Friday, June 22, 2012

Mo-Chica - 06/07/2012

514 W 7th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 622-3744

Located in the food court of mercado in South LA, Ricardo Zarate's initial Mo-Chica languished in obscurity until a review from Johnathan Gold made the restaurant a veritable dining destination. Building on his success, Zarate opened Picca in June 2011 to near-instant acclaim and a star on the rise became a star ascendant. As one of the hottest chefs in the city Zarate finally had the means to create the Mo-Chica of his dreams and he certainly wasted no time in doing so. Like Picca, the new Mo-Chica brings a modern touch to traditional Peruvian food.

 OAXACALIFORNIA LOVE - mezcal, tequila, fresh lime juice, pineapple rocoto gomme
The first cocktail was easily the best, the petrol and smoke of the mezcal blends seamlessly with the spicy bite of the rocoto while the flavor smoothly shifts from savory to sweetly tropical.

THA DOGGFATHER aka PISCO SOUR - pisco porton, egg white, fresh lime juice, fresh lemon juice, cane syrup sugar, angostura bitter
The national Peruvian cocktail, Tha Doggfather is incredibly well balanced with a multifarious flavor porfile and thick creamy froth from the egg white.

SANTA CLAUS IS BACK IN TOWN - atlantico reserva rum, elizabeth all spice, fresh lime juice
Our server called this a "man's drink" and I can see how the woody bite gives that impression.

I'M GRAPEY AND I KNOW IT... (wiggle, wiggle) - green grape & cardamom reduction, fresh ginger juice, orgeat syrup, oro italia pisco, soda, lime wheel
This drink certainly lives up to its name, with a sweet vinuous flavor though the pungency on the finish was a pleasant surprise.

PAPA DON'T PEACH - banks rum, fresh peaches infused with calvados, peach bitters, simple syrup, fresh lemon juice
Kind of a bi-polar cocktail, the soft fruity flavor of the peaches is readily apparent, but so is a distinctly boozy heat.

TEA-NAGE DREAM - Oro quebranta pisco, pitta & brendan's tea
The final cocktail was the most approachable of the bunch with the pisco barely noticable under the sweetness of the tea.

CHORITOS A LA CHALACA - Grilled chopped mussels, prawns, squid, tomato choclo salsa
The meal started with a mixture of fresh seafood with salsa and corn thrown in for good measure. The large kernels of corn add a dense texture contrast to the slick snappy shellfish while the salsa's acidity conveys a delightful sense of levity.

CAUSA DE CANGREJO - Aji amarillo mashed potatoes, fresh crab, avocado
Zarate's causa was one of my favorites at the original Mo-Chica and not much has changed. The starchy heft of the potato is infused with a spicy piquant tang that highlights the luxuriously sweet crab meat.

PAN CON TUNA - Grilled bread, spicy tuna, rocoto sauce, yuzu mayo
Next up was a tuna roll on bread. The interaction of the tuna and yuzu mayo was classic while the rocoto sauce gave the dish a Peruvian relish. I wasn't too enthused about this course initially fearing that the bread would be overly starchy, but Zarate pulled it off quite nicely.

vega barcelona, cava, spain NV
After the cocktails were done with, we opted for a sparkling white. This was a pretty straightforward cava, plenty of stonefruit on the nose with a pleasing yeasty counterpoint on the palate.

ALCACHOFA - artichoke, huacatay butter, rocoto sauce
One of the specials for the evening, the grilled artichoke had a lovely char tempered by the herbal sweetness of the huacatay butter, a nice twist on a simple grilled artichoke. The rocoto dipping sauce supplies the dish with a distinctly Peruvian bite.

CEVICHE CARRETILLERO - Seabass, rocoto, red onion, leche de tigre, choclo, yuyo
This was the first of two ceviches for the night. I appreciated the snap of the raw seabass as well as the piquant spicy bite of the leche de tigre. The onion and seaweed complimented the fish nicely add some much needed textural contrast as did the choclo.

ANTICUCHO DE PULPO - Grilled octopus, roasted potatoes, jalapeno sauce
Though not the most visually pleasing dish, the tender smoky octopus pairs beautifully with the spicy kick of the creamy potatoes.

PAPA RELLENA - Stuffed potato, eggplant stew, Peruvian olive oil
Papa rellena is a classic Peruvian dish dating back to the 19th century that consists of a potato stuffed with a mixture of meat, onion, olive and eggs then deep fried. Zarate went for an earthier preparation with eggplant and olives and though I found the olive a touch oppressive but I quite enjoyed the Japanese flourish of the yuzu.

