Urban Latin Cuisine
The name “Playa” doesn’t refer to geography but to the spirit of L.A.’s open-air, laid-back, coastal lifestyle. In its concept, food, drinks, design, and scene, Playa expresses a relaxed new urban Latin vibe as envisioned by chef/owner John Rivera Sedlar and the creative team who have helped him make the restaurant a reality.
What is “urban Latin cuisine”? Drawn from iconic foods and historic influences across the Spanish-speaking world, it is expressed in casual yet sophisticated dishes featuring ingredients in spirited combinations composed with modern artistry: tapas-sized plates of beautiful, delicious food, accompanied by creative cocktails from master mixologists and the finest wines from the Latin world on three continents.
Sedlar began dreaming of Playa soon after he launched Rivera, near downtown’s L.A. Live, one of the city’s and nation’s most acclaimed restaurants to open in 2009. “Rivera became our contemporary expression of three thousand years of Latin food history, the result of the 15 years I spent traveling, cooking, eating, and researching after I left the restaurant industry in 1994,” Sedlar says.
“Next, I began thinking about an even more personal quest,” Sedlar continues. “I wanted a restaurant that expressed today’s L.A. lifestyle at its best, the incredibly vibrant feeling people have whether they’re at a great movie or at a club, at a party or at the beach. It had to be a casual spot that felt stylish and sophisticated, while also summing up my own lifetime in food.”
Playa does all those things.
It occupies a space that was once the home of Muse, a restaurant that defined über-chic, sophisticated, adventurous, yet relaxed dining in the early 1980s when John Sedlar first arrived in Los Angeles from his native Santa Fe, New Mexico. “I’ve always dreamed about what it would be like to have a restaurant in that space,” he says.
With Playa, Sedlar and business partner Bill Chait have achieved that dream, in a very personal way. “We’ve filled the space with light,” Chait says, referring to the skylights and sunwells in its 20-foot ceiling, its open tortilla bar, its glassed-in kitchen, and the dazzling effect of the restaurant’s new all-glass façade facing the cosmopolitan traffic flow of Beverly Blvd. “Playa comes as close as a sheltered space can be to offering sun-drenched indoor-outdoor dining by day and dining by the moonlight and stars at night,” Sedlar adds. “It has a magical radiance that feels like a perfect, earthy, rustic blend of New Mexico and Southern California.”
That setting is ideal for presenting for the award-winning chef’s contemporary, casually sophisticated, playful-yet-serious take on urban Latin cuisine, executed under his guidance in a kitchen supervised by chef de cuisine Kevin Luzande. Guests will discover a wide array of irresistible small plates for casual tapas-style dining, along with select larger main dishes, and of course desserts, all inspired by traditional Latin cooking as filtered through Sedlar’s cutting-edge culinary sensibilities and his classic French training under L’Ermitage’s Jean Bertranou.
Imagine, for example, handmade, custom-flavored cornmeal masa cakes folded around seasonal farmers’ market fillings: shrimps with green chili, cabbage, and mustard “ice cream”; cauliflower with potato, Époisses cheese, and black trumpet mushrooms; burrata cheese with salsa de semilla and arugula. “On a daily basis, I aim to achieve fresh, vivid, eye-opening, fun, delicious flavor combinations,” says Sedlar. Other dishes range from black bean crème soup with apple confit to chicken in a chili-sea salt crust, a crispy-skinned duck breast with garbanzo puree to Pacific oysters with cava and Kaffir lime to a “Garden of Earthly Delights” salad. Custom salsas will change with the seasons. Some of the many desserts include mango tart with cayenne, cornmeal sable, and tamarind gelée; and Madagascar vanilla cake with candied piquillo chiles, and cava-citrus consommé; and Colombian chocolate lunas.
Adding to the impact of the food will be chef Sedlar’s new urban Latin presentation technique, Reflexiones, in which he showcases featured dishes at Playa against dramatic backdrops of photographic images he has personally selected to complement or contrast with the food. Every several weeks, the Reflexiones theme will change—food as memory; political observations social and environmental issues; iconic and urban art; and, for the first cycle, his personal Hispanic northern New Mexican culinary origins—with the images featured under glass inside dramatic white china plates.
The restaurant’s two beverage programs aim to be integral parts of the Playa experience. Chef Sedlar worked closely with master mixologist Julian Cox in the creation of a list of custom cocktails will feature house-made infusions, freshly squeezed juices and essences, and a range of spirits featuring but not limited to fine tequilas and mescals. Supervised by sommelier Ben Broidy, the 130-bottle wine list will focus especially on food-friendly vintages, with approximately 110 from Spain and other Latin countries.
Guests’ enjoyment of Playa’s food and beverages alike will be enhanced by a setting from restaurant architect Osvaldo Maiozzi, Playa partner and design visionary Eddie Sotto, and interior designer Deborah Gregory of DiG Interiors. Complementing the relaxed sophistication of Sedlar’s cooking, they have transformed the bright, breezy former Muse space with a palette of natural earth tones reminiscent of driftwood and of both beachside and desert sands. Hanging from the high ceilings, abstract chandeliers made of natural straw fibers evoke both sea urchins and desert tumbleweeds.
“I’m thrilled,” says John Rivera Sedlar, “with how Playa has come together and how we’ve achieved a vision of a new kind of restaurant, one that offers serious food in a fun, sophisticated way that will contribute to the latest chapter in L.A.’s evolution as a world center of urban Latin food.”