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REVIEW w/ pics: Fantastic Latin Cuisine at Rivera

pleasurepalate | Oct 11, 200901:16 PM

With the restaurant boom happening in downtown Los Angeles, I wanted the dust to settle a bit before checking out all the various eateries. First on the list was Rivera, the brain child of Chef John Rivera Sedler with his take on Modern Latin Cuisine. I bet you can tell how he came up with the restaurant name. Anyway, 5 of us shared 16 different dishes from snacks all the way to desserts and even partook in a couple of cocktails. Mine was the Summer Splash made of Vodka, Lemon, Basil and Honey and it was quite refreshing.

Our meal started off with a trio of items from the snacks section of their menu. First to arrive was the Patatas Xips which were Kennebec potato chips that came with a chipotle-lime crema topped with caviar. Nothing spectacular, but at least the chips were light and crispy and I liked the tart and the little kick flavor of the crema.

Next came the Xnipek which was described on the menu as a Yucatan-style charred-habenero "Dog's Snout" Salsa and Mini Chips. The "Dog's Snout" refers to how the salsa is suposed to be so spicy that once you sample it, your nose will be equivalent to a dog's runny nose. I actually didn't think the salsa was as spicy as it proclaimed to be although it did have a kick, but it didn't matter, I loved it. If I could, I would have gone in the kitchen, spooned some into a jar or two and taken it home.

The trio was rounded off with the Tortillas Florales, housemade Nixtimal tortillas and 'Indian Butter". This is actually my second time experiencing these Tortillas with my first time being at Altamed's Fourth Annual East LA Meets Napa Event which I attended last July. Second time around was just as delicious. I loved the presentation of the pressed edible flowers inside the tortilla plus the tortilla itself which was thick, crispy and hearty.

After the snacks, we went into the starters and what better way to start than with the Chile Pasilla Relleno which was a chilled pickled mile chile filled with burrata cheese. Of the 6 starter items we ordered, this was my favorite. I enjoyed the slight vinegary aspect of the chile plus with it being served cold, it was refreshing to the palate. By the way, on some of the dishes, there were different kinds of what I'm going to call "spice art".

Soon after the Chile Pasilla Relleno, the other 5 dishes arrived in full force like the Cordero Vasco, which were Basque lamb chops, chorizo, piquillos, olives and capers. The lamb chops were cooked just right, but considering the ingredients that were used, I expected more pops of flavor, but was missing that.

The Piquillos Rellenos which were Spanish peppers stuffed with chorizo, golden raisins and gruyere cheese was actually one of the favorites of the table. I appreciated the tenderness of the pepper and how the sweetness of the golden raisins complemented the milder gruyere cheese. The chorizo wasn't as present as it could have been, but I didn't really miss it.

With a recommendation from our server, we also ordered the Bacalao Negro Fresco which was seared black cod and serrano ham crisp. I liked how the fish was delicate and moist, but had a crisped surface. The saltiness of the ham also went well with the mild flavor of the cod.

The next dish was my least favorite of the entire meal and it was the Cordorniz Cubana, a grilled quail with black beans. This is my fifth attempt at trying to like quail and it didn't take this time either. Most of my other party enjoyed this dish, but it wasn't for me. I've always find quail to be fatty. Maybe, if it was fried, I'd at least enjoy the crispy skin, but as of now, this is the last time I'm eating quail.

Last but not least of our starters was the Tamal which had braised pork short rib, seasonal mushrooms and guajillo sauce. The tamal itself was delicate and moist and maybe, I'm being just a bit greedy, but I would have loved more pork and mushrooms. I especially liked the mushrooms which added a nice earthiness to the overall dish.

After we finished off the last bit of the tamal, our 3 main entrees arrived along with a side of calabacitas. By the way, the calabacitas were prettily presented in a corn husk and I loved the color and the crunch of the squash, the bell peppers and the corn that made up that mixture.

Of our three main dishes, the one that I thought was just okay was the Maya Puerco Pibil Sous Vide which was banana leaf braised pork shoulder and Peruvian potatoes. Honestly, I don't understand what the big deal is in regards to meats that are cooked using the sous-vide method. Perhaps, my expectation isn't correct in that I always assume that the meat cooked in this manner should be extra tender, extra juicy. It's not as if the pork in this dish was tough by any means, but it didn't meet my perhaps too lofty expectations? However, this dish's presentation was quite eye catching.

The Kurobuta Pork Chop with a Mole Sauce and Sweet Potatoes on the side was tasty. It's not the best mole sauce I've ever had, but it did have wonderful flavor plus the pork chop was thick and juicy.

Everyone went gaga over the our last entree which was the Duck Enfrijolada with goat cheese, stacked blue-corn tortillas, black bean puree and chile rioja sauce. It wasn't the prettiest dish of the night, but all the flavors melded well together, from the pungency of the cheese to the earthiness of the black beans and so on.

13 dishes down and yes, we still had room for dessert and we ordered three of them. The first one to arrive was the Torta Xocolata, a chocolate torte and drunken pineapple. I forgot to ask what the pineapple was drunk from, but the tartness of the pineapple paired well with that dark chocolate torte.

The Crema Catalanawith almonds and xerex creme had a wonderful crispy caramelization on the surface, but was a bit soupy, which was unexpected. I liked the fact that this dessert wasn't overly sweet, but I wish that consistency was thicker because I would have enjoyed it much more.

Our last dessert was Quesos Españoles which consisted of three Spanish cheeses with sangria jus and crusty bread. We let our server choose our cheeses. Unfortunately, I only remember that one of them was a Manchego and the other was a blue cheese. Regardless, it's hard to go wrong with cheese and it was the perfect finale to our meal.

Overall, except for one or two minor things, this was a wonderful meal and if all the new downtown Los Angeles restaurants are on par with Rivera, than I have a lot to look forward to as I explore more of what downtown has to offer.

Rivera Restaurant
1050 S Flower St
Los Angeles, CA 90015-5100
(213) 749-1460

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