Review formated with pictures here: http://www.twohungrypandas.com/2009/1...
After hearing the raves Mo-Chica was getting around the foodie community (Jonathan's Gold Essential 99, Ravenous Couple, Gastronomy, kevinEats), we had high expectations for this contemporary Peruvian eatery.
Unexpectedly located across from USC in the Mercado La Paloma marketplace, a development of the Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, the eatery was bright and festive even though the surrounding storefronts were closed when we arrived for dinner. A live band put us in the mood to dance while the big chalk board menu and tiled seats reminded us of a brasserie.
Every month, Chef Ricardo Zarate comes out with a new tasting menu. To really get a grasp of the variety of foods Mo-Chica has to offer, we decided to go for November's six-course tasting menu ($35 regular price; $30 if reservations were made).
We started off with drinks. No alcohol is served, but they do offer three specialty drinks, the Cebada ($2) or barley tea, the Maracuya ($2) or passion-fruit tea, and the Chicha Morada ($2), or purple corn tea. We had the latter two drinks. Both were not too sweet, with the Maracuya having a slight passion fruit blast and the Chica Morada a pineapple tinge. One huge complaint (a pet peeve of Evelina's) is that both drinks did not have enough ice and were not cold enough. Perhaps the drinks would've been more refreshing and seconds rounds would've been in order if it was properly chilled.
Our taste buds did awaken, though, with the Cauliflower Soup, an unexpectedly multi-flavored creamy soup. The waitress told us to "drink" the soup, implying that no utensils will be given, so our first taste consisted of the feta cheese dressing, a mildly sour complement to the cauliflower. Slurping further, we caught bits of the smokey and crispy pancetta.
The Spicy Rock Shrimp Causa, a popular Peruvian potato and seafood dish, arrived next and we almost thought we were at some fancy, expensive restaurant in West L.A. As you can see from the picture, Chef Zarate, who is also executive chef of Wabi-Sabi in Venice, pays attention to detail and presentation.
According to the Los Angeles Magazine review, most of Chef Zarate's training and experience is in Japanese cuisine, having worked under Tetsuya Wakuda, an esteemed chef from Sydney before coming to Los Angeles. The Crispy Squid and Sea Bass Ceviche is a clear example of Chef Zarate's expertise in fish. The high quality cubes of sea bass is soft and citrus-y. Combined with the fried squid, it's as if the we're eating fried sea bass.
After the ceviche, we're disappointed to report that the latter half of the tasting menu was underwhelming:
The Alaskan Halibut with Spicy Seafood and Peruvian Chowder Sauce, our first entree of the night, was unflavorful, especially in comparison to the ceviche and causa. The halibut was also on the dry side.
The Grilled Chicken with Hot Ceviche Sauce and Yucca Frita made our seemingly extravagant dinner feel cheap. Chicken, especially chicken breast, is rarely appealing and chicken strips don't exactly translate to classy. The dish was also way too spicy.
Having had such a great initial impression of Mo-Chica, we hoped dessert, a Kiwicha Pudding, would save the dinner. At last, all we can say is the pudding, which also included walnuts and purple corn pudding was good, but not enough to make up for the halibut and chicken.
Overall, the tasting menu revealed Mo-Chica's strength, raw and lightly fried seafood. With that said, we definitely plan to make another trip to Mo-Chica in the near future to have a full serving of the highlights ($4-$13).
3655 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90007