Nueva mexicana trailblazer John Sedlar has split up his sleek downtown hit into three mini restaurants, each with its own menu that highlights a specific culinary region: South America, Mexico, and Spain. Aside from some logistical problems, the food is—as ever—sublime. We sampled from the main dining room's South American "Samba" menu, where the lamb chop with Brazillian bean stew and the Puerto Rican sea bass mofongo achieved supernatural levels of depth. The "Playa" menu offered at the large communal table skews Baja with sea-celebratory dishes like ceviche, octopus, and oysters, and the Spanish "Sangre" menu uses typically Iberian ingredients like Seville oranges, snails, boquerones, and jamon by the ton. Julian Cox's elaborate cocktails stray from tequila and mescal, showing a spread of classic spirits in drinks the likes of which you've never seen.
Best New Bars, September 2009
Not a lot of guys could stick beef jerky in our drink or rim our glass with ground crickets and get away with it. Julian Cox (right), head bartender at John Sedlar's upscale nueva mexicana restaurant, can. The least plausible star cocktails come from Rivera, like the Barbacoa (blanco tequila, chipotle, jalapeño, ginger, and agave nectar garnished with a dried meat hunk) and the Donaji (mescal, citrus, pomegranate seeds, and agave nectar, the goblet dusted with chapulín—cricket—salt). Even with such ingredients, the most remarkable thing about these beverages is their balance. The drinks aren't all this adventurous. Tequilas are infused with everything from vanilla to cantaloupe. Vodka gets a kiss of violet, rose water, and Thai basil. The bar area comprises ten stools and a few chairs for leisurely tequila sipping, so scoring a seat among the hordes of mixed-age, moneyed Hollywood types can be tricky. The wait is worth it. Time warp: Mexico City, 40 years in the future. Ultimate swill: Did we mention the Barbacoa? Secret ingredient: With bugs on the menu, you may not want to know
Best Tequila Selection, August 2009
There's no salt licking or lime sucking at downtown's Rivera
. Instead, chef John Sedlar commissioned leather chairs for genteel tequila sipping. OK, it's over the top. So is the $2,500 membership fee, even if it includes a bottle of house añejo
. The tequilas, infused with vanilla, passion fruit, or rose blossom, are irresistible.