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Jun 16, 2009 07:55 PM

Review: Mo-Chica Peruvian, Is J. Gold ever wrong?! w/ PIX

I got my first taste of peruvian cuisine in NYC and now in Los Angeles I'm hungry for more. Aside from a variety of civiches and lomo saltado and aji sauces, my palate for Peruvian was still quite naive--and so based on LA Weekly's critic Jonathan Gold's recommendation, we jumped at the first opportunity to try Mo-Chica, a new Peruvian restaurant in the Mercado La Poloma.

There is no signage to Mo-Chica, but the Mercado unmistakable, lined with banana plants and large inviting glass doors. Very small and cozy compared to Grand Central Market, it houses about 4 other eateries and a few gift stalls. But don't let the idea of eating in the food court style of the mercado disuade you. It's actually quite clean and quiet during the dinner hours that we were there. There's plenty of street parking and the mercado has a decent sized lot.

On to the food. We met the chef and co owner and Lima native, Ricardo Zarate on one of our visits and he couldn't have been more welcoming. A veteran chef of numerous high end Japanese restuarants, he knows his way around seafood and Peruvian cuisine. He goes to the fish market daily to obtain fish for his ceviche del dia as well as menu del dia. The special one night was scallop ceviche with uni ($10). This was amazingly fresh--the sweet scallops and richness of the uni was an out of this world combination we've never had before in ceviche. The ceviche of the day ($5) varies. One day we had tuna and another was yellow tail. Both were extremely fresh and refreshing with perfect crisp citrus flavors.

Lomo saltado ($13) is beautifully presented with crisp log like fries on top of tender fillet of beef. The sweet onions and tomatoes were flavorful and a sauce was so good you want to dredge those fries in and lick it up.

We were reluctant to get the Causa (potato salad-$4) because it's just a potato salad right? Wrong. We were so glad we did. Subtly sweet mashed yellow potatoes atop a crab salad mixture with a slightly spicy aji sauce...delicious! We could have easily eaten two of these.

The Arroz con Marisco and Arroz con Pollo were similar in that both contained sauteed rice and topped with salsa madre sauces. The Arroz con Marisco is similar to paella but without the saffron and had clams, shrimp, squid and mussels. The chicken was very flavorful and tender but though perhaps more of it would have been nice--or maybe it was so good we wanted more? Drinks ($2) include a great passion fruit juice, barley tea with ginger and herbs, and chicha morada (purple corn tea). A trio of sauces: huacaina and rocoto (aji sauces) and huacatay (peruvian black mint) comes with each dish along with a small toasted crostini.

The seco de cordero (lamb shank $13) was fall of the bone tender and oh so good. Slightly gamey flavor it went well a stew of canario beans, salsa criolla, and cilantro beer sauce. We just wanted more bread to soak up all that goodness. The special one night was tallarin saltodo (spaghetti pasta) with crisp pan fried seabass. Our first bite told us that this was not your typical pasta sauce! It was a very mild sweet red aji sauce! A fantastic dish and aji sauce that I'm fervantly trying to find a recipe for...

You would never expect this type of fine ingredients with such lovely execution and presentation at these prices at a mercado food court--and that's the beauty of this great find by Jonathan Gold. The service with the ladies serving you are friendly and courteous--and no, you do not have to bust your own tables. When something we eat inspires us to find recipes and explore more of Peruvian cuisine and culture, we know this will be a place we'll enjoy again.

for full photos:

Mo-Chica Peruvian Restaurant
In Mercado La Paloma
3655 S. Grand Ave., L.A.
(213) 747-2141
11 am- 10 pm M-Sat.

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  1. Culinarily speaking, Peru's star is on the rise in L.A. these days, it seems...

    1 Reply
    1. re: J.L.

      Agreed but not just in LA..I remember reading an article saying it will be the top cuisine in 10 yrs...several years ago and Lima was supposedly named culinary capital of the Americas.

