The forgotten beauty of Los Angeles is that you are constantly a foreigner. Few people are truly from here. Even those born here must have came from somewhere. And most of them are from places you haven’t been or might never be from. So the businesses they occupy, the world they exist in, are tinged by their varietals, preferences, and their worlds. You might walk into a party serving arepas, drink Costières de Nîmes AOC at the Bowl, or step into a burger bar serving De Proef’s Gageleer Sweet Gale Ale. This is true in many other parts of the world, of course. But LA embraces the Far East and Southern countries like none other, something you only miss upon time away. Whenever I leave town, I become a foreigner somewhere else, lacking the comfort of unfamiliarity.
It’s tough to argue against what most people have already said about the new Mo-Chica. A revamped, modernist space on one of Downtown’s most busy evening walks, the shift of location over thirty blocks north has provided a new platform for Ricardo Zarate’s ascent as a chef. We all loved Picca from the moment we walked in, the anticucho focused sequel to the original Mo-Chica, from the cocktails to the deserts. Mo-Chica got a facelift, would the menu do the same?
In a near trademark move, anything from the simplest to the most ornate dishes from Peru get what seems to be a trademark dressing and stripping down. A tiger always wears its stripes and in this case the undertones of Japanese cuisine come through both in the dishes and in the style. Spicy tuna, enoki/shittake mushrooms, grilled baby octopus make appearances, but then again, these are as indicative of Peruvian cuisine as they are of Zarate’s own upbringing and appreciation for their flavors.
Like most places south of the border, you might have to eat some meat or cuts thereof that you wouldn’t normally chow down on. If you prefer to wear your alpaca as opposed to eating it, well, you can steer clear if you want. The Quinotto can take you somewhere else. Parsley infused oil floats on the sides, the mushrooms rest on the quinoa, and as a vegetarian option (or a side bar from all the fish and meat) you couldn’t do much better. And if the closest to the digestive track you can get is bacon you can stick to the lomo saltado, a meat and potatoes dressed up as filet mignon and thick-cut fries.
But if you got it in you, dig for it and dig deep. The Cau Cau was one of my favorite dishes, a stew filled with soft, teeth-free pieces of tripe. Dressed with chimichurri flavors that had light hints of mint and a broth that demanded more bread, tripe sometimes can’t be more enjoyable. An Estofado de Alpaca (alpaca stew) with a fried egg can’t be much better in this Northern Continent. The Ceviche Carretillero uses both popped (not pop) corn and hominy to create a large textural base for the soft seabass. It can be difficult to get the corn/hominy/ceviche triumverate on a single fork but it’s worth the effort and the fun.
The cocktails also stick in their roots. Rum, pisco, or mescal based cocktails are generally mixed with citrus and bitters. This leads to blends like the Oaxacalifornia Love, a mescal AND tequila based drink, and a variety of infused pisco shots. Unlike Picca, which has the lovely force of charred proteins, tender ceviches, and strong cocktails, the grander variety of cuisine here pairs a bit better with wine. Something to consider when you decide on a Malbec or what have you.
The Picarones, one of my favorite things at the LA Street Food Fest, make their appearance here as an ideal ending desert. The sweet potato bignet, spiced with cloves, star anise, retains a light air texture. Drizzled in chanchaca (read: honey based) sauce, I could be pressed into ordering this several times with a cup of coffee.
Then again I could be pressed into trying most of the dishes here several times. Only several places are like that in the city, but Mo-Chica is one of them, a necessary escaparte de cultura peruana in Downtown.