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Sep 5, 2009 09:25 AM

Mo Chica Tasting Menu: SUPERB-Best tasting for the price in town (w/ PIX)

We recently enjoyed a spectacular 4 course tasting at Mo Chica Peruvian Restaurant for a recession friendly $25! Actually it was an even better deal since we actually got 5 courses.

We already proclaimed our love for Mo Chica and Ricardo Zarate's refined yet affordable cuisine several months ago when it first opened and it most recently was listed in Jonathon Golds Essential 99 restaurants of LA. So congrats and lets get on to the tasting menu shall we?

Toasted corn nuts were offered as a snack in a cute and whimsical paper boat origami. Is this another clever fusion of Japanese and Peruvian influence that is inherent in Zarate's cooking? We think so, and quickly asked for several more origami boatloads of corn nuts.

The first course, a seaweed soup, wasn't listed on the menu. Not your typical amuse to cleanse the palate, but it certainly heightened it as it was flavorful and slightly briny seaweed in a fish broth. It was very tasty and we drank it miso soup style.

The first course was causa, a classic Peruvian potato salad. We loved his original version so much, we recreated had to our own crab and potato causa. This time he gave it a twist and used red beets and blue fin tuna which had a tasty mayonnaise like sauce, almost like spicy tuna, but without the spice. Instead of the black mint sauce, it was topped with a sour cream. One of our diners dislikes beets, but loved the dish so that says a lot for the dish.

Then came the flat scallop and seabass ceviche with cod roe presented in a huge seashell floating on a bed of salt. Presentation-wise, it was the winner of the night. And the taste truly did match the winning presentation as it was a great combination of fresh sweet scallops and seabass with crisp and perfectly marinated citrus and slight saltiness of roe.

The next course was a seafood cau cau wth barracuda, chickpeas, oyster mushrooms, and panamito beans. From what we could research, cau cau is one type of creole style of cooking found in Peru. The yellow color of the sauce comes from turmeric and yellow aji amarillo. The barracuda filet was perfected seasoned and seared. The skin was crispy and we could have eatened the skin only and be happy. The sauce as well as the chickpeas and oysters was a warm and comforting contrast to the crispy barracuda.

Progressing nicely from surf to turf as well as in richness of each dish, the next course was braised oxtail with confit potatoes, maize, and pickled carrots. The oxtail was fall of the bone tendor and had great beef flavor. The braising sauce was also delicious and we were hoping to get some bread to dip in the sauce, but they offered a bowl of steaming rice and that worked out just as well, if not better.

For dessert, we had several choices. The top dessert, suspiro a la limena, is a classic Peruvian dessert made almost made from condensed milk and egg with a toasted flowery scented merengue. The second choice was an algarobina mouse topped with some cream. The algarobina is a syrup from from the fruit of the algarobina tree common in Peru. We all thought of pumpkin pie, as we ate this, but more complex and rich in flavor.

Overall, it was the best tasting menu for the price we paid--matched only by 5 course tasting at the French Culinary Institute restaurant L'Ecole in NYC for $40. Yes, we're bargain hunters and proud of it. It was a great progression of refreshing and light seafood dishes to the rich meat dish crisscrossing the gamut of flavors of Peru and it's unique ethnic influences.

The service was good as usual, and the pacing of the dishes also good--plus, they hired live music for the event! The only complaint is that Mo-Chica does not offer this every day. Future tastings will be on Thursdays and we'll update this post when the next time it's available.

Full photos after the jump:

Mo-Chica Peruvian Restaurant
In Mercado La Paloma
3655 S. Grand Ave., L.A.
(213) 747-2141

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  1. Mo-Chica is indeed pretty amazing. Great service for such a casual spot, too. Nice writeup.

    1. While not a tasting menu, per se, this review covers nearly every item on the menu, so in essence it was a tasting menu, and a good one too!

      3 Replies
      1. re: carter

        you’re right–that special ceviche in the seashell was probably over priced and only $10 less then the actual tasting menu! But sometimes he has the scallop and uni ceviche for $10, and that we would gladly pay for. Hopefully that will be on the next tasting menu

        1. re: hppzz

          I emailed them about the "menu" in the prix fixe, but received a nebulous answer which casted huge doubts in my mind.

          Comparing this to a formal dining resto is completely unfair. We're all keenly aware of Mo-Chica's environs, or lack there of. Jean-George has a $28 2 course lunch menu, which, in my mind, still seems like a killer bargain,.

          Without knowing the exact portion control (the normal daily ceviche seems quite stingy), I remain doubtful, but it sure seems interesting.

          1. re: TonyC

            hi tonyC,

            you're absolutely right-- it's not apples to apples comparing mo chica to other finer establishments such as providence or urasawa and we weren't comparing those together. We only mentioned those because we wanted to make the point that you typically only associate tasting menus with finer dining establishments and not in a mercado or at your typical LA peruvian joints (all due respects to Chef Gaston and his fine Peruvian empire)--which makes it all the more interesting, especially for $25--hence we think for the price, it's the best tasting menu. Certainly we weren't trying to say it's the best around and of course there are other great bargains like you mentioned.

            The beet causa was smaller then their normal sized causa and the ceviche portion is not generous so we were afraid we might still be hungry. However, the cau cau barracuda and oxtail were entree size, and both richer, the oxtail especially so. We all left stuffed.

            We can't speak to his email to you, but we have emailed him since we made two of his dishes before--and without trying to be disparaging....English is not his first language, but he was nice enough to share his recipes.

      2. update: The next tasting is Thursday sept 24th by reservations only. This time however, it's going to be 6 courses for $35. Live music. Not sure of the menu at this time.