Monday, October 18, 2010
After my first visit to Rivera, I thought the food was fantastic, but with the introduction of new menus, I think the food is even more fantastic. When it comes to Latin Food, Chef John Rivera Sedlar, owner-chef of Rivera Restaurant truly believes in giving the diners at his restaurant a real sense of Latin Food history. Last July, along with his main CONEXIONES menu, he introduced 3 special regional menus available only in specific dining rooms within Rivera.
In the Sangre Room, the focus is on the Iberian roots of Latin Cooking; thus, the foods that are featured are from Spain and Portugal. The menu in the Samba Room is all about foods with South American, Central American and Caribbean influences while at the Playa Bar, it's all about seafood-themed cuisine inspired by Mexico as well as inspiration from the Southwest. If you can't decide, you can even opt for a Tasting Menu that includes 8 dishes from all three menus.
Last July, I was hosted along with a few other restaurant bloggers for a preview of the dishes that would be featured on the Conexiones menu as well as in the three menus mentioned above. In the end, our meal consisted of 15 total courses. Our first course was the Cabeza de Oro (from the Playa menu) with foie gras, lobster, scallop, truffle, jamon iberico and caviar. All the ingredients were layered on a golden head and it's definitely a luxurious way to start a meal.
From the Samba Menu came our second course, an Argentine Mushroom Carpacchio with king oyster, bluefoot, chanterelle mushrooms, chimichurri spices and combava lime. I'm a big mushroom fan, so I was already sold when I saw this dish on our Tasting Menu and it didn't disappoint.
Our third course came from the main Conexiones menu and it was Equadorian Crudo with hiromasa, kumquats, Fresno chiles and chives. I enjoyed the freshness of the fish, but I thought it needed more of the kumquat for additional tartness.
Also from the Conexiones menu was the Post-Colombian Gazpacho, a traditional cold heirloom tomato soup. I'm not sure what was added to this soup other than tomatoes, but there's a depth of flavor in this soup that I wasn't expecting, but definitely enjoyed.
Next to arrive was the Chile Relleno, which was an Anaheim chile stuffed with buratta cheese and topped with martian red corn salsa and Cherokee tomatoes. When I went online to check out Rivera's current menus, this dish wasn't listed in any of them. Perhaps, it was a seasonal dish or it didn't make the final cut? Regardless, I found it quite tasty and hope that it is just a seasonal dish that will make a return appearance.
The Flan de Elote, a corn custard with black quinoa and squash blossom sauce, can be found on the Conexiones menu. This was definitely one of my favorite dishes of the night. I loved the sweet creamy texture of the corn custard paired with the chewy mouth feel of the quinoa.
From the Playa menu, a must order is the Chile Guero Relleno with tempura chile, crab, corn, soy, ginger and scallion. I really enjoyed the Asian-Latin fusion of ingredients and flavors. I had to share this dish, but I could have easily eaten all 4 by myself.
One of my least favorite dishes of the night were the Venezulan Arepas which were made up of traditional fried corn cakes and a soft shell crab in the style of Cartagena, Colombia from the Samba menu. I've never had an arepa before, but from what I've seen on tv and what I've read about it, an arepa is more of a sandwich made using a bread made from corn (but not necessarily corn bread). What I saw in front of me didn't fit my idea of what an arepa was supposed to be, plus in general, I just found the whole dish underwhelming flavor-wise.
Another standout and from the Playa menu, was the Clam Tamalli. The Clam Tamalli is a Pismo clam that was steamed with a sweet corn masa mix that included poblano chiles, garlic, oregano leaf and a blistered chile verde meuniere. Simply delicious.
Our next dish was the Parilla, a rib-eye filet with habanero chimichurri and yucca chips and it comes from the Conexiones menu. The meat was tender and juicy and I liked the crunch of the yucca chips. It's not as imaginative a dish as some of the dishes we had tried so far, but if you're in the mood for meat and potatoes, this is the dish for you.
I wasn't really into the Brazilian Feijoada dish which was a traditional black bean stew with lamb and came from the Samba menu. I've only had feijoida once before and it was mind-blowing. The black beans had been stewed for a couple of days with various cuts of meats so the flavor was amazing. In comparison, the Rivera version of the feijoada just didn't cut it for me, especially in regards to the black beans which didn't have the pure meaty flavor of what I had before.
Also from the Samba menu were the Bolivian Anticuchos, which were white sea bass skewers marinated with spicy aji peppers coated with semilla salsa. I really enjoyed the flavors, but found the sea bass itself to be a bit dry. Perhaps, it marinated too long and as a result, it was "cooked" through more than it should have been.
Finally, after all the savory dishes, it was time for dessert and it started off with my favorite of the three we tried, which was the Hielo Y Fuego (Ice and Fire), a poblano chile sorbet with a port reduction. The juxtaposition between the spicy ice cream and the coolness of the port reduction worked perfectly together.
My second favorite dessert was the Xochimilco, which was an ancho chile chocolate cake, with avocado mousse and lime pepper sauce. Chile and chocolate? Yes, please and when you add the sweetness of the avocado mousse to the mix, the Xochimilco was definitely a palate pleaser.
Our last dessert was the Pan de Santa Teresa which is a Spanish lenten bread pudding with cherimoya ice cream, cactus pear esencia and salted peanuts. I'm not much of a bread pudding fan, but this one was pretty good, but what really made this dessert memorable was the tartly delicious cherimoya ice cream.
It was definitely quite a meal with definitely a lot of highs to it. I've always enjoyed the food at Rivera, but with these new menus, Rivera has only gotten that much better and is a place I'd continue recommend to anyone who wants to experience fantastic Latin cuisine.
1050 S Flower St
Los Angeles, CA 90015-5100