Last month, I experienced one of those “only in L.A.” moments that I’ve encountered just a handful of times since moving to the left coast over a decade ago. I found myself at Skybar in the Mondrian Hotel in the heart of West Hollywood, surrounded by beautiful people, enjoying gorgeous seafood paired with fancy cocktails. Helicopters circled overhead, and the police had cordoned off Sunset Boulevard a few blocks in either direction from where I was.
This surreal scenario was the backdrop for my five-course Ceviche Project meal, prepared by Octavio Olivas, probably the most fashionable chef I know, assisted by his lovely wife Shannon and a small crew, with handcrafted cocktails courtesy of DeLeón Tequila. While the dishes and drinks looked as glamorous as the surroundings, it was fortunately not a case of style-over-substance when it came to taste.
In the span of four savory courses, Chef Olivas highlighted the varied bounty of the ocean. Each of the pop-ups has a different menu; I don’t know if Olivas starts with a concept in mind for each event, but this meal was definitely inspired by Peru, with a hamachi tiradito as the second course and leche de tigre in the headlining ceviche.
Rounding out the meal was a starter of clean, plump oysters on the half shell, and an encore of the dish Ceviche Project served at LASFF, a Mexican aguachile of sea urchin and octopus, but scaled up for this more intimate setting. As Shannon Olivas said, they can do so much more when creating dishes for 50 people vs. 5,000 people.
The cocktail pairings were quite varied. I preferred the two that contained reposado: a sweet, fruity concoction with mint, cane sugar, and blackberry compote, which paired with the yellowtail; a lighter, more floral cocktail with St. Germain and egg white, which accompanied the tostada.
The most interesting pairing was with the dessert, a refreshing dish of peach sorbet and stone fruit. The cocktail, made with DeLeón Platinum, was reminiscent of piña colada but not as sweet. It was the almond foam floating in the glass that caught my attention. Alternating sips of drink and spoonfuls of dessert created a boozy, peaches-and-cream interplay.
Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with my first Ceviche Project pop-up. The quality of the ingredients, and the care in preparation, along with the top-shelf cocktail pairings made for a wonderful experience. If I had to find something to criticize, I’d confess that I did come out of the meal still a bit peckish. The portions were by no means dainty, but neither were they hearty. Also, I have a big appetite.
Of course, this experience will stick out in my mind, beyond the amazing food and drinks, for the craziness that surrounded the evening. My fellow diners and I were actually unable to leave the hotel for over an hour after the meal. The reason for the partial lockdown, the helicopters above, and the police outside: Future.
It was the rapper, not the concept of time, who temporarily brought Hollywood to its knees. Apparently, he had planned to do a free show at House of Blues that evening, after a foiled attempt for one at the Roxy earlier that day. Too many fans came out to see him, and the crowds got out of control. In the end, Future had to put the kybosh on his show, but he did leave quite a spectacle in his wake.
Ceviche Project’s next pop-up at Skybar in Mondrian Los Angeles is on Thursday, August 20, 2015. Tickets are $125 and on sale now for the five-course meal and cocktail pairings by DeLeón Tequila. Chef Olivas recently returned from vacation in Mexico, refreshed with inspiration from his homeland. Check out @cevicheproject on Instagram for clues as to what he might be serving next Thursday.
Additional photos by Rachel Jacobson, used with permission.
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Skybar at Mondrian
8440 Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069