514 W. 7th Street
Los Angeles, 90014
Dining date: 5/27/12
Mo-Chica was chef Ricardo Zarate’s first restaurant in 2009, located in the Mercado la Paloma near USC. A lot has changed since then with Zarate being named a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2011 and having one of the bigger restaurant openings last year with Picca. With all of his success, Zarate’s been able to relocate his first restaurant to a much larger location and kitchen (and thus, menu). The new digs are in the heart of downtown at 7th & Grand, steps from the ever-popular Bottega Louie. The grand opening is on the 30th, however I dropped in on one of the soft-opening nights this past weekend.
Since I live and work in downtown, I’ve been eagerly anticipating this opening. Like the former Mo-Chica and Picca, Zarate brings food from his Peruvian homeland, something that still seems to be unique in the already-diverse LA food scene. Also similar to the sister restaurants, an open kitchen offers a view of much of the cooking and preparation – always fun to see.
Brian Summers and Deysi Alvarez are in charge of the cocktails here (not usual suspect Julian Cox), and we tried a few (from left to right).
OAXACALIFORNIA LOVE mezcal, tequila, lime juice, pineapple rocoto gomme
PAPA DON’T PEACH banks rum, fresh peaches infused with calvados, peach bitters, simple syrup, lemon juice
THA DOGGFATHER aka PISCO SOUR pisco porton, egg white, lime juice, lemon juice, cane syrup sugar, angostura bitters
TEA-NAGE DREAM oro quebranta pisco, pitta & brendan’s tea
Smoky mezcal cocktails seem to be all the rage right now and I’m still on that bandwagon. The Oaxacalifornia Love was my favorite of the four with its lingering smokiness countered by sweet pineapple and lime flavors.
arroz con mariscos peruvian seafood paella, salsa criolla
This is a similar dish to what I’ve had at Picca and the previous Mo-Chica, and found this version to be a strong one. Squid, shrimp and mussels were all cooked well, as was the rice with just a little bit of texture. A creamy sauce brought it all together. The crisp red onions were a theme throughout the evening, adding a bright freshness to the dish.
estofado de alpaca alpaca stew estofado, tagliatelle, aji amarillo sauce, fried organic fertile egg
I think this was my first time having alpaca; it reminded me of lamb but much less gamey. This dish presented a tender chunk of the meat to go along with fresh tagliatelle and a buttery aji amarillo sauce. A fried egg added some extra richness to the dish.
seco de cordero lamb shank, canario beans, cilantro beer sauce
We found this to be a generous portion – a sizable lamb shank was slowly braised, leaving tender and gamey meat. The red onions and tomatoes on top did a good job of adding some freshness to cut through the rich meat while the beans and peas were a nice way to sop up much of the residual braising liquid.
choritos a la chalaca grilled chopped mussels, prawns, squid, tomato choclo salsa
When ordering this dish, we had Picca’s steamed mussels with pancetta and aji amarillo in mind. This was a much different plate where chopped mussels, prawns and squid were placed back into a mussel shell with a citrusy sauce. I found this to be a cool and refreshing dish, though I was still longing for Picca’s mussels.
colita de rez oxtail, trigo de mote, huancaina salsa criolla
The portion of this oxtail seemed small compared to the lamb shank. However, the meat was deliciously tender and rich, and I really enjoyed the barley risotto which reminded me of one of my favorite dishes at the old Mo-Chica. Some corn nut-like popped corn added texture.
carapulcra peruvian sun dried potato stew, crispy pork belly, chimichurri
A hearty potato stew was topped with chunks of pork belly. I liked that the pork wasn’t overly fatty, it still seemed somewhat lean yet tender and flavorful. I wished the skin was crispier though as it seemed a little limp. A chimichurri provided a bright accompaniment to the pork.
tiradito de jurel spanish mackerel tiradito, ginger amarillo sauce, garlic chips, sesame oil
Tender slices of Spanish mackerel were complemented by citrus and ginger flavors, as well as crispy garlic chips. The addition of sesame oil added some earthy depth; a lot of components here, but I thought they were pretty well-balanced.
paiche amazonian fish from peru, ajiaco de arroz, cherry tomato escabeche
This might have been my favorite plate of the evening. The white fish was moist and went well with the juicy cherry tomatoes; a spicy risotto-like rice base completed the dish.
As expected, our dinner at Mo-Chica was a strong one full of delicious and hearty Peruvian fare; this move adds another good restaurant to the ever-expanding downtown scene. The food, atmosphere and pricing all closely resemble Picca more than the old Mo-Chica, with a number of the old favorites to remind us of the restaurant’s roots. While I’ll miss the seemingly bargain-basement prices of the old restaurant, I’m sure I’ll find myself here more often due to the location and the more complete food and alcohol offerings. It’s open for lunch too, so I’ll have to add this to the lunch rotation.