Husband and Wife Team Offer Exciting, Eclectic Menu at Setá Dine:Lounge

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Husband and wife team: Executive Chef Hugo Molina and Pastry Chef/Mixologist Aricia Alvarado

 
A perfect pair are infusing ethnic cuisines to create a contemporary American menu and drinks at Setá Dine:Lounge in Uptown Whittier that breathes new life in this neighborhood’s restaurant scene. As we walked into the upscale and hip restaurant at 13033 Philadelphia Avenue, Executive Chef Hugo Molina came out to greet and personally take us to our table. He excitedly walked us through the menu.
 
The dining room with hues of chocolate, mauve and beige matched the warmth of the restaurant’s General Manager, Pastry Chef and Master Mixologist Aricia Alvarado. Hugo and Aricia are not only partners in the kitchen but partners in life. They’ve been married for 18 years and have a 12-year-old daughter, who is already taking cooking classes Chef Hugo tells us proudly. The couple met at the swanky Parkway Grill in Pasadena. Now part owners of Setá with brothers Javier and Jeen Jimenez, they’ve designed a steak house menu that serves contemporary American with Spanish and Asian influences.

Chef Hugo, who was born in Guatemala, said, “We wanted a menu that was more creative and eclectic, giving us the freedom to work with traditional dishes and updating them with our own flair.” 

The evening began with Nicaraguan native, Chef Aricia shaking up a Peruvian punch in the form of a Pisquito.  Aricia created the drink for a mixologist competition, and now it’s featured at Setá…for a limited time.  The cocktail is a fun twist on the traditional Pisco Sour, except the Pisquito is made with a kiwi sour, and Yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit), and of course Pisco.  The tart & tangy concoction is a playful way to start any meal. You can watch as the Yuzu seeps into the kiwi seed studded cocktail. 

Pictured here is the Pisquito created by Master Mixologist Aricia Alvarado, who in 2010 won Mixologist of the Year by the Southern California Writers.

 
 

The Pisquito went down a bit too easily. :)

Our first appetizer was the house special: the Setá Roll.  The signature roll is filled with ahi tuna and jalapeño, while the outside of the roll is covered in yellow fin tuna, avocado, and ponzu/Yuzu sauce topped with roe and scallions.  The tuna being used is sustainable so we didn’t feel bad eating it.  The light Yuzu citrus sauce was a perfect complement to the sushi.  Right about now you’re thinking: Sushi?  In a steakhouse?  Remember that this is not just a standard steakhouse.  They bill themselves as contemporary American with Spanish & Asian influence, and they mean it.  In this one dish they combine a California staple: the avocado, with spicy jalapeños and Japanese citrus rind.  And remember that the Pisquito is made with Peruvian kiwis and Japanese Yuzu.

 

Our first small plate was the Setá Roll.

The second dish was the Shrimp Chile Relleno with double the sauce action: slightly spicy guajillo sauce and the corn smut known as the Mexican truffle: huitlacoche or cuitlacoche. LatinoFoodie Editor Art Rodriguez remembered his abuela making chile rellenos, but never with anything more than jack cheese.  He said it took him more than 30 years to realize that it can be stuffed with other ingredients. Chef Molina stuffs the chile with thin slices of sautéed shitake mushrooms and plenty of shrimp swimming in Jack and Gruyere cheese.  While the guajillo sauce was okay, the dish really hit a high note with the sweet and earthy corn smut.

Shrimp Chile Relleno

 

Next up was the smoky, spicy EL DIABLITO, which completely lived up to its name. One drink of this and KAPOWEE! You’re a sinner. I liked it so much I begged Aricia for the recipe to share with all of you. So, LatinoFoodie readers, we want to hear confessions of your shenanigans after you make this drink this weekend. 

El Diablito -- A smoky and spicy drink. Watch out. It sneaks up on you.

 

El Diablito Ingredients:

2 oz Oro Azul Añejo Tequila

1/2 oz of Patron Citronage

Floater of Crema de Mezcal

Splash of pineapple and lime juice

Cilantro

Fresh jalapeño

Kosher salt

Preparation: Rim the glass with salt. In a shaker, muddle the cilantro and jalapeño. Pour in the other liquid ingredients and shake. Strain and pour into your glass.

Our salad course was a simple Caesar Salad…deconstructed.  The crisp whole leaves of Romaine hearts were dressed with a thin layer of a classic Caesar dressing and a thick band of parmesan.  The crouton lay begging to be spread with the parmesan and garlic panna cota, topped with fresh chives.  Slicing the leaves and taking a bite of the panna cota toast made for a refreshing pre-dinner salad. Yes, we’re three dishes and two cocktails in and we still haven’t gotten to the main course.  

Caesar Salad with garlic parmesan panna cota

Now the main event: A 14 oz. Rib eye steak grilled over mesquite with Truffle mash potatoes and grilled asparagus and a sweet broiled tomato that was topped with parmesan breadcrumbs.  I know, even though our stomachs were nearing capacity, we put the needs of the LatinoFoodie Nation before our own and dug in to the tender steak.  The steak is offered with one of three rubs: cumin-herb, smoked salt, or four pepper garlic.  Chef Molina also offers one of three sauces: a cabernet reduction, chermoula, and a green pepper corn cream.  Being the foodies that we are, we got the cumin-herb rub and Chef Molina generously gave us all three sauces to taste.  My personal favorite was the chermoula.  This unique sauce is North African in origin and is packed with a ton of flavor.  We often think of romesco, chimichurri, or pesto and forget about chermoula.  It can be used as a marinade for your next carne asada, or a sauce for any protein from fish to fowl.  Heck, use it on roasted veggies.  And it’s easy to make with pantry and fridge staples: garlic, coriander, salt, pepper, chili peppers, cumin, oil, lemon juice, and pickled lemons.  Ok, so maybe pickled lemons aren’t a staple in most Southern California kitchens, but a jar can be purchased at Whole Foods or you can make it yourself. 

Rib Eye Steak with Chermoula Sauce

With the flurry of food I forgot to mention the lovely Hess Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon that Chef Aricia selected for Art. I personally asked for another El Diablito, but that’s how this LatinoFoodie rolls.

For dessert, Chef Aricia brought us raspberry and strawberry shortcake.  Not just any shortcake.  The cake was made with a light sponge cake topped with vanilla custard.  The custard seeped down and filled the cake, giving it a tres-leche feel. I had to ask our server to take away the plate before I started licking it.  As the waitress removed our finished dessert, Chef Aricia, the gracious host that she is, brought us one last treat: Caramel Three Ways.  The apple tart and vanilla ice cream was paired with a caramel praline and an amazing dulce de leche panna cota.  The garnish was pretty damn tasty too.  If you take a bite of the apple crisp and the praline, you’ll be transported back to your first county fair biting into a deliciously tart caramel apple.

Raspberry and Strawberry Shortcake

 

Caramel Three Ways

Setá can be a bit pricey, but we hear there  are ongoing price promotions so check their website frequently. Plus Chef Hugo & Aricia are also changing up the menu and drink specials. If you want a longer night, there is a DJ after 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays in the Setá lounge. You can also have private parties in a lovely private dining area. Setá is located at 13033 Philadelphia Street in Uptown Whittier. For more information or reservations, call them at 562-698-3355 or visit them online.

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