-bought variety in their texture, and I liked that the edges were a bit crispy. Still though, they were just tortillas, albeit really nice looking ones. Butter and two sweet fruity marmalades were served alongside.

Flan De Elote quinoa, flores de calabaza

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I thought this was a very strong dish. A light flan was sweet and savory with some earthy quinoa providing a little bit of bite. Bitter arugula was a nice change of pace.

Piquillos Rellenos gruyere, chorizo, golden raisins

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Sweet peppers, meaty bites of chorizo and a creamy gruyere came together for some tasty bites. I didn’t think the raisins were needed since the piquillo provided enough sweetness.

Huevos Polenta lardons, rajas, calabacitas, queso cotija

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Creamy polenta was topped with a poached egg and cheese making for a very savory flavor combination. Fried lardons added some meatiness as well as crunch, while a subtly spicy sauce brought it all together. A nice dish.

Duck Hash weiser farm fingerlings, peppers, 63° egg

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I thought each of the individual components were good between the potatoes, tender duck and poached egg. However the dish wasn’t anything more than that; I was missing some of the Latin influences that we saw in other plates.

Playa was a good brunch, but I wouldn’t say it was great. I thought most of the dishes were pretty unique, or at least a unique spin on a classic brunch dish (except for the duck hash). I’m always down for something different when it comes to brunch. With a strong cocktail program and a dining room full of natural light, it was a nice spot for a weekend brunch.

CITY Night @ Border Grill (Los Angeles, CA)

CITY Night
Border Grill

445 S Figueroa St
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Dining date: 2/8/12

Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger opened City Cafe in 1981, at the time a relatively nouveau restaurant serving food with accents around the globe. The success of that restaurant led to a much larger CITY restaurant and eventually Border Grill. As a tribute to their first restaurant, the downtown Border Grill will be hosting a one-night throwback meal on Feb. 29th (they’ve been doing it every Feb. 29th since 2000). Like the original City Cafe, the menu highlights flavors from around the world – France, Italy, India, Portugal, Thailand are some of the countries represented on the menu. I was invited to a preview dinner to try a few of the dishes on the upcoming menu.

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Lemon Ginger Tea fresh lemon, ginger, honey

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Yogi Tea milk, ginger, clove, cardamom, black pepper, honey

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We tried a couple of the non-alcoholic drinks. The tea tasted as expected, with a balance of ginger and lemon flavors. A little bit of honey ensured it wasn’t too tart. The yogi tea was very interesting, with strong savory spice flavors and ginger coming through strongly.

Supremo Mojito 12 year old rum, fresh mint, lime, sugar, hand muddled

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I also went with a cocktail – this rather large mojito. Not too sweet at all, with the lime and mint flavors upfront.

Our first dish was a sampling of a trio of appetizers.

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Potato Bhujia spiced potato fritters, cilantro, mint chutney, yogurt sauce

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Fried Sage Leaves tomato salsa, tomatillo salsa

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Chinese Sausage Salad grilled chinese sausage, red onion, celery leaves, chiles, garlic, kaffir lime leaves

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The potato bhujia (a potato fritter) was lightly crisped on the outside and creamy on the inside. Cilantro and mint yogurt added a cool acidity to counter the fried bhujia. The fried sage leaves were quite nice too, with a mild sage flavor and crispy texture. However, I may have been looking for a lighter batter. The tomato salsa added much of the depth of flavor. Finally, the highlight of the trio was the Chinese sausage salad – served in a red onion bowl. The richness of the sausage was well-balanced by the cool vinaigrette and kaffir lime, while the sausage’s chewy, waxy texture made for some nice bites. Refreshing and delicious.

Sautéed Halibut Cheeks with Tomato and Pernod tomato concasse, snow peas, pernod, homemade fettuccine

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The halibut cheeks were perfectly cooked – dense, meaty and still moist. Crispy snow peas and sweet tomatoes provided more flavor with the fresh fettucine. The sauce had a little more butter than I would’ve liked, but I appreciated the richness.

Braised Duck with Red Curry grilled japanese eggplant, scallion, basmati rice

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This was a pretty flavorful Thai curry with a mild heat; chunks of duck were in the sauce as well as slices of the seared breast. I thought both duck preparations were good. The eggplant was very tender, though I’m not sure it added too much to the overall dish.

