What you’re about to read is an account of the last meal I had in 2012. Yes, it was one of those prix fixe New Year’s Eve dinners. But take a look! There’s a total of eight courses if you count the bread at the beginning and the shot of pisco sour
in the middle. And for how much? $55! Pretty damned reasonable if you ask me! It's even better when you consider that this is at one of LA’s most buzzed about restaurants, Mo-Chica by Ricardo Zarate, one of Food & Wine Magazine’s
Best New Chefs 2011.
Even still, we opted for the earliest seating available. The cost of the meal got progressively higher the later your reservation was. For every two hour block your seating time was closer to midnight, it increased $20,
and all you got for the price hike was an extra added cocktail. We weren’t about to go over that fiscal cliff if we could help it. So it was with a unanimous bipartisan vote that dinner would be at 6:00 p.m. for us!
The bread was indeed good enough to consider it a course. It wasn’t just bread, but a bonafide foccacia--thick, studded with all sorts of vegetable matter baked into it, and buttery like a brioche but with a crunchy burnt bottom. I knew it was house-made even if the menu didn’t say so. How? We sat in a booth with a direct view of the kitchen. I noticed sheet pans of the stuff stacked everywhere, fresh from the oven and ready to be sliced and served with a slice of aji amarillo
rosemary butter that made me forget momentarily that this Peruvian restaurant does not supply any squeeze bottles of aji
to squirt. It's not that kind of Peruvian restaurant.
Soup was next. Or to be more exact, chupe de papa
, which had an object floating on top that we all initially thought was some sort of baked mussel. It wasn't. It was actually a creamy dollop of Dungeness crab riding a piece of toast--a surprise that became immediate justification for the trek that took us on 5 North to the 91 West to the 110 North to the heart of LA’s downtown.
Uni and scallop tiradito
was a shared plate. What you see in the picture is actually a serving meant for two; but it was plenty. The acidic punch of the leche de tigre
overpowered the nuanced sweetness of the sea urchin roe a bit, but my what a bite it was! If it were possible to safely eat a mild electric shock, it would feel like this.
Then came what my friend decided was the best dish of the night: a baseball-sized cocoon covered in panko breading that hid barely cooked tiger shrimp and other squiggly seafood in a mirepoix. You cut into it and the filling spilled out like candy from a burst piñata. It was a satisfyingly crunchy dish, sort of like a Japanese korokke crossed with a Mexican coctel that's been possessed by the soul of a Maryland crab cake.
At the midpoint of our meal, the a shooter of pisco sour
arrived, and it was a classic and faithful rendition of Peru's national drink, properly made with an egg white froth leading to a brisk gulp of bitterness, citric sourness and an alcohol burn akin to weak tequila.
The least successful dish was a quinoa breaded fried chicken. Despite the Pop Rocks texture of the crust and the moist-tenderness of the chicken, the coating slipped off as soon as we touched a fork to the boneless, skinless breast pieces. We ate it all anyway, dipping it to spicy mayo-based sauce while spying our final savory course of beef tenderloin being assembled in the kitchen.
It was a multi-step process. The cylindrical lobes of beef were first immersed in vacuum packed bags to simmer in a sous vide machine kept at exactly 121 degrees. Then came a quick sear in a hot pan before the meat was sliced to individual portions. Was it done? Not quite. A disc of solid sea urchin butter was then laid down on top. A roaring blowtorch melted it to a creamy liquid that ran off the sides and dribbled onto the puddle of mashed potatoes. The completed plate is decorated with drops of pepian sauce, a sort of cousin to chimichurri with big grains of sea salt that energized every bite I took of a steak soft and pink.
Dessert was a dense square of chocolate cake topped with shattered cancha
, the crunchy Peruvian corn snack that I wouldn’t have thought could sub for peanuts in a dessert...that is, before that night. Also on the plate along with some ice cream was a strawberry slowly stewed to become something almost savory, slightly spicy, and briskly tart. It wasn't quite a preserve, and it wasn't quite a compote. Heck, I don't know what it was, except that I wanted a bowl of it. Whether it was even Peruvian is not known since Zarate isn't just about Peruvian food--he's about good food.
514 W 7th St
Los Angeles, CA 90014
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