Saturday, March 1, 2014

Mo-Chica - Los Angeles

Mo-Chica, in downtown Los Angeles, is owned and operated by Lima, Peru native, chef Ricardo Zarate. Zarate trained as a chef for 12 years in London and opened Mo-Chica in 2009. Mo-Chica focuses on dishes that are modern variations of traditional Peruvian comfort foods. He also runs another Peruvian restaurant, Picca, near Beverly Hills, which focuses on small plate dishes (many which are the same as Mo-Chica) and is only open in the evenings. Picca was named as one of the ten best new restaurants in America by GQ Magazine and Food and Wine Magazine named Zarate as the People's Choice Best New Chef in 2011. 

I love Peruvian food and was very excited to try this. I picked up Andrew in LA for a weekend lunch to try it out. 

First we had tiradito de seabass, described as a seared seabass with cilantro, a garlic chip and aji amarillo de tigre. Tiradito is a Peruvian style raw fish in a spicy sauce.  The spiciness, in this case, came from yellow aji peppers, a popular Peruvian spice. I can only guess that the yellow aji pepper sauce is referred to as tiger milk because of its heat. The seabass was seared and very good, but I think I might have liked it as well or better raw. Each slice had a piece of garlic that appeared dried and it had a powerful garlic taste: perhaps roasted? This was very good - Andrew said it was his favorite. 

Next we had chicharron de pollo, described as marinated crispy chicken with a rocoto aioli. I think of chicharron as fried pork rind, but it can also be chicken, mutton or beef. However, in Peru the rind isn't used at all. The meat is boiled with seasonings and spices until no water remains, then fried in its own fat. Wikipedia says that "the chicken variant can taste like fried chicken" and that is exactly what I thought we were getting. One of my very favorite Peruvian foods is roasted chicken - I love the spices. So this was my biggest disappointment. I was expecting great things, but it was overcooked like dry Kentucky Fried Chicken, with no redeeming great taste. Rocoto is a kind of chili pepper grown in Peru and aioli is a mayonnaise like substance usually made with oil, egg yolks and other ingredients. This rocoto aioli was kind of bland and really didn't do much to liven up the boiled to death chicken. This dish was a thumbs down.  
Next we had a grilled artichoke braised with huacatay butter. It came with a side of rocoto aioli. Huacatay is also called Peruvian black mint and is said to have a "pungent aroma somewhere between mint and basil."and is the green sauce on the artichoke in the pictures. The rocoto aioli with this dish was a lighter color than what came with the chicken and this dish was excellent. The artichoke was well grilled, with a nice smoky smell and flavor, and greasy all over with the huacatay butter. The aioli complemented it very nicely. This was a very nice, unique dish. 

Anticuchos are small pieces of grilled skewered meat, a dish that originated in Peru. Our next dish was anticucho de pulpo (octopus) with roasted potatoes and a jalapeno sauce. The octopus consisted of a number of very small whole octopus, as opposed to small pieces from a larger octopus. The potatoes were mashed purple potatoes and this was all mixed together with the jalapeno sauce. I wanted to love this dish, but I just enjoyed it. I think that maybe the volume of potato was too much for the volume of octopus and the jalapeno sauce could have been stronger. It all came together like a casserole and I think I missed not having the octopus more isolated and on its own terms. It was unusual, it looked great and it tasted fine, but not the home run I was hoping for. 

This partially eaten dish shows the purple Peruvian mashed potatoes underneath.
Estofado de alpaca was described as braised alpaca, tagliatelle, aji amarillo sauce, and a fried organic fertile egg. Estafado appears to mean baked or stewed and braising is a combination of searing meat at a high temperature then finishing it in a covered pot with liquid cooked for awhile to break down connective tissue. Tagliatelle is a type of pasta similarly shaped to fettuccine. Alpaca, of course, is a Peruvian mammal that resembles a llama. We had alpaca when we visited Peru. This dish was a fun amalgamation of contrasting tastes and textures. This alpaca was similarly textured to pulled pork, although a little stringier and a stronger but pleasing flavor. the pasta was nice and moist and had a slight kick from the aji pepper sauce. The fried egg on top, yolk included, added two more textures and flavors and combined for a very unusual dish. I think the term "comfort food" epitomized this dish. Taste was a B, presentation and combinations of ingredients was an A. 

Estofado de carne was described as braised beef short rib, potato ajiaco, jalapeno salsa criolia, huancaina. Wikipedia describes ajiaco in Colombia as three varieties of potatoes with the Galinsoga parvilroa herb. The potatoes sort of resembled boiled cauliflower with a mustard sauce and could well have included multiple varieties of potatoes as Peru has many varieties of them. The potatoes were different and good. Huancaina is a creamy sauce made from fresh white cheese, vegetable oil, aji amarillo (yellow Peruvian pepper), evaporated milk and salt. There was just a small dribble of the huancaina as well as jalapeno and I would have enjoyed more of each with the dish. The actual string potatoes were rather crunchy. The short rib was moist, the dish was visually unusual and was good, a B, but not a home run. 
The yellow huancaina drizzles down the side.
This view shows the potatoes.
Finally, as we were finishing up, I remembered that I'd read of their causa de cangrejo which was described as aji amarillo mashed potatoes, fresh crab and avocado. Cangrejo refers to the crab and causa is a Peruvian dish I've made several times before (with octopus, with salmon, and with smoked pheasant. This turned out to be my favorite dish, the one that I would mostly likely order again if I returned. The cause was not overly acidic or limey tasting, like it can be, and the combination of avocado and crab made it creamy and very tasty and palate friendly. This dish was an A. 
Bottom layer of yellow potato, middle layer of avocado and top layer of crab, with a drizzle of huancaina down the side.
I came away with a feeling that I didn't need to come back again. We tried lots of dishes and enjoyed them all, but one, which we still ate, but nothing really stood out as outstanding, that we needed to come back for. Then as I go through the dishes item by item, I am intrigued and impressed by some of the individual dishes. I guess I would sum it up as enjoyable, fun and interesting, but not one that needs to be returned to. 

1 comment:

  1. That artichoke looks pretty good to me, as does the causa. You may HAVE to go back, but with me this time.