Picca (Los Angeles, CA) (2)

Picca
9575 West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Dining date: 7/1/11

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I knew I’d return to Picca soon, but I didn’t think it’d be this soon. Eight days separated this visit from my last (during the Test Kitchen preview), but I was eager to try more of the menu.  Add to it the fact that I kept reading positive review after positive review about the restaurant, and a return trip was in order.

We started with a dish from the primera area of the five-sectioned menu.

choritos. steamed mussels, pancetta, aji amarillo butter

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This dish was pretty rich and savory with the pancetta and aji amarillo butter. The mussels were nice and plump, and the bread was crucial to mop up the sauce. Tasty.

albacore causa. garlic chip, ceviche sauce

albacore causa-2

The sushi causa are some of the most fun and playful things on the menu. Zarate’s interpretation of nigiri sushi, a soft, creamy potato is used instead of rice. I enjoyed the bright flavors from the albacore and ceviche sauce in this causa, as well as the balanced garlic flavor from the thin chip.

spicy yellowtail causa. spicy mayo, green onions, wasabi tobiko

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Another good causa here, with the fish getting a little bit of spice from an interesting wasabi tobiko. I really liked the addition of the thinly cut green onions as well.

jalea mixta. crispy mixed seafood, tartar sauce

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Hard to go wrong with lightly-battered and fried mixed seafood (including shrimp, calamari, sea bass). The lime was instrumental to cut through the fried batter.

ceviche crocante. halibut, leche de tigre, crispy calamari

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I thought there was an interesting textural interplay in this dish with the fried calamari and tender ceviche. The ceviche was reliably good, while the calamari was solid on its own. I do, however, probably prefer the ceviche separately, letting the focus stay on the delicate flavors and textures.

seabass tiradito. thinly sliced sea bass, soy sauce, lemon dressing, sweet potato puree

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The fish was briefly seared with a torch, warming the flesh a little bit. The sesame oil and soy gave the dish some Asian flavors, and I thought the sweet potato puree really elevated the dish, adding a rich sweetness. I also appreciated the chip, which added some salt and light texture.

We moved onto the anticucho (grilled meats/vegetables on skewers), perhaps my favorite area of the menu.

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scallops anticucho. aji amarillo aioli, wasabi peas

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I appreciated the nice char, adding some smokiness to the tender and sweet scallop. I thought the wasabi peas were a really cool way to add some heat and texture.

santa barbara prawns anticucho. lemongrass yuzu kosho pesto

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This was a repeat from my last visit and for good reason – it was one of the best bites of that meal. It was just as good this time; a little citrusy heat from the yuzu kosho really heightened the sweet, tasty prawn.

corazon anticucho. beef heart, rocoto sauce

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Mmm beef heart. It was slightly chewy, kind of like a bigger chicken heart. The rocoto sauce lended a complementary heat, spicing things up a bit.

seco de pato. duck leg confit, black beer sauce, cilantro rice

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This was the lone “entree” we ordered. The duck was crispy with a moist interior, though the highlight for me was the really flavorful rice. I don’t think it was just cilantro (I’m not sure what was in it), but it was really savory and soul-satisfying, especially with the duck meat.

tres leche cake.

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Lastly, we shared one dessert. I enjoyed the light, milky cake, and the fact that it wasn’t too sweet.

The food on this visit was just as good as my last visit (which was pretty damn good) and I was happy to see the service was much improved. It’s easy to see why the restaurant has been so popular throughout its young life – it’s sort of a modernized, hipper sibling to Mo-Chica. Picca’s food is a welcome change of pace to a lot of the food in LA; Zarate’s cooking is something unique and different, yet still very familiar – exactly why I think it has staying power.

Picca (Los Angeles, CA)

Picca
9575 West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Dining date: 6/23/11


Picca has been a long time coming. Ever since Test Kitchen closed its doors, we’ve been waiting for Sotto (downstairs, opened March) and Picca (upstairs). Although Picca’s grand opening is technically Saturday the 25th, there have been a number of preview dinners this week. I attended one of the “Test Kitchen” previews.

Ricardo Zarate is the chef behind Picca, popularly known for the restaurant Mo-Chica and for being named a 2011 Food & Wine Best New Chef. I’m pretty familiar with his cuisine, between a number of visits to Mo Chica and samplings of his food at Test Kitchen and various food festivals, so I’ve been eagerly awaiting this opening.

The menu is split into five sections: appetizers, causa sushi/ceviche/tiraditos, anticuchos, entrees and desserts. During this preview, we selected one from each to create our own customized five-course meal.

As with all of the other Test Kitchen sister-restaurants, Julian Cox is the man behind the bar. Here, the cocktails feature pisco, a brandy-like alcohol from Peru.

Chilcano de Anis


Ginger and anise flavors help balance the alcohol in this drink, with a nice mint flavor towards the end. Loved the copper cup.

Maracuya


Kind of like a kicked-up mimosa. Fruity and citrus notes from the passion fruit and lemon juice balanced the cava and pisco.

