Abernethy’s at The Music Center hosts a changing roster of Los Angeles’ Emerging Chefs for their chance to showcase the unique voices, narratives and culinary flavors of their slice of the city. Currently in-residence, Chef Geter Atienza offers a variety of modern Filipino dishes. Atienza was selected by a culinary committee that includes one of L.A.’s well-known chefs, Ray Garcia. Atienza has worked with Garcia at his restaurants, including the Fig Restaurant at the Fairmont, BS Taqueria and Broken Spanish.
From our outdoor table overlooking the Jerry Moss Plaza at The Music Center, my husband and I watched a parade of visitors admire the dancing water fountain. Others gathered in front of the Mark Taper Forum to see the evening performance of “Mike Birbigla: The Old Man and The Pool.”
Atienza’s cuisine reflects his upbringing in the Philippines and California, melding tastes and cultures. We started with a plate of shishito peppers dressed in a light calamansi lemon-lime citrus sauce and an aperitif. My husband sipped a dark orange colored “Code Switch” cocktail with a perfect balance of Tequila Rosa, tamarind, cinnamon and fresh lime. My glass of Fallen Grape “Mother” orange wine was bright and unfiltered. Made in the Central Coast, the wine offers a slight citrus nose and pleasing dried stone fruit finish. It paired well with Atienza’s two long BBQ pork skewers, called “Inihaw,” that glisten with soy, vinegar, toasted garlic and chives. The skewers were tender and flavorful with a good balance of acid and sweet.
Our next dish was a shiny seaweed salad known as “Damong-Dagat,” a popular side dish in the Philippines. Atienza uses wakame, a type of seaweed that is subtly sweet with a slightly chewy texture. Heirloom greens were added to the bowl, along with a pop of color from sliced mango, brightly colored tomatoes and thinly sliced red onion. The salad was tossed lightly with coconut, oil and a pinch of sea salt.
The vegan rice noodles called “pancit bihon” had a nice forest mushroom flavor, but we wished there were more sugar snap peas, sweet peppers and crispy shredded carrots. The bowl arrived with half a grilled lemon to squeeze on top.
Our server suggested we try some of the most popular dishes, such as the marinated tuna “kinilaw,” a raw seafood dish with coconut, ginger, chopped chiles, red onion, cucumber and squeeze of calamansi – a Philippine lemon-lime. Accompanying the dish is a large shell-shaped rice cracker to break apart and scoop up the chopped ingredients.
Another favorite dish is the “Karne At Sarsa,” a New York strip steak with a forest mushroom gravy. We also ordered the large shrimp “Hipon At Laing,” featuring four perfectly-cooked shrimp served in a black skillet on top of braised collard greens enhanced with a Southeast Asian sauce made with coconut milk, ginger and lemongrass.
We finished with a pretty and creamy flan that had an ethereal caramel flavor and beautiful micro flowers.
Atienza said his experiences at other restaurants and different cuisines shaped his culinary journey.
“I learned I had to pivot and become an even more versatile chef,” Atienza said. He did not want to only specialize in Spanish food with Garcia or French cuisine. He works at Issa Rae’s Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen and makes breakfast sandwiches, lavender lattes and beignets. Rae, the award-winning actress, director, writer, producer and Los Angeles native, hired Atienza to oversee all three of her locations in Eagle Rock, Slauson and Inglewood.
Come experience Atienza’s new and modern menu featuring vibrant flavors and appealing textures at Abernethy’s. $$-$$$. 220 N. Hope St., Los Angeles, (213)972-8088.