Tasting menus are typically associated fine dining (read wallet busting) establishments. Take for example, foodie extraodinaire kevinEat’s 22 course tasting menu at Providence or his 100th time at Ursawa, the most expensive restaurant in California (we know you’ve been there only 5x, but we’ll know you’ll get there). While we would love to be in Kevin’s shoes and indulge at Providence or Ursawa someday, we’ll probably need a government bailout afterwards. So in order to spare tax payer money, 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.
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.
Mo-Chica Peruvian Restaurant
In Mercado La Paloma
3655 S. Grand Ave., L.A.