Chewy Date Bar golden oat crumble, caramel ice cream

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A sweet, slightly chewy date puree was sandwiched in between a layers of granola. I thought this was done pretty well, with the date flavor being front-and-center, along with earthy oat notes. Lemon and caramel ice creams completed the dish.

The CITY dinner was a completely different experience from the typical Border Grill menu, and I quite enjoyed myself. The menu was pretty varied in its influences, but I thought the team executed them pretty well. Perhaps some of the worldly knowledge behind Susan Feniger’s STREET has also been shared at CITY. Catch CITY on February 29th in downtown.

Mary Sue Milliken, new-ish executive chef Monique King, and Susan Feniger.

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Note: This was a sponsored meal.

Playa Rivera – 2/10/11

Playa Rivera
7360 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036

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Playa is John Rivera Sedlar’s (Rivera) new Latin-inspired restaurant, which has taken over the old Grace spot on Beverly. Interestingly, I dined at this location on Grace’s last night of service, so it was fun to come full-circle and check out the the new spot. Members of the mailing list for the now-defunct-but-soon-to-return Test Kitchen were invited to come try out Playa a day before the official opening. Luckily, I was able to join a reservation with Christina of food, je t’aime, Matt of Mattatouille/Scoops Westside, and Caroline of Caroline on Crack.

The space is rather small, though strategically-placed mirrors actually made me think it was much larger at first. The bar is stunning with its wall of spirits; cocktails are crafted by mixologist Julian Cox.

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A variety of cold/warm small plates and big plates were on offer, as well as some sides. We opted to stick with the small plates, giving us a few more tastes to try.

Octo-Palm grilled octopus, palm hearts, scallions, oven-dried cherry tomatoes, oven-dried red onion

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A couple of people had recommended this dish, so we had to try it. The octopus was a little bit chewy, but not overly so, and were complemented with the dried red onion and palm hearts. The oven-dried cherry tomatoes were juicy and delicious…and almost stole the show.

Lipsticks sweet peppers, crab, corn, olive oil, sorbet morado, rosemary oil, sal de colima, citrus-beet pintura

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Loved the presentation here. This dish was cool, flavorful and refreshing. I enjoyed the crab and corn stuffed in the chiles, which was a delicious interplay of three sweet ingredients. The sorbet and rosemary oil added extra herb flavor, while giving the dish a cool crispness. Nice!

Flor de Calabaza tempura squash blossoms, Spanish bacalao, veal reduction, chorizo jus, capers, castelveltrano olives

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I love fried squash blossoms. The creamy bacalao filling worked well with the crunchy squash blossoms. The olive and chorizo flavors came through as well, though the whole mouthful was a little salty.

Maize Cake Breakfast 63° egg, pan-seared potato, espuma de queso, black trumpet mushrooms, truffle cheese

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This would make an excellent breakfast/brunch item…which isn’t to say it wasn’t also good for dinner as well. The earthy flavors of the mushrooms and truffle cheese were most evident; combined with the perfectly cooked egg, this made a delicious and savory bite. Roll this up, and you’ve got a heck of a (messy) breakfast burrito!

Arroz con Pato duck confit, baby vegetable pickles, arroz blanco jus, fresno chiles, chives, micro cilantro

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I love arroz con pollo so I was eying this dish beforehand. The duck was succulent and tender, and the rice was good too. The tiny baby vegetables added a nice crunch and acidity as well. I just wish I could’ve had this dish by myself!

Tamalli Chateaubriand wild-mushroom duxelles dumpling, filet mignon, chipotle béarnaise

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Here we had, essentially, a tamale and slices of tenderloin. The beef was very tender, with some added flavor from a savory béarnaise. The tamale was a little bit dense, but did have an earthy flavor imparted by the mushrooms.

Cauliflower oven-roasted, indian spices, green chiles, chana crisp

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We tried one side – this cauliflower. The roasting provided a nice char to the cauliflower, adding extra flavor. However, the dish was a little bit mushy for me.

Luna Mezcal chocolate cake, chocolate glaze, mezcal ice cream, caramel popcorn, spanish peanuts, hibiscus sauce, blackberry basil, sorbet

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Dessert number one. The chocolate cake was good – dense and full of chocolate flavor. I don’t have a lot of experience with mezcal, but the ice cream provided a subtle welcome sweetness. There was another sorbet on top of the chocolate which was reminiscent of raspberry, and countered some of the sweetness.

