Picca (Los Angeles, CA) (2)

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

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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)

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

exterior1 500x335 Picca (Los Angeles, CA)

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

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


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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.


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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.

Mo-Chica (Los Angeles, CA)

Mercado La Paloma
3655 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90007
Dining date: 4/23/11

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Ricardo Zarate’s star has never been brighter than it is right now. Sure, he’s been a rising star chef in the Los Angeles scene for a couple of years now. However, national attention has come in the form of being named a Food & Wine Best New Chef for 2011.

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Mo-Chica is currently the only place you can try Zarate’s food (until Picca opens next month). Here, Zarate brings the flavors from his childhood home of Lima (Peru) to Los Angeles. Although I live in a city full of different cultures, I haven’t sampled a whole lot of Peruvian dishes outside of the occasional lomo saltado and ceviche, but Mo-Chica is as good a place as any to do it.

While the menu has a number of vegetarian-friendly options, Chef Zarate was kind enough to create/modify some dishes for my friend Angela as well.

Each table starts with these “corn nut”-like popped corn.

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Causa Del Dia peruvian potato salad of the day

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This one was made vegetarian, featuring garbanzo beans and avocado. The garbanzo beans added a nice texture, contrasting the soft potato and avocado.

Ceviche Mixto sea bass, shrimp, octopus, scallops

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I always get the ceviche here – it’s one of the best I’ve had in the city. This is the first time I’ve seen a ‘mixed’ seafood one, so it was a must-try. Sea bass, octopus, shrimp and scallops were perfectly ‘cooked’ and paired with seaweed, popped corn, hominy. The generous chunks of fish are clearly the star, but it’s also an interesting study on textures as well. Excellent.

Vegetarian Ceviche

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This was a vegetarian rendition of the ceviche here. Interesting. It worked well, with the sweet, juicy tomatillos being a nice touch.

Oxtail Risotto braised oxtail, barley huancaina risotto

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This is one of my favorite dishes from past visits, and it did not disappoint here. The oxtail is so tender, rich and flavorful. I really liked the barley prepared risotto-style too. It soaks up some of the oxtail “gravy,” making for some really savory bites. The red onions were a good addition as well, adding some fresh crispness to the dish.

Arroz Con Pollo chicken breast, spring onions, salsa madre, sauteed rice

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Another good dish here with a nicely cooked chicken breast. It wasn’t overly moist and juicy, but good. The rice was a star – really flavorful, and cooked to a tender chew. Again, some fresh onions topped off these bites.

Quinotto wild mushroom, quinoa grain risotto, crema fraiche

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Here we had a sort of risotto using quinoa. The mushroom flavor was evident, while the creme fraiche aided in getting a creamy finish to this dish. Very comfortable.

Passion Fruit Creme Brulee

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A solid creme brulee. Smooth custard with a tropical feel to it from the passion fruit.

This was a very good meal here at Mo-Chica. I’ve been four or five times now, and for the most part, it’s been consistently strong. With entrees in the $10-$13 range, this really can’t be beat. It’s a good chance to try something new; given the fact that Peru is a little bit of a melting pot of cultures, I think one might find that many of the flavor profiles are quite familiar.

Mo-Chica – 12/10/10

3655 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90007

Executive Chef Ricardo Zarate has been one of LA’s rising star chefs in 2010, most notably for frequently being in the kitchen at the recently-closed Test Kitchen. Zarate has developed quite a following and now has a couple of restaurants in the works; however, Mo-Chica’s humble Peruvian fare is what first caught the public’s eye.

I’ve been to Mo-Chica a couple of times before, but a BlackboardEats promotion lured me in for another visit. The restaurant’s prices are very reasonable to begin with (entrees are around $10-12); with the 30%-off promotion it was a fantastic deal.

Ceviche Del Dia market fish, seaweed, Peruvian corn, leche de tigre

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Mo-Chica has one of the most raved-about ceviches in the city and it’s easy to see why. The sea bass was really tender and meaty, and it was bathed in vibrant, fresh citrus flavors. The popped corn (like corn nuts) was an excellent accompaniment, adding some welcome texture to the dish.

Papa Ala Huancaina roasted potatoes, boiled egg, huancaina sauce

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This is a sort of Peruvian potato salad. I’m really not a fan of potato salad, so this wasn’t my favorite dish. The potatoes were tender, but I felt the huancaina sauce was rather rich and overwhelming.

