Saturday, December 3, 2011

Playa - Sublime Urban Latin Brunch on Beverly

Is there anything better than brunch on a sunny SoCal Sunday?  Even after a long weekend of unbridled holiday gorging - there's always room for brunch.  Especially one with an 'urban Latin' spin (and blue corn muffins!) that we'd read so much about, at the critically acclaimed, blogger-beloved Playa.  Chef John Sedlar was just named Esquire Magazine's Chef of the Year, and we couldn't wait to check out his original, pan-Spanish world creations. Last weekend, my friend 'Curses' and I decided to finally make it out there for brunch. 

From the moment we walked in, we were in love with the place.  The beautiful, sunlit space may not be oceanside, but definitely lives up to its stated goal of celebrating California coastal lifestyle, with sophisticated space that is still very casual and comfortable at the same time.  We loved the aesthetic with dark and light woods, and soaring ceilings adorned with large straw-like displays that did remind us - as described on Playa's site - of a cross between sea urchin and tumbleweeds.

We were there uncharacteristically (for me) early, as we had a movie screening to go to afterwards, so we had the lovely  space pretty much to ourselves.  It was so nice to just sit and soak in the serenity, after a stressful (albeit short) workweek, to have a place like Playa to retreat to and recharge before starting it all over again.
Starting off with giant cups of fragrant tea (Green/Chamomile $5 each), we were excited to get to try the much buzzed about Blue Corn Muffins ($6) with Anson Farms Organic Cornmeal, Almond Butter. 

These muffins cheerily arrived with a festive little strip of blue corn husk sticking out the top.  We thought they lived up to the hype.  Fluffy, yet substantial and subtly sweet, nicely crisp tops, served at perfect portions, warm with almond butter - these have the flavor of corn bread but texture of muffins and were heaven on a plate.

 I actually had a postcard for a complimentary plate of the muffins, that I picked up from a food event,  so that made it even better (gotta love free!) I don't normally crave muffins but would definitely come back just for these another day.
Playa of course is also known for their inventive market fresh cocktails created by mixologist Julian Cox (also at Picca, Sotto and Rivera) - so I couldn't leave without getting one - and there are great offerings designed for brunch.  I chose one that sounded more unusual: Luchadores Lady ($10) Reposado Tequila, Hibiscus Tea, Pineapple Gomme Syrup, Lime, Egg White Peychaud’s Bitters.  The drink was light refreshing, and I loved the play with egg whites that was right on theme for brunch.  

I kind of felt like a rebel drinking Tequila so early in the morning, but justified it in my mind that it's balanced with 'healthy' antioxidant-rich hibiscus tea, vitamin-C rich citrus additions, plus protein rich egg white (ha! yeah so you can really justify almost  anything if you really put your mind to it...?)  It did look and taste so fresh I thought it just must be healthy ;)

Curses had a lovely and ever reliable brunch staple, a Mimosa ($8).
Then came our mains, and our unanimous and immediate favorite was the Huevos Polenta ($11)
Lardons, Rajas, Calabacitas, Queso Cotija

I'm always on the lookout for a good polenta in the city (why can't everyone make it so that it's smooth and creamy with slightly gritty texture and NOT congealed or rubbery?!) and I think Playa's now counts among the top of the ones I've had. 

The polenta was texture-perfect, yes, creamy and light with just the right amount of grit, and the whole thing is elevated with a sprinkling of bacon, peppers, squash and crumbly, salty cheese, crowned by a perfectly poached egg.  DELISH!!!  This is another dish that will definitely be drawing me back to brunch at Playa.


Next up was the Tamal ($12) Cracked Corn Masa, Pulled Pork, Sunnyside-Up Egg
with an unexpected, fun and sort of tongue-in-cheek presentation - on a plate with article on The Simpsons food blogger episode inserted!!!

I guess all the picture-taking was a dead giveaway? ;P  Though I was trying to be subtle with my little purse-sized point and shoot (no paparazzi DSLRs for me!) 

Anyways, we enjoyed what I later learned is their new 'urban Latin' approach to plating - Playa will change out the inserts according to what was relevant, or interesting in pop culture or the news at the time. 

And how did the Tamal taste?  We loved the perfectly fried sunny-side up eggs, but the tamale was a bit too much for us (even though it was made lighter than tamales at other places), with bold flavors in the tomato or chile based sauce.  Granted, perhaps we just weren't used to tamale as a brunch food, though we wanted and were happy to try something new.  And no, our reception of the dish wasn't because it didn't involve deep fried pixie wings or walrus mustaches.

For a sweet brunch staple, we also ordered up the Panqueques ($12) Fresh Blueberries, Pedro Jimenez Compote

If this were the Oscars of brunch, I could see Panqueques going up for the Best Drama award.  Of the three plates, this one made us gasp when it arrived.  At its base was the standard looking stack  of pancakes, but then it was surrounded by ribbons of berry sauce, and topped by bananas, ice cream and a flurry of a brown, wispy structure that looks windblown. 

Our friendly and informative server, Colin, explained that this was made from molasses (and I can't remember all the details now of the process, unfortunately) - we thought was it an ingenious way to lightly and dramatically get the sweetness onto those flapjacks without dousing it, as most other places do, with a heavy slick of syrup.

And that was not all - it was such a great surprise, once we cut into the stack, to find chocolate hazelnut spread in between each layer!!!

All in all, Curses and I both enjoyed that Playa treats brunch as a labor of love - yes it's a little bit of a splurge, but not too bad and we loved that it's not about shovelling in the closest available carbs to soak up alcohol from the night before (been there, outgrown that) - it's about truly celebrating and enjoying good food, in new interpretations of classic dishes, in a lovely setting, at one of our favorite mealtimes.  Totally adding this to our list of favorite spots for brunch!  Viva Playa!

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 6.5 stars
Service - 6.5 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%
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Playa Rivera
7360 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036
Ph: 323.933.5300

Parking: Meters on Fuller Ave (2 hour limit - but of course double check posted signs) valet $6.50

Website: playarivera.com
Twitter: twitter.com/PlayaRivera
Look for reservations: opentable.com/playa
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Playa Rivera on Urbanspoon

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