Jul 25, 2010

LA's Restaurant of the Moment - Rivera

Spanish Olive Cake - Strawberry Sorbet, Creme Fraiche Ice Cream,
Jerez Vinegar Sauce. This looks a lot better than its actual taste. The
cake tasted like a stale muffin from Starbucks and the sorbet and
ice cream were very average.

The Rivera Restaurant is LA's restaurant of the moment and LA Magazine's top ranking eatery. It's reputation certainly deserved our homage. So we were able to reserve a table for seven on a Monday night, a surprise given that most hot restaurants are hard to come by, even on a Monday. We attempted to book at Gjelina's in Venice Beach to no avail. But Rivera it is and I was dying to compare Rivera's modern latin cuisine to that of Frontera Grill of Chicago, perhaps the epicenter of Latin cooking in the States.

We arrived around 8:30 PM to a relatively slow restaurant. A friendly, model-type, Asian hostess greeted us at the door.  Good start so far. A sharply dressed server, probably a budding actor, greeted us at the
table and explained that we were going to be offered the Conexiones menu, a menu connecting the roots of Latin America to the modern California table. He explained that the restaurant offered three other menus; Playa (Mexico inspired), Samba (South American), Sangre (Spanish). But since we were seated where the hostess sat us, it was Conexiones. So we asked if we could look at the other menus. He said we could but we could not order any items from thos menus. Huh? Now, if we sat down a couple of tables from where we were, we could eat from the Samba menu. Double huh? The restaurant has one kitchen and a few guests. Pretentious. Perhaps. Now the real killer is how much our server and our busboy pushed the bottled water offerings. We ordered bottled water, but we didn't have to be reminded every five minutes if we needed more. Very annoying.

Strike two off the bat, but we are seasoned diners and we can get past that. We were here for the food, first and foremost. As you can see from my notes below, Rivera was mostly fluff. So much attention was given to the presentation that most of the items were luke warm and seriously lacked any depth in flavor. This was very unfortunate since we were really looking forward to a memorable evening. Oh well, you can't win all the time. However, the cocktails we ordered, hand crafted by the restaurant's awesome mixologist, were incredibly fantastic! And my Blood Sugar Sex Magic cocktail - The Best Ever!

Frontera Grill - hands down!

Rivera's Mixologist hand crafts each drink the
same way a chef creates a dish
The Mixologist template of infused flavors

World Class at Rivera
Blood Sugar Sex Magic - is the BEST cocktail
I have ever experienced. This was the highlight
of my Rivera experience. This cocktail is made
with rye whiskey, red pepper, agave nectar
and fresh basil. Absolutely delicious and worth
the $14 price tag.
Flan de Elote - corn and black quinoa custard, squash blossom sauce ($11)
This dish was beautifully presented and melted in your mouth like creamy
butter. It was so good we ordered two.
Yucatean Puerco Pibil Sous Vide - banana leaf-braised pork shoulder, 
Peruvian potatoes ($26). Here's a hint when dining in a Spanish influenced
restaurant...the pork dish is always the best. My brother ordered this dish
and after one taste, I regret not ordering it. A tantalizing dish!

Beautiful Dishes But Average In Flavor
Choros al Vapor - Mussels, chorizo, al amarillo pisco broth ($12). This 
dish would have tasted better if it was served in a bowl; slathered in the
broth. Restaurants too focused on the presentation of the plate sometimes
overlook practicality.

Duck Enfrijolada - blue corn tortillas, black bean puree, goat cheese,
red wine chile sauce ($21). Clever quote from Bernie. Our friend
ordered this and he thought it was very good, but not world class.
Parilla - Rib-eye fillet, habanero chimichurri, yucca chips ($27) - I was
excited about this dish because I love chimichurri. Unfortunately, my steak
was slightly overcooked and the chimichurri lacked any depth. However,
the steak was of good quality.
Piquillos Rellenos - stuffed Spanish peppers, chorizo, golden raisins,
gruyere ($10). This dish was very good and the gruyere just melted
perfectly in your mouth.
Tortillas Florales - housemade nixtamal tortillas, "indian butter" ($8).
These tortillas were elegantly made. It tasted like a Spanish naan.

Xochimilco - ancho chile chocolate cake, avocado mousse, 
lime pepper sauce ($8). This cake was good with just the 
right fire from the chile pepper to make you want for more.
The peanut brittle was special.

If The Flavors Could Only Match The Presentations...
Equadorian Crudo - hiromasa. kumquats, fresno chiles, chives ($14). I
saw this plate and was instantly in love but the flavors fell flat. It's like
finally kissing your biggest crush only to find out she has bad breath.

Leg of Lamb - I don't remember the description since it was the
night's special. My brother-in-law ordered it and he didn't finish it.
I had a bite and likewise, was not impressed with the flavors.

Melon del Mar - olive oil poached lobster, compressed melon, chile
verde gelee ($14). Once again, looks great but fell flat in the flavors
Bizcocho de Avellana - hazelnut-chocolate sponge with
orange-cava sorbet ($8).  I couldn't get over the fact that the cake
looked like one of those toy burgers my kids used to play with in
their Fisher Price kitchen. However, the sorbet was pretty good.
Totra Xocolata - chocolate torte, drunken pineapple ($8). This would
have been good if the server had described it like a dense chocolate
flourless cake versus a moist birthday cake.
Post-Columbian Gazpacho - traditional cold heirloom tomato
soup ($9). There was nothing "traditional" about this gazpacho. 
Not enough salt, and just doesn't have the consistency of gazpacho.
It's like ordering a bloody mary and it comes out like Singapore
sling. I'd prefer the Pre-Columbian gazpacho.
Maize - heirloom corn posole, foie gras, truffle, oregano leaf ($12).
Well, I'm speechless with this $12 soup. The chef should have 86'd this dish.

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