C California Style

Tropic Thunder

by C California Style

Mexico City’s star chef Maycoll Calderón takes Silver Lake


Chef MAYCOLL CALDERÓN. Photography courtesy of Huset.

When one of Mexico City’s top chefs decides to open his first U.S. restaurant in Silver Lake, it’s a very big deal. And it’s all because Maycoll Calderón’s business partner, Walter Meyenberg, began frequenting a tattoo shop in L.A. After exploring and subsequently falling in love with the terrain, he convinced Calderón to come along to check out restaurants in the area. Before long, the two ended up walking the city in search of just the right neighborhood to open an edgy Mexican seafood concept.

They found the perfect spot: a huge enclosed outdoor garden on Sunset Boulevard. Similar to their restaurant Huset in Mexico City, the two employed a garden-centered space, but this time without inside seating. The name, Tintorera, comes from the wonderfully kitschy Mexican shark-hunting film made in 1977, two years after Jaws.

Alfresco dining. Photography by Walter Meyenberg.

Meyenberg chose Acapulco’s golden era in the 1950s as the theme. All the decor comes from Mexico—pale turquoise cement tiles, rattan lampshades, mismatched wooden chairs from Mexico City’s vintage markets. Flowering vines climb a weathered brick wall covered in a giant mural by the artist Seher, depicting the goddess of the sea amid tintoreras (sharks).

But forget tacos and margaritas. Calderón’s contemporary vocabulary reflects Mexico City’s white-hot food scene and his peripatetic life. His food is rigorously seasonal, simple yet sophisticated, and most importantly, delicious.

Red snapper aguachile, chilies, garbanzo beans and lime. Photography by MAYCOLL CALDERÓN.

The Venezuelan-born chef, who spent much of his career opening restaurants around the world for French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, is excited to be cooking in L.A. “You can find literally everything here,” he says, including “awesome Japanese seafood.” Tracking down good masa has been hardest. “Masa, for me, that’s sacred,” he says. But he’s finally discovered a source. He likes to change out his menus all the time, depending on what’s in the markets. To start, he’s doing ceviches, aguachiles, tiraditos, and a tuna tartare with jalapeño emulsion, radishes and avocado. From an outdoor wood oven and grill, he’ll turn out subtly smoked vegetables, arroz con pollo with saffron-tinged adobo, and maybe a whole grilled fish or two.

For now, he’s even doing the desserts—pan de elote (corn bread) with burnt milk, caramelized popcorn and—get this—mezcal ice cream with sal de gusano (agave worm salt). “I’m not afraid. I like to work crazy hours,” says Calderón. He’s in charge of wines, too. His list encompasses wines from Mexico, California, South Africa, New Zealand and more—anything punchy and crisp.

TINTORERA’s outdoor patio. Photography by Walter Meyenberg.

The young, high-energy Mexico City mixologist David Mora designed the Mexican-accented cocktails dispensed from a tropical bar in one corner of the garden, which stocks not only mezcals, but also little-known Mexican spirits such as sotol, raicilla and bacanora. The cool speakeasy inside, with its palm-themed wallpaper and mahogany leather and brass stools, gets its own distinctive cocktail list.

It’s a pretty sure bet Silver Lake will find the hip Mexican scene at Tintorero hard to resist. Good thing the place is open all through the afternoon into the late night. 2815 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, 323-741-0055; tintorera.la.

Written by S. IRENE VIRBILA.