Aji De Gallina shredded chicken, walnuts, aji amarillo bread sauce

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I hadn’t ordered this dish on previous visits, but I recently saw Giada De Laurentiis talk about it on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. I figured I might as well give it a shot. This dish is similar to a sort of chicken a la king, though this sauce is thickened with bread. I didn’t really care for this dish – I don’t really like my meat in thick sauces. I liked the walnuts for the textural element, but I just found the sauce to be rather rich without a ton of flavor. I don’t think this was necessarily a poor rendition of this dish; moreso that it’s not within my personal preference.

Lomo Saltado beef filet, salsa criolla, fried potatoes, red onions

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Mo-Chica has one of the stronger renditions of this dish that I’ve had. The beef was extremely tender, and the onions, tomatoes and salsa added a lot of flavor. It was very balanced – often I find the onions or sauce to overwhelm the tenderloin, which isn’t the most flavorful cut. The fries were a little limp for me though – I would’ve preferred them to be crispier.

Arroz Con Marisco mixed seafood, shrimp, mussels, salsa madre, sauteed rice

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I really love one-pot rice dishes where the rice cooks with the meat and seasonings (think paella or jambalaya). This was no exception, as the rice had a great flavor with a little bit of heat. Unfortunately, I found most of the seafood to be overcooked.

Menu Del Dia dish of the day – sea bass with carapulcra (dried potato)

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This was the daily special. The sea bass was prepared perfectly – moist with a crispy skin, and I thought the potatoes, in a tomato-based gravy, were a nice accompaniment.

This was a meal of up-and-downs. I think a couple of dishes were outside of my comfort zone a bit, but there were also a couple of missteps (limp fries and overcooked seafood). My past meals here have been stronger efforts, and the dishes I’ve had from Zarate at Test Kitchen have been superb. This leads me to wonder if maybe the Mo-Chica kitchen has suffered a little while Zarate is pursuing other opportunities.

Mo-Chica will be moving downtown in the new year. I hope this will revitalize the restaurant as it could easily become a fixture in my downtown lunch rotation (not to mention be a legitimate dinner option).

Mo Chica – 4/20/10

Mo Chica
3655 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90007

Mo Chica is one of those restaurants that I wonder ‘if I had not heard anything about this place and walked in, how surprised would I be at this food?’ Located in kind of a grungy marketplace food court just east of USC, it’s not exactly a place you’d just stumble into. However, there’s been a lot of buzz around this place ever since it opened, and for good reason. Mo Chica offers a pretty great ceviche, as well as homey, comfortable Latin dishes such as lomo saltado, arroz con pollo, and a braised lamb shank – for very reasonable prices.

Ceviche of the day – sea bass

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I like the large chunks of fish – they lend a nice  meaty chew. Definitely a very fresh fish, and not overcooked at all. The popped corn gave a really nice crunchy texture to go along with the fish.

Arroz con Mariscos

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I’m a big fan of dishes where the meat/fish is cooked along with rice in a flavorful sauce. Paella and jambalaya are classic examples. Here we have a paella-like dish with shrimp, clams, mussels and squid. The shrimp and squid were cooked well, but the clams and mussels were a bit overcooked. The tomato-heavy sauce was a bit one-note, I thought.

Arroz con Pollo – organic chicken breast, salsa Madre, sauteed rice with cilantro sauce

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A pan fried chicken breast + drumette served over rice. Often times when I have this dish, the chicken is cooked with the rice, which I like better. However, the rice (here in a cilantro sauce) had lots of good flavor. The chicken was flavorful too, but not too moist. I don’t really think it was overcooked, just not that impressive.

Seco de Cordero – lamb shank. cilantro beer stew, Peruvian canary beans, salsa criolla

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The lamb here was cooked pretty well, falling off the bone. It had a nice chew to it, but was somewhat gamey…just a little too much for my liking. However, still a very solid dish with a very flavorful stew/sauce.

Oxtail risotto

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The dish of the day was an oxtail risotto. The oxtail was very good, braised in a rich sauce until fork-tender. Really good flavor. The barley risotto was pretty cheesy, and had a nice al dente texture. Good mix of flavors and textures – my favorite dish of the night.

Mo Chica is a solid bet. Not all of the dishes were complete hits, but none were bad, either. For $11-13 per entree, it’s hard to beat. The ceviches are a must, and ordering a few entrees to split will likely leave you satisfied.