I have had dinner twice in the last couple of months at Mochica, a relatively new modern Peruvian in SOMA. I have really enjoyed both my meals at this restaurant, and am starting to think I prefer it to Limon, which has been my favorite modern Peruvian restaurant in San Francisco up until now.
The first dinner was in late July, right before Mochica got it's liquor license, so we brought our own wine. There were four of us, and we shared a few appetizers, ceviches and entrees. For appetizers, the standout was the Anticuchos. Traditional Peruvian anticuchos are skewers of beef heart served with some dipping sauces, but Mochica also offers regular beef, chicken or fish versions. We ended up with the fish anticuchos, which were two wonderful skewers of a white fish (I didn't ask what exact fish it was), seasoned and cooked just perfectly so the fish was very moist and tender. We also had some Yuca frita and Papa a la Huancaina (Classic Peruvian potates: Yukon gold potato slices with creamy aji amarillo cheese sauce, hard boiled egg and olives), both of which were very good as well.
For ceviches, we had one Ceviche mixto, the standard Peruvian ceviche with Halibut, prawns, squid and some shellfish, served with yam and both toasted and boiled Peruvian corn kernels. We also had a Ceviche de pescado, which is the same ceviche but with just halibut. The ceviche mixto was refreshing and delicious, quite reminiscent of Limon's Ceviche Limon, but the ceviche de pescado was too salty for our taste.
For main courses, we shared an order of Aji de Gallina (Shredded chicken cooked in a creamy aji amarillo sauce with hard boiled egg and toasted nuts) and Lomo Saltado, the classical Peruvian dish that Mochica describes as Sautéed marinated New York strip slices with red onions and tomatoes, served with French fries and rice. The Aji de Gallina was delicously rich and creamy, it felt very homey. The Lomo Saltado was wonderful, it clearly was a match for Limon's version (which is the best I had had until then). The meat was tender and cooked just right, the onions, tomatoes and french fries had picked up the flavor from the meat juices they were sauteed in, without being overdone to the point where the fries get all soggy.
We also shared a couple of desserts which were competent, but not particularly memorable. Overall, it was a very enjoyable meal, and the total for the food (and no wine) including tax and a generous tip was around $30 per person.
The second dinner I had there was for a party of 8 on a Saturday night a week ago. They had received their liquor license, so they are now charging $10 per bottle corkage. The wine list is very reasonably priced (most bottles are under $30), but it's quite small and not very interesting. This is certainly the one area where Mochica trails Limon quite a bit, but the low corkage fee makes up for it somewhat. We ended up bringing two bottles and ordering one from the wine list.
We ordered Anticuchos this time also. It turns out that the Anticuchos come with two skewers, and it's possible to order a combination of two different meats in one order. We had one fish skewer, which was just as good as the first time, and one more traditional beef heart skewer. The beef heart was even better than the fish. The meat was somewhat chewy, but not overly so, and was marinated and grilled perfectly. Definitely a winner.
We also had a tomato salad (good but not outstanding), yucca frita , ceviche mixta (both just as good as the previous time) and ceviche Mochica. The ceviche Mochica was the revelation. It was a halibut ceviche served three ways: a green cilantro version, a red rocoto pepper one, and a aji amarillo (yellow peppers) one. This might just be the best halibut ceviche I've ever had, the fish was fresh and marinated just long enough to pick up all the flavors without becoming rubbery. Each of the three versions had its own subtle differences. And at $14 for a substantial plate, it was quite a value.
For main courses, we had Aji de Gallina and the Lomo Saltado. The Aji de Gallina was as good as the first time, but the meat in the Lomo Saltado was a bit overcooked, which made it a little tough and chewy. We also had Pescado a lo Macho, which is pan seared halibut topped with braised shellfish (mostly squid and shrimp), and Seco de Cordero, which is braised lamb served with canario beans and rice. The Pescado was quite good, but I am not personally a fan of preparations that serve fish topped with seafood, as I find it takes away from the flavor of the fish. The lamb in the Seco de Cordero was braised beautifully, but I found it a bit too salty for my taste.
We shared some desserts, though again none were particularly memorable. I do remember the Platano a la LLama (bananas flamed with Pisco, served with ice cream), as one of the waiters told me when he brought it over that they would soon be serving Pisco Sours from the bar. Pisco Sour is a traditional Peruvian/Chilean cocktail made with Pisco (a brandy distilled from white muscat grapes), lime juice, sugar and egg whites.
With corkage for two bottles, one bottle of wine from the list at $28 and a glass of dessert wine, the total for the meal with tax and the included 18% tip came out to just $30 per person.
Overall, I think Mochica offers very good value and serves wonderful food, and it is a really good addition to the San Francisco dining scene. It also does not seem too popular yet, so it's relatively easy to secure a dinner reservation at the last minute. Also, their menu is quite extensive (see website below), so it's definitely possible to eat several dinners there without ever ordering the same dishes.
937 Harrison St
San Francisco, CA