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Seafood Tower? Nah. This Culver City Restaurant Serves a ‘Taco Tower’

12:23 PM PST on March 4, 2022

    We’ve never been bottle service people.

    But taco tower people?

    All signs point to yes.

    We recently encountered just such a thing: A tiered assortment of meats, salsas, and heritage corn tortillas riffing on the concept of a raw bar seafood tower at Celestina Rooftop Bar. The new sky-high Mexican restaurant was recently opened by the team at Etta, which anchors Culver City’s Shay Hotel, where both concepts are found.

    Let’s break it down.

    Technically called 'the Taquiza Tower,' after the term for a catered party that typically involves multiple taco strains, the item stands about a foot tall. A wire stand comes crowned with a wide bowl ringed in totopos (tortilla chips) and evenly split between four meats: a pastor marinated in fire-roasted pineapple, pineapple vinegar, achiote paste, chile guajillo, and chile de árbol; a chuck flank birria braised overnight in its own consomé and slow-cooked for six hours; short rib barbacoa; and carne asada surrounding a deep dish of queso fundido.

    Staring up at the tower from a flat wooden platform below, you’ll find coconut flake, panko, and housemade focaccia-breaded coconut shrimp marinated in an infusion of herbs, coconut milk, and coconut puree; shrimp ceviche “cooked” overnight in citrus juice, with fresh, jalapeño-and-habanero-laced pico de gallo; a generous bowl of guacamole, along with limes and a quintet of salsas including a charred salsa negra, chile lime aioli, guajillo oil, salsa roja, and salsa verde.

    Completing the scene is a warmer full of Kernel of Truth tortillas.

    The tower idea was put together and executed by Etta/Celestina chef-and-partner Danny Grant and executive sous chef Nino Chavez, a Oaxaca-raised veteran of Redbird, Tavern, and Shutters on the Beach.

    “It's everything we love to eat, all in one place,” Grant tells L.A. TACO. “More importantly, it’s about sharing moments through food. You can build your own bites while drinking mezcal, and bring people together through food and drinks.”

    At $90, it’s definitely something that fits a spendy group coming together for a special occasion at the poolside restaurant, which also offers wide views of the city, housemade conchas, a silver “shot-opus” whose tentacles hold tiny, spirit-filled glasses, cabanas, tepache cocktails, Scorpion bowls, deep fried elote ribs, and a smooth ceramic straw-holder shaped like a butt on its open-air bar.

    It’s sort of like a seafood tower but for taco-heads and their friends in search of a little interactive dining. You can sit for an hour or two making umpteen tacos and ceviche tostadas, mixing meats for your own tacos campechanos, or building up massive monster tacos that attempt to challenge the very laws of gravity. Then, when your tortillas and meats run out, simply turn towards the bowl of queso fundido and make nachos with your remaining chips. Hell, make a taco and send it to that cutie at another table with your regards.

    Beyond that, the implications of bringing food towers out of the exclusive realm of raw seafood are potentially vast, laying the groundwork for a brave new world of towers teetering with smoked meats, charcuterie, Korean barbecue, sushi, Brazilian barbecue, whatever is now conceivable.

    Who knows? In the future, perhaps every ingredient will finally get its 15 minutes of towerdom.

    Celestina Rooftop Bar ~ 8801 Washington Blvd. Culver City, CA ~ 424-348-3333

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