    2. Thanks for the report! I'll head straight here after my next trip to USC. If the place does well, maybe they'll be able to branch out like Chichen Itza.

      5 Replies
      1. re: bluemonster

        fyi: actually, chichen itza has a stall in that mercado.

        1. re: hppzz

          I know--that's why I brought it up!

          1. re: bluemonster

            the owner said he will start to do deliver as soon as the students come back..but let's hope they do have more branchs.

            1. re: hppzz

              Good news indeed. I saw this place when it was putting in signs and just had some agua frescas. I think it replaced a philly cheesesteak place that looked decent but was only there for a few weeks?

              Is it really open that late? I hope so since all the other places (Except Thai food) close around 6

              1. re: trojandude

                yup...the original review by jonathon gold said closes at 6pm. but it's definitely to 10 pm now. there are new signs posted at the mercado with this change.

      2. Peruvian food is getting more attention.

        I have reservations in Aug for Gaston Acudio's (sp?) restaurant La Mar which is supposedly a ceviche heavan.

        I will try out Mo -Chica.

        Thanks for the review. Very well done!

        1. I went here recently with two of my friends who are Peruvian. We found Mochica pretty friggin' awesome. Very reasonable prices. Seabass ceviche was excellent, as was the uni ceviche. The crab causa was not. Either the crab was not fresh, or it was not the best quality, like frozen blue crab or something, because it just tasted too strongly and didn't have that sparkling character about it. I can't remember the name of it, but there's a side dish of potatoes in a thick aji amarillo sauce that was perfect. 10/10. They declared the lomo saltado the best they'd had, including anywhere in Lima. I thought it was damn tasty. I really enjoyed the aji amarilla de gallina, but they did not. They thought it was too thick and dull tasting. I've had their mom's and I can see why they didn't like it. Hers is more of a stew and much spicier. All of the accompanying sauces and rice were cooked and seasoned perfectly. Despite some very minor qualms, we had an excellent meal here, definitely the best Peruvian I've had in L.A.

          6 Replies
            1. re: fooddude37

              thanks for the report. the 5 of us there really enjoyed the causa...maybe it was a bad batch? in regards to the ceviches, we asked him at one of our meals and he has strict standards and very traditional in regards to proper temperature and preparation of the leche de tigre (tiger's milk). Also, unlike most peruvian places that uses jalepeno (much cheaper and widely available) in their "green" aji sauce, he uses fresh aji amarillo (pervuian yellow chillis) which has a different taste and much more traditional.

              1. re: hppzz

                I don't suppose you know where he gets the fresh aji amarillo? I agree that the flavor of jalapeno doesn't give the same taste as in Peru.

                1. re: mlgb

                  I actually asked him that too. He said that he get's it from a special distributor but he didn't state which (probably supplies to restaurants and chefs). Jalepeno Aji sauce tastes good too mind you, but I was however able to find canned/jarred aji amarillo at Jon's and Food 4 Less by Amazona's brand recently and was able to make some pretty good aji amarrillo from it. here's a sneak peak of the photo since I haven't posted this recipe on my blog yet...


                  1. re: hppzz

                    I asked at a restaurant near me in Long Beach, they use frozen aji amarillo that they order from Amazonas. She sold me a bag!

                    I asked if she every grew it or came across it fresh in LA and she said it doesn't taste the same. I may try to sprout some seeds as an experiment. I think pepper seeds are pretty tough.

                    The name of the place is Charo's. (And no, not Charo chicken). I had some ceviche mixto, it was quite good as far as the ceviche, minor points deducted for being stingy with the cancha and criollo onions, and using plain potatoes! But major points added for using the aji amarillo and freshness.

                    Charo's Peruvian Cuisine
                    7563 Carson Blvd, Long Beach, CA 90808

                    1. re: mlgb

                      That's great! I actually just made another batch of aji amarillo sauce for some more causa and used some left over as a steak sauce....delicious! If you're still looking for a recipe of aji sauce... here's my version



            2. Thanks for sharing! What a great review.