This Sunday, John Sedlar's Playa broke the seal on its Baja Chef Series, revving the restaurant up for the coming weeks in which some of the Baja California peninsula's most celebrated chefs will cook for three nights each at the Beverly Blvd. restaurant. First up to the plate was Sabina Bandera, the mariscos matron of Ensenada's La Guerrerense. Bandera's skill with fresh Mexican seafood and sophisticated salsas have made her stand a legendary destination for over 35 years, and thanks to Street Gourmet L.A. Bill Esparza, the man responsible for shepherding prominent U.S. chefs to Mexico and great Mexican chefs to L.A., the rest of the world his taking notice. Bandera's expertise in selecting and preparing sterling Pacific critters like sea cucumber, ocean snails, Pismo clams, urchin, lion paw scallops, and octopus in tostadas, crudos, ceviches, and cocteles have garnered her with endless ink on L.A. food blogs, a "Best in Show" prize from judges like Jonathan Gold at this year's L.A. street food fest, and both a corrido and Bourdain big-ups on No Reservations.
In a recent issue of the Edible magazines, Bon-Appetit Management Co.'s Helene York made the argument that the U.S. has become disconnected from its relationship with the incredible flavors packed into local and seasonal seafood, replaced by flat, bland filets for consumers seeking to avoid "fishy" tastes.
In direct antidote to that illness, Bandera and her daughter Marina showcase the true flavors of the sea with plump, squeaky clean scallops and shrimp, creamy, tender octopus, smoky spreads of tuna pate, briny bits of sea snail and smooth, fleshy clams, and intricate spreads of uni and avocado, each exhibiting their own unique and pure characters, tasting very much like they'd only been plucked seconds ago from California's Gulf and Pacific Ocean.
We've had many a mushy mariscos cocktail and plenty of astringent ceviche served from styrofoam cups at the back of an L.A. taco truck, nothing remotely even scraping the superiority of La Guerrerense's immaculate seafood and conscious constructions. Night and day, apples and oranges.
Yes, each tostada may have been a little more chiquita than the ones Bandera offers in Ensenada and the double-digit prices noticeably higher. But having this remarkable Baja treasure appear on Beverly was practically priceless and as expected, confirmation that the next few weeks at Playa are not to be slept on. And just think of all the gas and hours lost crossing the border all these diners will be saving.
Take a look at a few of the dishes from La Guerrerense's Monday night menu in our slide show.