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Rivera

Number 1 on our list of Best New Restaurants of 2009

Photograph by Jessica Boone

Gray-haired, fervent, intellectually searching, John Sedlar is a chef profoundly marked by the ’80s—that decade when cooking in America was first understood as a means of expression. An air force brat with a New Mexican mother, he grew up in Spain before spending his early professional years in Santa Fe. By 1981, he had opened Saint Estephe, a groundbreaking nouvelle spot in Manhattan Beach. Bikini, which he would later rechristen Abiquiu, followed, and while the three were well respected, they were a mere warm-up for what he’s achieved at Rivera. Located near L.A. Live, the restaurant, a glossy den with electronic murals on the walls and light fixtures modeled on a conquistador’s helmet, embodies a passionate dialogue between the Americas and Spain. Sedlar hews to tradition without being bound by it. Hand-pressed tortillas that carry the ancestral tang of ground nixtamal might be a preamble to cochinita pibil, slowly cooked pork rubbed with achiote—a Yucatecan classic that he tweaks with purple Peruvian potatoes. Just as in Mexico City, the chile pasilla is served chilled, but the filling of burrata contributes an unexpected lushness. The baba cachaca dessert, bolstered with citrus slices and Brazilian sugarcane brandy before being finished with Chantilly cream, combines the exactitude of a Parisian patisserie and the abandon of a Rio bar. Sedlar has been roaming the borderlands between worlds for more than two decades, and Rivera is his most brilliant articulation of the theme.


 
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Spice of Life
That margarita hasn’t gone to your head; there is a family running across your plate. Rivera chef John Sedlar hires artists to create the stencils used in the decorating technique he calls “spiceology.” Aroma, flavor, design, and message combine to excite more than the palate. “We have one of Sarah Palin made with cayenne and paired with a bitter dish,” he says.

»1050 South Flower Street // downtown // 213-749-1460 or riverarestaurant.com