TIRADITO DE JUREL - Spanish mackerel tiradito, ginger amarillo sauce, garlic chips, sesame oil
A superb tiradito, arguably one of the best that I've ever had. The oily smack of the mackerel stood up beautifully to the chili sauce. The ginger and sesame oil give the dish a distinctly Asian feel while the garlic chips added an outsized savor to the fish.

CEVICHE MIXTO - Halibut, prawns, scallops, squid, red onion, rocoto leche de tigre, camote
Ay Peruvian restaurant worth its salt should have some variation of the prototypical ceviche on offer. Zarate's incarnation is pretty classic, a textural melange of fresh seafood with spice, acid, and a touch of sweetness all mixed in.

LOMO SALTADO - Sautéed beef filet, roma tomatoes, red onions, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, banyuls vinegar, Kennebec fries
Next up we have one of the most popular Peruvian dishes. The stir fried beef marinated in vinegar and soy and seasoned with garlic, ginger, and onions feels distinctly Chinese but the potatoes give the dish a Western aesthetic.

CARAPULCRA - Peruvian sun dried potato stew, crispy pork belly, chimichurri
On its own the belly was faultless, tender with a nice balance of lean and fat. But I just couldn't get behind the stew with its odd mixture of sweet and herbaceous flavors.

QUINOTTO - Quinoa risotto, wild mushrooms, parmesan, parsley infused oil
I've always found quinoa a poor substitute for rice when it comes to risotto. Though that was still the case, I enjoyed the grainy texture coupled with the earthy heft of the mushrooms.

TALLARINES VERDES CON CAMARONES - Grilled black tiger prawns, tagliatelle, peanuts, Peruvian black mint pesto
The aroma of butter and brine promised such wonders and the praws certainly delivered on flavor though I thought the texture was a bit rubbery. The accompaniments were also somewhat muted though the noodles did add a slickness that helped balance out the prawn.

HAMBURGESA - Alpaca & lamb patty, pickled cucumbers, aji amarillo yogurt dressing
Upscale burgers might seem passé but the mix of alpaca and lamb sets this one apart from the masses. The patty has a leaner texture and explodes with game-tinged meaty savor. The tart accompaniments are key in balancing the meat's weight.

PAICHE - Amazonian fish from Peru, ajiaco de arroz, cherry tomato escabeche
This was my first experience with Paiche, an air breathing freshwater fish that can grow up to 500 pounds and is considered by scientists to be a living fossil from the Jurassic period. After surviving millions of years it was almost undone by its flavor. The fish is immensely prized and has been compared to Chilean Sea Bass due to its high levels of collagen. Though I didn't find the fish as tender as sea bass, the flaky texture and subtle grilled élan were nothing short of wondrous; perfect with the contrasting acidic verve from the tomato escabeche.

SANGRECITA - Morcilla crostini, fried egg, jalapeno salsa
I'm not normally a fan of blood sausage on account of its off-putting metallic flavor; however this preparation was absolutely stellar, all savor no metal. The dish has a decidely a breakfast-y feel with the crostini and fried egg accompanied by the delightful heat of the salsa.

casa lapostolle, cuvee alexandre, carmenere, colchagua valley, chile 2010
Our second wine of the night was a Carmenere, a signature grape of Chile that has long since disappeared from European vineyards. The wine had a soft rounded fruitness that reminded me heavily of Merlot.

CAU CAU - Tripe stew, peruvian potatoes, grilled bread, cumin yogurt, mint chimichurri
I can't honestly review this dish as all the tripe was gone by the time it got around to me and as full as I was, mouthful after mouthful of potatoes was the last thing I wanted. The rest of my party seemed to enjoy it so I'll just take their word for it.

ESTOFADO DE ALPACA - Alpaca stew estofado, tagliatelle, aji amarillo sauce, fried organic fertile egg
Alpaca is a popular meat in South America but far less common here. This was my second experience with alpaca (the first being the hamburgesa above) and without the lamb I was able to better appreciate the alpaca on its own. The meat is immensely flavorful though the texture was a bit tougher than I was expecting. This toughness seems to be intrinsic to the meat rather than any fault of the kitchen. So while I can appreciate alpaca meat I doubt it'll be replacing beef in my diet anytime soon.

COLITA DE REZ - Oxtail, trigo de mote, huancaina salsa criolla
In contrast to the previous course the braised oxtail was almost like eating molten meat. The generously fatty oxtail falls off the bone and suffuses the senses with a ponderous meaty heft. The salsa criolla is absolutely essential while the boiled meat also helps leech some of the gravitas from the oxtail.

