P.Y.T. - Veggie Profits from Centeno's Ennui

The LA Weekly just wrote up P.Y.T. with all of the gritty hard-hitting insider details that mere mortals are not privy to without a press badge and promises of significant PR promotionals, which you can read here:

http://www.laweekly.com/restaurants/josef-centenos-latest-downtown-opening-goes-all-in-on-vegetables-7386690

However, I stopped in the night after they opened, and have simply been too far gone to write about it, and if you are curious about how it is to dine at the restaurant as a non-insider then perhaps this peek into what they are doing will be of use to you.

At this moment in dining – especially when you step foot into a restaurant opened by a chef of Centeno’s pedigree – the fact that vegetables are sourced from the hottest farms, or some private property can almost be taken for granted. If you feel that the farm-branding on menus has perhaps gone too far you may appreciate that you are not hit over the head with sourcing descriptions everywhere, but if you’re the type of person that prefers their potatoes in a biodynamic garden in Long Beach instead of from the eponymous Weisser Farms, you may be irked. For me, walking in, I feel like I am almost stepping foot into an old friend’s crazy kitchen because Centeno is the chef that changed my mind about vegetables many years ago, and I feel enough trust in him to feel comfortable with whatever sourcing he is doing; I am simply happy to eat whatever oddball combinations he constructs in his kitchens (most of the time).

Speaking of comfort, at least in my experience, I have always been treated spectacularly at Centeno’s restaurants in terms of corrections to things going awry, and a big part of going to a new opening of his is the sense of comfort I feel knowing I won’t have to pay for anything that isn’t done quite right. This turned out to be completely true at P.Y.T. where the service felt comfortable and pleasant, and the mildest dissatisfactions were generously overcompensated for by an excellent FOH manager.

According to reports P.Y.T. is essentially the product of Centeno’s restlessness, and for those bored with what he is churning out at his other 4 restaurants, this is a wonderful thing. I almost exclusively ordered from the huge “vegetable” list at Baco Mercat for many of my meals there, so P.Y.T. feels like they lifted that section of the menu from Baco to remix and expand upon (plus you can walk in any night of the week, whereas Baco remains one of the hardest places anywhere to get into in LA even on weeknights). I am not a vegan or vegetarian by any stretch of the imagination but I felt so effortlessly immersed in the world of vegetables that I genuinely did not notice that there was no meat in anything we ate (there are a couple of meat dishes on the menu, but for some reason I assumed it was more sparsely distributed throughout the dishes, as opposed to being only 1-2 daily rotating dishes that are meat specific).

The meal began with an amusing plate of grilled pea stalks with pods on, plus edible flowers griddled into a soft of jungle version of edamame. A squeeze of lemon and some sea salt were the only accompaniments necessary. This was somewhat cumbersome to eat, but sort of forced you to literally dive into it with your hands. There was acid, salinity, char, a bit of crunch, and significant savor from the peas themselves. Although quite messy, this may have turned out to be one of my favorite ways to begin a meal ever.

Next we had both versions of their chipati bread, one with potato and one without. The bread itself was supple, and lightly griddled. The potato added a softness to the intense grain element that I thought made it superior. However, the real reason for ordering this dish were the three different house butters. All of the butters were uniquely delicious. The koji-corn butter was sweet, savory, and pliant, delivering a burst of corn on the nose and a kind of sublte musk from the koji on the finish. The coconut butter was somewhat more straightforwardly saccharine, though not overpoweringly so. It had a coarser texture to it and a thickness that worked great with the heavy grain of the bread. Finally, there is something like a bean and chickpea puree type butter, which is now made with tahini it looks like, but when we were there it was made with dates. It was not overly sweet, sort of like a red bean hummus with a hint of date. I enjoyed this dish because of the satifying, yet intellectual playfulness from the butters. Does a good bread and butter need to be messed with? No, but you can always go get great french butter and bageuttes at Repulique if you so desire; this is Cento messing around in his typical, enjoyable fashion. This dish might tell you whether you will like Centeno’s food here as a kind of synecdoche of his aesthetic.

At this point I indulged in a cocktail made with beet vodka, which I thought was excellent. I really enjoy beets, and thought the earthiness came through beautifully in a simple way. I enjoyed feeling the vegetable emphasis running through the drinks as well as the food.

We moved on to Magic Myrna Potatoes with wild mushroom cream, kale, and thyme. There was also a type of light cheese on them but I am failing to recall what as it wasn’t listed on the menu. The potatoes were delicate, yet toothsome. It was a surprisingly light dish for being so strach-focused, especially with a mushroom cream sauce. It was pleasant, and intriguing. The sprouting kale had a great astringent bite to it that I thoroughly enjoyed paired against the light earthy cream sauce.

