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Hey, it’s the cuisine of the year

L.A.'S most popular cuisine is getting dressed up and heading downtown in a wave of high-end Latin-influenced restaurants. Call it “modern Mexican” or “nuevo Latino,” just don’t ask for a Combination No. 2. It isn’t that kind of party.

“Latin food and Mexican food are finally taking their place next to the other great kitchens of the world,” says John Sedlar, a pioneer in fusion-Southwestern cuisine whose latest endeavor, Rivera, is slated to open in September at the Met Lofts at 11th and Flower streets.

Josef Centeno, formerly of Meson G and Opus, has been tapped as executive chef of Casa, a Mexican- and Spanish-inspired restaurant expected to open in August at the California Plaza on Grand Avenue, where he’ll offer his inventive tasting menus for the handful who nab a spot at the planned limited-seating chef’s counter.

And their gastronomic neighbors include Provecho, former Republic chef Gabriel Morales’ restaurant and lounge at Wilshire Boulevard and Flower Street that is expected to open in June; Rosa Mexicano, a sleek, upscale chain in the L.A. Live complex scheduled to open in October; Adoro, a small but innovative Mexican grill currently open at 7th and Figueroa; and nearby, the gussied-up incarnation of La Fonda, the popular mariachi dinner theater on Wilshire near Rampart Boulevard.

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Sedlar’s focusing on “modern pan-Latin cuisine,” and Rivera will include a “Latin sashimi bar.” Expect dishes such as roast turkey with a deconstructed mole sauce, whose various elements (bitter chocolate, cinnamon, sesame seed puree, pumpkin seeds, chile sauce, etc.) will be presented individually, to be mixed by the diner. Sedlar’s still enamored of tamales (he’s co-written a book about them). He also plans to open his Museum Tamal, a small Latin food museum, downtown in 2010.

Designed by Eddie Sotto, the 4,000-square-foot restaurant will be separated into “three energy zones -- Playa, Samba and Sangre,” Sotto says. Highlights include bronze tequila tasting chairs and “walls of tequila.”

At Casa, designed by Ana Henton of Mass Architecture, Centeno plans to offer dishes influenced by Mexican and Spanish ingredients, such as “Casa’s eggs and ham” (olive-oil-poached jidori eggs with crispy Berkshire pork belly and toasted pasilla sauce) and huitlacoche ravioli with hazelnut butter and citrus vinegar.

Meanwhile, Provecho’s Morales has plans for a ceviche bar where “the chefs make the ceviche right in front of you.” Just down Wilshire at La Fonda, chef Scott Velasquez puts modern touches on dishes such as Veracruz-style red snapper and croquetas de pollo y queso.

So does all the competition make these restaurateurs jittery? According to Sedlar, no. “I love knowing about our neighbors,” he says. “Downtown is a very natural place to be doing this. . . . [It’s] a ground zero of activity.”

Jessica Gelt

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Small bites

Joachim Splichal’s 3-month-old Beverly Hills restaurant Paperfish is shifting gears. Patina chef de cuisine Kevin Meehan has replaced Yianni Koufodontis as executive chef. A new menu is not yet available. 345 N. Maple Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 858-6030, www.patinagroup.com.

It’s crudo Tuesdays at Il Grano, where chef Sal Marino offers his crudo tasting menus -- fresh fish, meats and vegetables, all served raw, in five, eight or 12 courses. Meanwhile, Clementine gets gooey with its Grilled Cheese Primaries. Patrons vote on their favorite sandwiches leading up to a final vote on “Super Cheeseday” (April 28 to 30). Il Grano, 11359 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 477-7886, www. ilgrano.com; Clementine, 1751 Ensley Ave., L.A., (310) 552-1080, www.meltthevote.org.

Former mayor Richard Riordan’s latest restaurant, the Oak Room, has opened in Pacific Palisades: steaks, duck cassoulet, burgers, big red wines. . . . 1035 Swarthmore Ave., (310) 454 3337.


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