AJI DE GALLINA - Chicken stew, aji amarillo bread sauce, boiled quail egg, confit pee-wee potatoes, walnuts, parmesan
Again I was unable to get much of this course. From what I did taste, the dish was on point, an adroitly executed expression of a timeless Peruvian classic.

SECO DE CORDERO - Lamb shank, canario beans, cilantro beer sauce
In terms of flavor and texture, the lamb fell somewhere in betwee the austerity of the alpaca and the brio of the oxtail. Again the criolla's lushness buffered the palate from the full force of the meat's dark savor. I'm not normally a fan of beans but I loved the starchy heft they brought to the dish.

ARROZ CON MARISCOS - Peruvian seafood paella, salsa criolla
Even though I had Zarate's seafood fried rice at Picca, this was one of my most anticipated courses of the night. The rice abounds with the essence of shellfish while the topping of onions, citrus, and pepper once again does its job brightening up everything else on the plate.

BETERRAGA - Roasted beet salad, burrata, candied corn, orange aji amarillo dressing
Beets just aren't my thing and eating a mouthful of the dense cloying tuber this late in a meal is never going to find favor with me. In all fairness, the aji amarillo dressing makes a valiant effort but the creamy texture of the burrata with the beets is just too much.

CAESARIN - Peruvian ceasar salad, grilled baby romaine, parmesan, huacatay anchovie dressing
I was surprised to see this on the menu, but after tasting it I can see why it is. The beautifully crisp lettuce conveys a smoky sapor that forms the foundation of this dish while the anchovie dressing has this delightful tart fishy smack that left me wanting more.

CHICHARRON DE POLLO - marinated crispy chicken, rocoto sauce
Though I was fairly stuffed by this point, and I had already tried this dish at Picca, I couldn't stop myself from having a generous helping. These tender morsels were basically everything you could want from popcorn chicken, the perfect balance of savory batter and juicy white meat with an addictive dipping sauce to boot.

ALMEJAS - steamed clams, pancetta, aji amarillo butter
This reminded me of a similar dish at Playa. The salty meatiness of the pancetta augments the inherent brine of the clams while the chili sauce adds a lip smacking tang that ties the entire dish together.

SOLTERITO - Southern style peruvian salad, lima beans, choclo, feta, olives, english peas, queso fresco, rocoto vinaigrette
Like the Caesarin this was another sleeper dish. The salad combines the freshness of pea sprouts with the astringent game of the feta, and a subtle undercurrent of olives. As always the sour-spicy essence of the rocoto tempers and binds everything.

PAPA A LA HUANCAINA TERRINE - Peruvian potato terrine, bacon, fried quail egg, huancaina sauce
Potato, bacon, and eggs, this dish might read like your typical breakfast but it was actually more like a refined potato gratin. The potato "terrine" consisted of thin strips lightly fried on the outside but pliant and tender on the inside. Smothered in a creamy sauce and seasoned with the candy of meats, I adored this dish despite being absolutely stuffed.

ALFAJORES - Peruvian cookies, dulce de leche & rocoto chocolate ganache
The first dessert was a pair of crumbly cookies, one with a sugary dulce de leche and the other with a darkly savory chocolate ganache. At this point, I preferred the unabashed sweetness of the former to the more nuanced flavor of the later.

PICARONES - sweet potato, kabocha peruvian beignets, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, chancaca sauce
Finally a kobocha preparation that I really liked, the potato's inherent sweetness is augmented by a sticky glaze while the deep fried treat displayed a texture that was simultaneously dense yet airy.

SOL Y SOMBRA - purple corn, pineapple, granny smith apples, apricots, raisins & kiwicha creme brulee
The final dessert was one of my favorites things all night. The custard is made from amaranth, a high protein grain also cultivated in the Andes. The thick caramelized crust gives alternating flavors of bitterness and sugar while the fruit adds acidity and succulence to balance the custards' creamy weight.

Weighing in with 31 dishes, the revamped Mo-Chica doesn't quite match Picca in terms of number of courses but food definitely feels heartier and more rustic. While I enjoyed Mo-Chica's homey warmth, I'd have to give the nod to Picca, the heavily Japanese-influenced menu is more in line with my tastes. Still the new Mo-Chica, with its contemporary Peruvian comfort food, cements Zarate's place as the last word for gourmet Peruvian food in LA.

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