Next up was a squash dish immitating a Frank Gehry building. I felt there was a tremendous amount of potential here aside from the plating because the dish involved jujubes and beet molasses as well as creme fraiche. The combination of savory molasses and light airy creme fraiche with the hot, smooth squash could have been the greatest riff on your typical Thanksgiving squash dish ever, but alas, the squash was cooked so dry as to be inedible. The dish was swiftly taken away and comped when I commented on it though. I really hope they have fixed the cooking error because this dish could be spectacular if the squash was cooked properly.

Then our shells with yorgurt, nori, mushroom dashi, and sesame came out. Whoa, this was a mind-bending pasta dish showcasing preciously what you come to Centeno’s restaurants for: creative riffs that cross culinary boundaries in oddball ways. This was like mac n’ cheese and traditional Turkish manti had a lovechild and had their Japanese friend over in the middle of the lovemaking session for a wild threesome. Some bitter/sour from the excellent, thick yogurt, spikes of umami, and earthiness from the spelt pasta. My goodness! However, the shells themselves were very soft, and I thought it would have been perfect with al dente shells, so I asked if it might be possible to refire it. They were happy to oblige, but alas, they had no shells left and instead they comped the dish and let us pick another one.

Anticipating the return of the Turkish/Italian/American/Japanese mouthgasm I ordered an incredibly reasonably priced and delciious tannat. I really like how reasonable the wine list is at P.Y.T. It was really nice and would have gone perfectly with that dish.

In the meantime one of the most interesting dishes on the menu came out, a single salt-baked turnip wrapped in hoja santa with shiso chimichurri on a bed of greens. This dish is prepped tableside, which is interesting to watch and sort of festive. I can see many people being pissed off about paying $15 for a single little turnip, but your money is well spent if your main concern is flavor. I am not even a huge fan of turnips, but salt-baking locks the juices into the turnip and turns it texturally into something almost like skirt steak. Once I took a bite of the turnip, which was juicier than any vegetable has a right to be, the chimichurri make complete sense. This feels like a dish straight off of some 3-michelin star place, and in fact made me recall the obscenely awesome beet dish that Saison in SF does. Truly remarkable.

Since the new al dente shells didn’t come through, we opted for some green piri piri rice with an over-easy egg and fresh herbs. This turned out to be rather lovely. It was a bit spicy, but more fragrant with the piri piri evenly cooking into the rice. The rice itself had an awesome flavor and was cooked just right for my tastes, not too soft, nor too hard. The herbs provided a clean finish to the slight viscosity of the egg’s yolk when mixed in. It was an eminently simple, yet craveabale dish.

Being rather full at this point, we decided to forgo dessert in favor of fresh pressed beet juice. I felt this made more sense in some ways, as it was still somewhat saccharine, yet it finished the meal on a very vegetable-oriented note (as well as recalling the beet in the cocktail at the beginning of the meal, which was a pleasant symmetry). Beet juice is also a great digestive, and I found myself really enjoying this as a finisher.

Ambitious, and fascinating, yet always comforting; that about sums up the meal. I really enjoyed myself at P.Y.T. As time goes on, I imagine they will work out the kinks, but I was also very happy that I did not have to pay for those kinks being worked out. Even with an extra large tip (I always tip on the value of comped foods if service was good) this came out to $97 for two people, which was an absolutely stunning value given drinks were had. Admittedly, you could expect to spend roughly $30-$40 more for everything pictured, but we felt quite full and we did not eat more than 1-2 bites of the squash and shells, however, other diners might eat more. The restaurant is also very quiet for those who are looking for something like that. I think the only thing that irks me even slightly about the place is that they don’t have enough faith in diners to call the Georgian pizza on the menu a kachapuri, but it’s a small grumble, and I will most likely return to see how their verision is.

Highly recommended.

P.Y.T.
400 S. Main St.
Los Angeles, CA

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How’s the space itself?

That sounds like a wonderful meal. I’m intrigued by the peas, the turnip (I love turnips), and the beet vodka. And now I am also craving a glass of beet juice.

Quiet, comfortable, dimly lit. It’s the same space as Ledlow as it just occupies the larger half of Ledlow now.

I really like P.Y.T., perhaps even more than The Gadarene Swine, which was my favorite vegetable-based restaurant before it closed. Can’t wait to go back!

I think Erven is much better than Gadarene (which I liked quite a bit).

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Well I’m going to have to try Erven as well.

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Been to dinner twice since last post. High recommend for kale cavatelli and gnocchi as new items. I feel like a broken record, but this is a very surprising (in a good way) place.

Very much liked the cavatelli but wish the pears had been cooked down more.

@Aesthete: what a lovely report. The pasta and the rice sound/look especially delicious…

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And I really liked the slight crunch for the added texture, but as with all their dishes, it evolves for a while, and then either stays on the menu or goes off the menu.