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From Past to Plate: Rivera's New Menus Tell the Story of Connections

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Storytelling is at the core of Chef John Rivera Sedlar's food. Earlier this year at Downtown's Rivera, Sedlar showcased a new menu based on the history, myth, and culture of his Spanish roots. Called "Sangre," the menu was offered to dineLA customers in February, and was the first step towards implementing a set of new menus that would speak to the diner about the profound connections between past and present--both historically and in his own culinary life.

Those menus, "Conexiones," are now ready for their debut, and not only do they evoke the rich history of various regions, but include a unique way to experience the dishes in taste and in sound--through Sedlar's voice on the plate and as a storyteller.

The stories of the food span an impressive swath of geography and history: The menus represent food from the Iberian Peninsula, South America, Mexico, and California; the Moors, the Inca, the Maya, the Aztecs, and Angelenos. What we eat, and how we eat it might be something we think of in passing, as we contemplate the legacy of the tamale, perhaps in our own neighborhood, family, or culture. Our relationship--our connection--to what is on the plate stems from ancestors, travel, experience, survival, and adaptation, among other forces that the glossed white plates of fine restaurants may not speak of as they slide effortlessly atop table linen in front of a hungry present-day Los Angeles diner.

Sedlar's food is, in fact, food for thought. And many of the dishes are conversation pieces in and of themselves. The words on the plate stenciled in spices cry out visually, and then viscerally as you swipe a forkful of soft-shell crab prepared in the style of Cartagena, Columbia--or a brazen fingertip--through the savory grounds. "Bravo Gustavo!" shouts the plate somewhat gleefully. Talk amongst yourselves, and see who is right about who this Gustavo* is.

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The Cabeza de Oro (yes, Golden Head) will have your tongue wagging from the moment you open the Playa Bar menu on which it is served. Foie Gras, Lobster, Scallop, Truffle, Jamon Iberico, and Caviar on one dish? The nearly-sinful combination is heady, to say the least. A golden head arrives, stacked with the bounty, served in small portions of each of the luxurious items so emblematic of excess. These are Sedlar's favorite food indulgences, indulgently served all in one dish, top of the menu, top of the head, top of the line. When you are not talking, you are eating...slowly, to savor each morsel.

The food at Rivera is gorgeous and evocative--sensual, even--on its own, and reason enough, along with the cocktail program, to draw diners into its multiple rooms since it first opened. However, with the launch of Conexiones, diners can have numerous and varied experiences, depending on how they order, which in essence gives the diner a passport to supper-time adventures.

Conexiones is available in the entire restaurant, however the three regional menus (Samba: South America; Sangre: Spain; and Playa Bar: Mexico) are only available in the specific dining room the menu represents. Destination dining has been turned on its ear.

Speaking of ears--you can also experience your food aurally, through what Rivera calls "Audio-Edible History of Latin Food." Extending the connection from the kitchen to the diner through narrative, Sedlar has launched a phone line that can connect diners to the food they are eating. Restaurant guests who want to know more about particular dishes are directed by the menus to call 1-310-464-6884, then follow the prompts and the numerical icons on the menus, to hear Chef Sedlar personally explain the history and preparation of each selected dish.

That connection, between chef and diner, is rare, but does not have to be elusive, and this means of sharing narrative proves so. Sedlar's food challenges us to think not only before we eat, but during, and after, and to open up our minds to the hearty backstory that precedes all of us, and that allowed us to sup on, for example, a the Chile Guero Relleno that uses the Tempura batter and frying with Portugese roots that Japanese fishermen brought to Baja California. Eat. Learn. Talk. Listen. Connect.

*LA Philharmonic's Music Director Gustavo Dudamel.