Pastel Café mocha sponge, espresso crème, toffee honeycomb, colombian chocolate ice cream

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Dessert number two. The sponge was just kind of weird..it was dry without feeling too dry, but full of coffee flavor. The chocolate ice cream created one of my favorite dessert combinations (coffee and chocolate), and they melded well as the sponge soaked up some of the melting ice cream. Toffee honeycomb added some texture and extra flavor. Delish!

In all, I thought this was a good meal. Sedlar continues to use Latin flavors in interesting, modern “twists” – and, most importantly, they taste good. I actually enjoyed my meal here over my experiences at Rivera – the vibe is a little more energetic and communal.

Rivera – 10/6/10

Rivera
1050 S Flower St
Los Angeles, CA 90015

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I’d been to Rivera once a while back. It was a weekday lunch, and I remember the delicious and moist fish tacos, as well as generously-sized kurobuta pork short ribs. I’ve been meaning to go back to try dinner out, but I just haven’t had the right “push” to get me there.

When I was tasked to pick a restaurant for eight of us for a DineLA meal, Rivera immediately struck me as a candidate. With its notable tequila cocktails from bartender Julian Cox and rather unique “upscale Latin” menu, I thought this would be a fine choice.

Rivera’s kitchen is open to the street via large windows. I always enjoy being able to see what’s going on in the kitchen on my way in.

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Tortillas Florales housemade nixtamal tortillas, “Indian butter”

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This is not part of the DineLA menu, but I had to try it. This is one of the most notable dishes offered at Rivera. During my past lunch visit, I had asked for these and was told they were only available during dinner. So, I finally got to try them – and I was not disappointed. The tortillas were beautiful, and the “Indian butter,” really like a smooth guacamole, was wonderful.

Ensalda Espagnola frisee, baby spinach, endive, idazabal cheese, macadamia nuts, and jerez sherry vinaigrette

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I didn’t try this salad, but heard it was a good salad – though it wasn’t anything special.

Flan de Elote corn custard, black quinoa, and squash blossom sauce

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This warm flan was creamy and custard-like, very smooth. The corn added a nice sweetness, and the black quinoa added a little bit of texture to the dish, making this a definite favorite.

Post-Columbian Gazpacho traditional cold heirloom tomato soup

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This was a fairly standard gazpacho. Solid. Not overly sweet nor overly acidic.

Sea bass with Mofongo white sea bass fillet, garlic, platanos refritos, lardo iberico

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This was my first time having mofongo, in my opinion, one of the best food words to say out loud. It’s basically fried plantains, mashed with garlic, spices, oil and often fried pork skin or bacon. The sea bass was cooked very nicely, with the skin crispy and having a nice smoky flavor. The mofongo was subtly sweet, which was rather nice with the bass, a relatively heavier fish.

Puerco Pibil banana-leaf braised pork shoulder

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My first piece of this was way too fatty (greater than 50%). However, subsequent slices were quite nice, very moist and tender. The pork flavor was quite good, though the sauce did not have a lot of depth. I found the potato crisps to be crucial in adding a textural element to the dish.

Market Vegetables

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I didn’t get a chance to try the vegetarian course, featuring a variety of fresh vegetables.

Mille Hojas 70% Columbian chocolate leaves, ripe banana, cabrales queso azul, spanish red wine reduction

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Unfortunately I didn’t get a good picture of this dish. It was a cheese course dessert featuring dark chocolate, bananas and blue cheese with toast. It really didn’t work for me, as the blue cheese was very overpowering.

Hielo y Fuego poblano chile sorbet, jarabe de porto

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Interesting dish. I thought the poblano chile sorbet would be too spicy for me, but it wasn’t. The heat was present but mild, and the port syrup added a sweetness to temper the heat. Nice!

Xocimilco ancho chile chocolate cake, avocado mousse, lime pepper sauce

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I’m actually not a big fan of spiciness in my desserts. This one instantly reminded me of LudoBites 5.0′s chocolate cake with spicy olive oil. The cake itself was good, with ancho chiles adding some heat. The avocado mousse was an interesting component of the dish, but I found myself somewhat bored after a few bites.

In all, it was a solid meal at Rivera. I really want to love Rivera, but I can’t. There were some great dishes, including the flan and the pork, but there were some dishes I didn’t enjoy so much. However, I will continue to follow Chef John Sedlar’s movements (restaurant Playa opening later this year) and wouldn’t mind coming back to Rivera at some point in the future.