When you think about it, we really do have the best food in California because everything is grown practically in our backyards. The weather is constantly nice and you can grow just about anything: fresh is California’s middle name. Various chefs around town are taking advantage of this and exploring different ways to explore the same idea. The always fantastic Playa on Beverly is getting into the idea of pushing local food to the next level with their Cielo Verde, their private rooftop garden where they are growing tons of greens to make your favorite dishes.
We heard about the project a few weeks ago after being invited to check it out. As we pulled up, we were expecting Cielo Verde to be some sort of rooftop patio or new dining space that they added to diversify their dining experience. We wondered how they would be able to pull that off and, really, where it would be. When we arrived, it seemed like the garden was a myth as we were told that there wasn’t actually a garden. We were a little bummed and headed to the bar but, then, we were informed that there was in fact a very secret garden–and it’s Playa’s culinary secret weapon.
The rooftop garden is extremely private and only for internal use. That being said, a very tiny handful of press, food industry people, and friends of Playa had the chance climb up a tiny ladder to see what the restaurant was doing. Chef John Sedlar with the help of Chef de Cuisine Kevin Luzande have been building this garden up for some time. “It’s the next logical stage of evolution for Playa,” Sedlar says in his statement on the garden, which was born out of how hard it was for him to find Latin produce: “Thats when the idea began for growing our own on the restaurant’s rooftop.”
With the help of business partners Bill Chait and Aileen Getty, they built the garden which has been functional since March. Up there, it at first seemed like some little hobby of a garden as Chef Luzande shared the germination station and where the plants had their start. But, once you ascend another tiny ladder, you are surrounded by these six, seven feet tall towers of produce. The towers are an “aeroponic system based on compact, drip-irrigated” farming. There are thirty five towers and they each are these little, green worlds of bloomin produce: there were tomatoes, chard, kale, tomatillos, arugula, corn, pansies, borage flowers, and more. The whole operation is phenomenal.
The idea is so smart because it eliminates having to get more space and outsourcing these rare produce items, etc., etc., etc. It seems like a very New York concept, yes, but it’s also so Los Angeles: what other city could have a chef creating a huge year-round garden on his rooftop because he can and because he needed to? Not very many other places. It’s a big undertaking but, given the amount of produce they are turning around, it is well worth it and undoubtedly will be a local culinary trend that will catch on. Additionally, although a one story building, the view was totally rad. You mainly could only look West, which is a nice view of a busy Beverly Blvd. Those plants have a nice gig!
After the quick tour, we headed back inside, passing a few high heels that were left guarded by trashcans as their owners toured the garden. To celebrate the revealing of the garden, Sedlar created some amazing foods and mixologist Julian Cox created some spectacular drinks. If you remember our PST visit to Playa, the restaurant is super inventive with everything–and nothing is *not* over the top delicious. The celebration included three signature Cielo cocktails: the sweet and you-will-drink-this-too-fast Jesuit’s Tea; the Miller High Life and Campari bittersweet beverage Beer And A Ball; and the spicy, savory Hulk el Incredible, which was the star drink.
As far as the food, there were a few little bites to grab, all of which were fantastic. There were pieces of watermelon wrapped in prosciutto, baby tacos with eggplant (if I’m not mistaken?), and–the best part–a little greenery and spice filled taco that, I shit you not, tasted like an amazing hamburger in taco form. It was an out-of-taste-bud experience. The drinks and food were inspired and drawn from Cielo Verde, all incorporating the ingredients that were being grown above our heads. What’s funny after visiting the garden is that you couldn’t help but notice all the green being incorporated in the restaurant: there were flowers in all of the tacos, large green sprigs behind the bar, tiny leaves in cups, and more and more and more.
Playa is pioneering the ultimate form of fresh farm food to table in Los Angeles by growing a ton of their greens and produce above the costumer’s heads. Cielo Verde is so amazing and, although many will not be able to see it, trust that it is a thing of culinary genius.