THE SPIRIT OF BAJA THRIVES IN PLAYA VISTA
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m pretty tough critic when it comes to Mexican food. I was raised on wonderfully home cooked Mexican fare, so when I go out for Mexican eats, the bar has already been set pretty high. In the past I wrote that I was a fan of solita Tacos & Margaritas, so when SOL Cocina Playa Vista, another Mexican offshoot by Executive Chef Deborah Schneider, recently opened, I was game for a visit.
SOL Cocina Playa Vista attempts to bring the simple coastal cooking of Baja to the Westside of Los Angeles, boasting traditional dishes crafted with a bounty of local, seasonal ingredients, along with over 70 premium tequilas. This actually marks the third SOL Cocina, with other locations in Newport Beach and Scottsdale, Arizona.
“I think SOL Cocina stands out in this neighborhood,” Chef Schneider says of the new Playa Vista location. “We take a unique approach to authentic Baja-Mexican cooking and I don’t think there is anything else like us in L.A.”
While the bar features numerous tequilas, I’m not a big fan of the cocktail program, but then again I’m not a big margarita drinker nor do I craze really sweet drinks. Personally, I would like to see the bar program incorporate mezcal as well as tequila in daring, handcrafted cocktails instead of ho-hum margaritas or a middle of the road horchata martini. Although their Michelada is enormous so props to that. But I found dining at SOL Cocina isn’t really about drinking as much as it is about eating. I’d say have a beer or glass with your meal. And a good sipping tequila can always be found to enhance the experience.
During our recent visit for dinner, we started with a bevy of Antojitos (Mexican snack foods). While the guacamole with mango, tequila, onions, goat cheese, pepitas and cilantro is solid, you’re probably better off with the Hot & Raw Tropical Cevicheprepared with the catch of the day, fresh-squeezed lime and orange juices, Habanero chiles, tropical fruit, cucumber, Pico de Gallo and avocado. This dish is just so fresh and appealing.
The street-style Grilled Sweet Corn prepared wood-grilled and cut tableside and served with butter, lime, chile, Cotixa cheese and a chipotle drizzle is another solid choice. Decadent yet delicious dishes include the Chorizo & Mushrooms Con Queso, featuring three Mexican cheese, and the Warmed Goat Cheese appetizer. The Chorizo & Mushrooms cheese dish is so rich and good. It’s a diet-buster but you won’t regret any of the calories involved. While I originally thought the Goat Cheese plate was just too rich and bland, mix the sweet/hot chipotle syrup and this dish really comes to life. It’s way too much for even two people to share and finish but it is pretty damn amazing.
The Peel & Eat Shrimp ‘Cucarachas’ is a favorite but personally I’m not a fan of having to peel my own shrimp. This order features a dozen whole shrimp, pan-roasted in the shell with garlic, Cotixa cheese, lemon and chile. While it is very flavorful, I just don’t feel the need to work that hard at dinner. But I think shrimp fans will definitely want to try this.
“We take an authentic, yet unique approach to Baja-Mexican style cooking,” says Schneider and that is evident in SOL Cocina’s Specialty Tacos, which features 14 traditional and exclusive offerings. I was a big fan of the Taco Vampire, which includes a quesadilla as the taco’s tortilla; pretty genius and decadent at the same time. This bad boy taco includes carne asada, guacamole, pico, serrano chile and scallions, chipotle sauce and Cotixa cheese. That was one terrific taco.
Likewise, the Taco Bufalada, which includes a heap of chicken, carne asada and carnitas on melted cheese with onion, guacamole and radish, is a homerun. These two tacos really impressed me. And there are even more to choose from for future visits.
For our main entrees (Platillos), we went with the Grilled Kobe Skirt Steak; a Wagyu-style skirt steak with cilantro sauce, tomatillo salsa, grilled Cebollitas and avocado. This was a nice cut of meat but I felt like we should have gone with something else or just gone taco crazy. Wanting something a little different, we opted for the Shrimp Chile Rellenotopped with salsa diabla, which I never had before. Here, the chiles are grilled, so this isn’t your typical chile relleno. There was a lot of flavor going on here but, again, maybe we should have gone with the goat cheese enchiladas or shortribs ‘barbacoa’ or just more tacos.
Dessert seemed like overkill as we were stuffed so we ended our night with a fine shot of tequila to sip on. I always prefer liquid dessert and this just seemed to be the way to go, especially since we couldn’t eat another bite.
Playa Vista seems to be an up and coming neighborhood, now filled with tech companies and young savvy tenants. The burgeoning complexes are filling up fast and are loaded with amenities, and a first rate place to eat has to be attractive. We’re not talking killer bar scene here, but SOL Cocina Playa Vista is as good a location to start your night or just to enjoy good eats in a vibrant setting.
SOL Cocina Playa Vista is located at 12775 West Millennium Drive, Suite #160 in Playa Vista. Hours: Dinner Sunday through Thursday from 4:30pm to 10pm and Friday and Saturday from 4:30pm to 11pm; and Lunch from 11:30am to 4pm. Call 424-289-0066.
Story by Jose Martinez
Photography Courtesy Of: SOL Cocina Playa Vista