Tuna Tartare tuna, lemon soy dressing, wonton chips

Tuna tartare is a little played out in my mind. However, there was something about this version that really piqued my interest. The tuna was good, and there was a touch of wasabi for some heat. The wonton chips were a good way to get some light texture into the mix.

Chicharron de Pollo marinated crisp chicken, salsa criolla, rocoto sauce

Pieces of marinated chicken breast were fried up and topped with a salsa. The chicken wasn’t dry at all, though it did not have a ton of flavor. The bulk of the flavor came from the fresh salsa, as well as the sweet rocoto sauce.

Shrimp Causa Sushi pickled cucumbers, yuzu kosho guacamole

Zarate’s play on nigiri sushi are these causa sushi. Instead of rice, a soft and creamy potato is the base for all sorts of seafood – here, shrimp. Accented by some bright yuzu kosho, I thought this was really tasty.

Ceviche Mixto mixed seafood, sweet potato, choclo

This ceviche is pretty similar to the version at Mo-Chica. Given all the accolades that this dish has won, I’m glad Zarate has kept it true to his original. Chunks of fresh sea bass, scallops, squid and shrimp are mixed up with onions and sweet potato in a citrusy marinade. Really delicious.

Beef Filet Anticucho sea urchin butter, garlic chip

The sea urchin butter really elevated this dish. The beef was tender and juicy, very good on its own. But the sea urchin butter added a little more richness and depth of flavor…really nice.

Santa Barbara Prawns Anticucho lemongrass yuzu kosho pesto

This was a must order for me, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a rather simple dish, allowing the prawn to stand out. Lightly cooked, the prawn was very moist, sweet and tender. A little bit of lime juice was perfect.

Arroz con Erizo peruvian paella, mixed seafood, sea urchin sauce

The seafood was cooked well, my favorite were the plump mussels.  The rice was really rich and flavorful, with a definite seafood flavor to it.

Chanfainita braised oxtail, mote and potato stew

One of my favorite dishes at Mo-Chica is the braised oxtail, so this was something else I wanted to try. I thought the flavors were on point, with a little bit of fresh acidity from a salsa topping. However, the oxtail was served lukewarm (the sauce and potatoes were hot, though).

Tres Leches Cake


Light and flavorful, with a good pairing with the fresh fruit. I thought the sweetness of the fruit really went well with the milk-soaked cake.

Churros


The churros were filled with, I think, a passion fruit filling. Nice. They were served warm, lightly crispy and sweet – exactly what I was looking for.  A trio of dipping sauces were available; chocolate was definitely my preferred sauce.

Service was slow and inconsistent (even as soft openings go), which was unfortunate given that the food was a hit. The table next to us actually got up and walked out…I’ve never seen that before. However, I suspect those issues will be ironed out quickly, and the diner’s focus put back onto the food.

Even with the diversity of LA, I don’t think many people are really familiar with Peruvian food (myself included). Asian and European influences are both evident in Peruvian fare; maybe that’s why the flavors that Zarate works with taste really familiar. While the ceviche was expectantly good, the causa and anticucho (love meat on a stick!) really shined as well. None of the food disappointed. I’ll likely be back soon to try more of the menu.

Sotto (Los Angeles, CA) (2)

Sotto
9575 West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Dining date: 5/25/11

My first trip to Sotto was rather disappointing and I wasn’t sure I was going to return anytime soon. Lo and behold, less than two months later, I’ve already been four times now. I credit Matt (mattatouille) for convincing me to return to try some more items.

The restaurant is probably best known for taking over the Test Kitchen space, as well as having an authentic hand-built oven from Naples pumping out some of the most authentic Neapolitan pizzas in town.

Housemade bread lardo pestato

It’s hard for me to eat pure fat on top of bread (I sparingly even use butter), so this isn’t something I’d typically order. However, it was definitely tasty. The cured pork fat was warm and spread all over, leaving some rich, flavorful bites with the crusty bread.

Pittule pugliese vincotto, ricotta

I didn’t really know what this was until trying it; it’s basically fried dough. The ricotta was a very nice condiment, as was the vincotto, a sort of fruity syrup made from reduced grape juice.

Fried calamaretti lemon, red onion, colatura

I really enjoyed this on a previous visit and did so again. The squid was cooked perfectly with a really light batter. A little bit of lemon juice was all that was needed to add some acidity and brighten things up. I liked that it was kept very simple and executed well, rather than mixing flavors with say, a marinara.

Tomato-braised octopus ai ferri chickpeas, preserved lemon, chard, bottarga

Tender though slightly chewy, the octopus really went well with the citrus of the preserved lemon. I liked the chickpeas as well, adding some creaminess and body to the dish.

Grilled pork meatballs lemon leaves, snap peas, pecorino, bitter greens

I had these on my first visit as well. Hard to go wrong with a meatball, I liked the smoky flavor imbued by the grilling, though it wasn’t a particularly memorable meatball.

