(Russ Parsons/Los Angeles…)
When one thinks of tequila, one thinks of many things, some of them perhaps regrettable. But intellectual stimulation is not usually one. John Rivera Sedlar is trying to change that. Starting tonight, Sedlar’s Rivera restaurant downtown is offering a special six-course menu called “The Hallucination” that focuses on pairing quality tequilas and mezcals and cocktails made from them with food.
A cooperative effort between Sedlar and some of his mixologist friends (he calls them “cocktailians”), it may well change the way you think about the spirit. At any rate, you’ll certainly end up with nothing to regret.
The theme of the evening is established with an austere glass of iced tequila accompanied by four small trays containing, in order, salty sea beans and sea grass, a succulent gray-green herb he calls “snow crystal," mixed citrus zests, and a spiced salt mixture. There is also a medical-looking tweezers that goes with it. The instructions are to taste or smell each component between sips of the tequila. It may sound a little contrived, but it is fascinating, revealing a slightly different aspect with each taste.
That just sets you up for what follows: a combination of oysters with cucumber caviar and hamachi with chiles and kumquats paired with a sangrita verde and a blue agave mezcal from Rivera's Julian Cox. Then a knockout crisp maize cornet filled with crab salad, avocado and chipotle crema, and a salad of cactus pears and verdolagas paired with Sedlar’s “cielo verde” cocktail (an herb mixture named for his rooftop garden at Playa). Agave-roasted duck and a chile-rubbed lamb chop are served on a bed of stewed chewy chicos (New Mexican corn dried in a wood-fired oven) and paired with a cocktail of Minero mezcal, gentian, sencha and Rioja wines devised by Julian Wayser from Playa. Dessert is a tropical fruit salad topped with a coconut “cloud” and a chocolate soup served with coffee ice cream, and is paired with a cocktail by the Varnish’s Eric Alperin made from fino sherry, mezcal and Bittermen’s chocolate bitters.
Finally, you end up back where you started, with a flute of extra-anejo tequila served with tiny cubes of passion fruit and coffee jellies and caramel.
“It was a challenging menu to create because people don’t think spirits go with food,” says Sedlar. “So I thought I would pose that challenge to my cocktailian friends and create a menu where the food is enhanced by the cocktail menu and vice versa. We did progressive courses, starting with things that are lighter and moving toward things more smokier and heavier, implementing tart fruit and bright sunny acidity along the way.”
What they found, Sedlar says, was a new freedom to pair flavors, breaking away from the European wine-based combinations. And winding up with something very Los Angeles.
“These flavors coming through were wholly new and very New World,” he says. “The flavors create what we think is a New World sensory experience -- very different from the Old World. It’s not only uniquely New World, but uniquely Los Angeles. It really reflects the new ideas from this exciting city we live in.”
If you really want to get into the event, Sedlar has recorded a set of stories from Laura Esquivel that he thinks establishes the mood and setting of the evening. You can listen to them by calling (310) 464-6884 and pressing prompt number 62.
And if you really, really get into the event, have no fear: as the menu notes, “For guests with elevated consciousness who desire to linger downtown following The Hallucination dinner, we have arranged a special post-prandial rate with the Ritz-Carlton.”
Rivera, 1050 S. Flower St., #102, Los Angeles, (213) 749-1460, www.riverarestaurant.com. The six-course dinner, drinks included, is $125 before tax and tip. [UPDATED: An earlier version of this story said the dinner cost $120.]