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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rivera: Excellent Olive Oil Poached Lobster, Arepas and Soft-Shell Crab

I didn't like Rivera the first time I went, but the second time around, I had great company and perhaps that made the meal a lot better.

Sure, it was gimmicky. It seems into using stencils to lay out cute little messages on the plates, like "Bravo Gustavo," in reference to the Venezuelan-born LA Philharmonic's new conductor Gustavo Dudamel on a plate of Venezuelan arepas with fried soft-shell crab.

The arepas, or corn cakes, were hot and crispy. The arepas paired very well with the crab, which added more flavor since the arepas alone would have tasted bland. The crab sat on a bed of quinoa, which was ok, drizzled with some chile-based sauce.

The best dish, though, was the melon del mar -- or more precisely, olive oil-poached lobster with tiny cubes of cantaloupe and honeydew melon, that also came with tiny jelly cubes of chile verde (called "gelee" on the menu).

I'm not sure I could taste the olive oil in the lobster, but it was so soft and tender that I couldn't get enough of it. Tasted like luxury itself.

The main dishes were not as strong. The grilled white sea bass fillet with mofongo, a Puerto Rican delight of mashed plaintains with garlic, on a bed of a tomato-y sauce was refreshing and I could tell the fish was pretty fresh, which isn't always the case even in some fancy restaurants.

The other main dish was dubbed Costa Rican pork, which was coffee braised pork tenderloin with sugar cane sauce and some spicy beans. I was intrigued by the coffee-braised part, although in execution it wasn't as apparent in the flavor.

Also, the pork was probably my least favorite dish in that the meat was a tad overcooked. Because pork tenderloin is on the leaner side, it tended to dry up.

I was a tad annoyed the chef felt compelled to quote Madoff -- "Dont Stop 'Till You Get Enough" (after all, he could have easily quoted MJ instead) through stencils on the plate. Think he likes to think of himself as a provocateur of sorts.

The roasted turnip, yam and purple potato on the side didn't have that much flavor. But that helped to balance out the rather strong coffee and reduction sauce the pork came with. The random greens on top were a curious addition that didn't gel as well but I appreciated some greenery.

Now on to dessert: upon our server's recommendation, we went with the lemon olive oil cake with creme fraiche ice cream, strawberry sorbet and a vinegar reduction.

It was beautifully plated with rose petals and all. I liked the fresh strawberries with the cake but with a dollop of the sorbet, it was a good match. The creme fraiche ice cream was a bit heavy, but the sorbet worked ok. The sorbet wasn't the best I've had but good enough.

All in all, not bad. It has a weird system of limiting what one can order depending on the room you're sitting in. Different menus focusing on Mexican, Latin American or Spanish cuisine, respectively. We sat in the Latin American room and hence the mix of Venezuelan and Costa Rican, etc.

Service was poor. For a place like this with these prices, I expect much better service but everything was delayed and we had to ask several times for things, etc.

Also, this place is very loud so be prepared to shout at your dining companion. Oh, and I had the siesta cocktail, which was tequila-based and had grapefruit, Campari, lime and garnished with an orange peel. It was very good although it wasn't consistently made (second one was off).

It may be a decent place to get a drink and have small plates for happy hour or some such.

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