Playa Launches a Mexi-Chinese Menu
A century ago, Chinese immigrants came to Baja California to build the irrigation system that transformed the Valle de Mexicali. They brought with them their cooking and the resulting fusion became very popular. Playa’s cuisine is already Baja inspired and now Chef Sedlar is introducing the Chinese meets Latin flavor profile at Playa.
We started with the Spring Roll stuffed with cactus from the Cielo Verde, the garden on Playa’s rooftop. I really liked this dish. It came with a multitude of salsas but I opted to try it first without the sauces. I rather liked it on its own. The cactus was still a bit crunchy and added to the brilliant crunch of the well-fried spring roll.
We had a great view of the open kitchen where we could see Chef Sedlar working with his chef de cuisine Kevin Luzande.
The Lil’ Twisted ladies, Jaymee Mandeville (Drago Centro) and Cari Hah (Neat, Cole’s) were guest bartending that night at Test Kitchen. They brought a list of cocktails and sangrita to the party. I started off with Lil’ Twisted Chinese Medicine (whiskey, lapsang souchong tea, red ginseng-honey syrup, bitters). The first cocktail is always the best. Or is it the last? Or is it the second? Okay, they’re all great.
The chiles guero came with the next course. There’s only been a few instances where I’ve thought I was going to die from eating chile pepper. This was one of those nights. It took two glasses of milk before I was okay. But of course, the residual heat came back when I started on the shrimp.
The other chile wasn’t as spicy apparently. Oh, lucky me.
Good thing booze helps with spice (no, it doesn’t) but I do like (suddenly more) spicy cocktails. I love Jaymee and Cari’s fresh sangritas and this one fresh mango, habenero, pomegranate, lime, cilantro and sriracha went well with the tequila blanco.
With my mouth still burning, I eyed the kung pao shrimp suspiciously but I thought the spice level was actually perfect. I did miss a crunchy nut element but the bean sprouts made up for it.
One of my favorite dishes at Rivera and Playa was the puerco pibil. I was delighted to see it in my favorite way to convey food to my mouth- a dumpling. The plating was so cool. Chef Sedlar really has an artistic eye.
Here’s a shot of the interior. As you can see, it’s quiet meat. The fingerlimes lent a great citrus pop to the dish.
The Beijing duck chow mein was a wow dish. It looked and tasted fantastic. The duck was roasted very well and rivaled some of my favorite Peking duck courses as a kid. And the noodles were perfectly fried. The only time I was jealous was I saw someone had a lobster chow mein that night instead of the duck but that was a special request. I hope that lobster chow mein makes it to the permanent menu.
Combinations you don’t see too often- gin and mezcal. This cocktail, Lil’ Twisted Concubine, combines both spirits along with yuzu, lime, perilla leaves, sea salt and absinthe. Woah! My favorite cocktail of the night. How can you go wrong with this strong, tart and balanced drink?
The Chinese desserts of my childhood weren’t very sweet and I’m glad Playa kept the familiar almond gelatin balanced with just a touch of sweetness and a mound of fresh fruit. There was cactus pear, Asian pear and Buddah’s hand lemon syrup. As the Minty, I would have also liked to have seen a bit of mint added to this dish but I’m not sure that’s “traditional” with this fusion cuisine.
I’m excited to try these dishes and more at Playa. And see what The Minty Hot Bartender winner, bar manager Jeremy Lake, does with the cocktails. Will he play with the Asian elements or find cocktails to pair with Chefs Sedlar and Luzande’s dishes?
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© The Minty 2012