Gusto y sabor  

Perfection and Passion on a Plate!

Downtown LA's Rivera the perfect place to have lunch or dinner, have a business meeting or entertain clients

By Alejandro Menchaca
Published on LatinoLA: March 26, 2009

Perfection and Passion on a Plate!

I had the opportunity to meet Rivera's principals, Master Chef John Rivera Sedlar and Bill Chait, founder of the Louisa's Trattorias, this past summer. Their concept and vision for Rivera Restaurant was high brow, to say the least, and my initial worry was that it might only appeal to epicures or that past contestant on Top Chef who used to make the intriguing, but aloof concoctions using chemistry and foam.

So, it was with a skeptical glare that I studied the menu at Rivera. At first, I thought it was too limited, but then I had the opportunity to sample the various entrees. I realized the genius of Rivera - rather than focus on creating a wide array of mediocre dishes, Chef Sedlar has sculpted a small menu that borders on perfection.

I have always considered myself to be a "foodie" of sorts and have dined at many?Šof the best?Šrestaurants in Los Angeles. That being said, I can unabashedly and unequivocally say that, in my opinion, Rivera serves the finest Latin cuisine in Los Angeles. Rivera represents the apex of a culinary troika that includes such wonderful Latin restaurants as La Serenata de Garibaldi in Boyle Heights and La Casita in Bell. Chef Sedlar modernizes indigenous cuisine, fuses it with state-of-the-art cooking techniques, and regales one's tastebuds with electrifying, yet nuanced flavors. In simple terms, the food is absolutely delicious and the presentation is nothing less than art.

No, this is not your traditional Latin restaurant. If you are looking to dine on food that reminds of you of your abuelita's cooking, well this is not it. What Rivera represents is an ideal that Latino LA aspires to be.?Š It represents the best that Latin cuisine has to offer in an elegant and intimate setting that provides a much needed counterpoint to the hustle and bustle of the new LA Live Center which is across the street. If Latino Professionals were to conjure up a restaurant that best represents their milieu, tastes, and dreams- Rivera represents that m?ģlange.

Now to the food and drink‘«™

As guests enter Rivera's small and intimate interior space, you are immediately greeted by Julian at the bar. No, Julian is not a bartender, he is a mixologist. I used to think this was an "invented" term, as if to call the guy serving coffee at a doughnut shop, a "Barista". But Julian has earned the name. Try the Rivera's cup- a refreshing hybrid of a mojito and margarita with a splash of cucumber. Or the donaji- when Chef Sedlar first described this concoction to me, I was understandably concerned. He mentioned that it would include specks of chapulines- for those Spanish-challenged, grasshoppers.

My immediate thought was to run, but it has actually become my drink of choice. It is a wonderful mescal-based?Šcocktail that features pomegranates and citrus.?ŠAnd the chapulines‘«™well, they are ground into a salt that is almost undiscernible, yet lends a smoky, mesquite flavor to the cocktail. This drink represents what Rivera cuisine is at heart--a confluence of indigenous favors super-charged with a sexy, modern treatment.

Also, try the "Bespoke" cocktails or cocktails made to order. Basically, tell Julian what your favorite spirits and flavors are, and voila, he will present you with a personalized cocktail. Also step in the dining room, which features a prominent wall of private tequila emblazoned with the names of many of the Latino "Whos Who" including Castulo De La Rocha of Altamed, Sal Varela, and Dr. Bertha Gonzalez, as well as steadfast LPN members, Julie Kim and Phil Anderson.

Rivera's menu is divided into prologos (snacks), varios (starters) and individuales (entr?ģe plates) and postres (desserts).?ŠI recommend that you?Šorder one vario and one individuale. But it is a must that you start off every dinner with the tortillas florales. These are delicate palm-sized tortillas embedded with flowers and herbs and served with an "Indian butter" which is actually a delicate, yet flavorful?Šguacamole. Again, if you are looking for tortilla chips and salsa, you will not find it here. The Pato al vino is a duck leg that is cooked so exquisitly that the meat literally melts of the bone. The Cordoniz Cubana is a quail which rests on an amazingly, spicy conction of black beans.

Again, you will not find Buffalo Chicken wings here. My favorite entree of all that I have tried is the Pollo con Citricos. Frankly, it is the best chicked I have ever tasted. The pollo is extremely moist and is bathed with blood oranges and sits atop a bed of spinach. The Puerco pibil is succulent, flavorful, and crowned with a fried potato wedge. The carne churrasco is also amazing, but it tends to be a bit smaller than the other main portions.

For dessert, the baba cachasa and torta xocolate are extremely decadent. The baba cachasa is a soaked pastry which sits playfully next to a drizzle of caramel, candied grapefruit, and blood oranges. The torta xocalate will satiate the palate of even the most discerning chocolate lover. The dessert portions are small, but the rich and sweet flavors definitely pack a punch.

The prices at Rivera are not cheap, but definitely worth the price. The prologos range from $4-$6, varios ($11-$14), and individuales ($21-$29). However, once you sample the cuisine at Rivera and experience its ambiente, you will keep coming back for more.

As a Latino professional, the time is ripe for Rivera. It is a place that fits us and speaks to who we are and who we aspire to be. The politicos have their haunts where they go to cut behind-the-scenes deals- The Pacific Dining Car and La Carretera. The power-brokers of Bunker Hill gather at the Water Grille and Checkers.

Years ago, young Latino professionals used to gather at Cava on Third and La Cienaga. Sadly, Cava disappeared years ago. So, the time was right for Rivera. A place where Latino professionals and professionals of all ethnicities can gather. A place where we can drink, laugh, dine‘«™and live! Rivera is the perfect place for that power lunch or to entertain clients. It is the perfect spot to gather with colleagues and old friends after work for a drink. The perfect place to meet a new romantic interest or celebrate one's ten year anniversary. Simply put, Rivera feels like home.

And so, I raise a toast to Downtown's newest arrival and invite you to join me.

Check out their website at:

About Alejandro Menchaca:
Alejandro Menchaca is the Founder and President of the Latino Professional Network
Author's website

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