Devil’s Gulch fennel-crusted pork chop roasted baby carrots, fava beans

One of the stars of the show. The chop is truly encrusted by a lot of fennel – when I first had this I thought it was slightly overpowering. But with just a few bites more, I took that back. The pork is really juicy and flavorful, so it stands up well to the anise flavor of the fennel. I think this was a little more tender the last time I had it, though this chop wasn’t tough at all.

Toasted grain capunti ragu bianco, hedgehog mushrooms, rapini greens

True to its name, this pasta exhibited a strong grainy flavor. I don’t really love whole wheat pasta, but I appreciated the nutty and earthy flavors of the pasta, along with the mushrooms.

Squid ink fusilli lunghi pistachios, bottarga, mint

I didn’t like this pasta at all when I first had it, and I’m still not sold on it. The pasta kind of looks like black licorice twists thanks to the squid ink. For me, the mix of the pistachios and mint just didn’t meld well with the squid ink pasta.

Next up, we tried two pizzas (a “must” here). Below, Zach Pollack preparing our guanciale pizza.

Guanciale house-cured pork cheek, ricotta, scallions, fennel pollen

I would’ve liked the guanciale to have been crispier (it was rather limp), but otherwise I found this to be a really solid pizza. The pork cheek, combined with scallions and fennel pollen, was delicious. A little bit of ricotta was a nice touch, as well. Typical of all of their pizzas, the dough was crispy and nicely charred, with a slightly chewy texture.

Boscaiola hen of the woods, wild ramps, capretto Sardo

This was a favorite from a previous visit. If you don’t like mushrooms, you won’t like this one. The hen of the woods mushrooms are flavorful and vibrant, and really make this pizza.

Bittersweet chocolate crostata hazelnuts, salted rosemary caramel

This looked like a rather simple chocolate tart at first. But, I must say the salted rosemary caramel was addicting. There was something about the savory rosemary with sweet chocolate that really worked well. Delicious.

I’ve really warmed up to Sotto since my first trip on opening night. While I didn’t love everything, my favorite menu items are the pork chop, calamaretti and the pizzas. It’s probably safe to say I’ll be back soon.

Son of a Gun (Los Angeles, CA)

Son of a Gun
8370 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dining date: 4/18/11

I had wanted to try Son of a Gun for a while. Rave review after rave review, this restaurant is still one of the most popular in LA since it opened at the end of February. Finally, I had my chance. Diana, Ryan, Daniel and I had an early dinner at the Cafe Boulud pop-up at Animal and were still hungry. What to do? Enter Son of a Gun, the seafood-centric eatery from the guys behind Animal.

We still waited about 20 minutes for a table on Monday night. It’s a pretty small place, but clearly still very popular. Arguably, I was more excited about this meal than the last (okay there was no argument, I was really excited for this one).

lobster roll, celery, lemon aioli


I had read much about this lobster roll. Even though this was the first dish, we ordered one for each person. Good idea. The lobster was perfectly cooked, leaving it sweet and flavorful, with just a little bit of bite. I really liked the addition of the potato chips, adding some welcome saltiness and texture.

shrimp toast sandwich, herbs, sriracha mayo


This was perhaps my most anticipated item of the night. It didn’t disappoint, with the crispy toast melding really well with the sweet shrimp, complimented by a little heat from the sriracha. With the shrimp, the hoisin sauce may have been a little more sweet than I preferred, but the textures and flavors were really on point. Another good idea to order one for each person.

fried chicken sandwich, spicy b&b pickle slaw, rooster aioli


This was another highly anticipated item, though I didn’t like it so much. Contrary to the other items we tried, this was a beast – this sandwich was fitting for one person’s entire lunch. I thought the chicken was good, crispy and rather moist for breast meat; too much mayo and coleslaw was the issue for me.

geoduck sashimi, lemon, olive oil, sea salt


The geoduck was rather mild in flavor, but there was something about it that made me think to myself “oh yeah, this tastes like geoduck.” Really simply prepared with a little bit of citrus and salt.

linguine and clams, uni aglio-olio, chili, breadcrumbs


I had high hopes for this one, but found both the saltiness and the raw garlic flavor be overwhelming. The pasta and clams were both cooked well, but unfortunately were overshadowed by the other ingredients.

cod, pho fumet, herbs, lime, bok choy


I thought this sounded pretty interesting. The broth definitely had some flavors reminiscent of a beefy pho and the fish was cooked well. This tasted pretty much as advertised, though I’m not sure the pho and cod flavors really came together as well as expected.

Hoboken special


Chocolate ice cream and pineapple Fanta. I’ve never been to Hoboken and had no idea what this was, but it was pretty interesting. I thought the sweetness and acidity of the pineapple soda worked well with the rich chocolate, but I was too full to enjoy it at this point.

Son of a Gun was a solid meal. While most of the dishes were pretty good, I wasn’t particularly moved by the meal – maybe I was getting full, or maybe my expectations were too high (or a combination of both). Still, we were only able to try seven dishes, so I’d like to come back to try some of the others. I’m just not in as much of a hurry to do so.