Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sotto (Los Angeles, CA) [2]

Sotto Restaurant
9575 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90035
Sun 04/21/2013, 06:00p-08:50p

When it opened two years ago, Steve Samson and Zach Pollack's Sotto made quite a splash on the Italian scene here in LA, offering up a chef-driven restaurant dedicated to the bounties of Southern Italian cooking. Personally, I was rather smitten by this keenly regional approach to the cuisine, and figured that it was a time for a revisit.

Sotto Menu Sotto Captain's List Sotto Wine List
Sotto's menu remains firmed rooted in Southern Italian traditions, and features a line-up of standbys (e.g. the octopus and mackerel) joined by a rotating selection of new creations. To drink, you can't go wrong with the cocktails here, while the wine list--curated by Wine Director Jeremy Parzen and Wine Captain Rory Harrington--features a smart selection of eclectic, reasonably-prices vinos from Italy and California. Click for larger versions.

Housemade bread Housemade bread
Housemade bread [$9.00] | burrata
Housemade bread [$9.00] | coppa di testa
Housemade bread [$7.00] | lardo pestato
Bread is baked in-house using residual heat from the restaurant's vaunted pizza oven, and arrived toasty, smoky, and charred. It was tasty alone, but you have to try the various toppings, the most famous of which is the lardo pestato, affectionately known as pork butter. The spread was as satisfying as it sounds, but the burrata was on point as well, and the coppa di testa was marvelous: slick, spicy, fatty, and just brimming with pork-y sapor.

Chickpea panelle
Chickpea panelle [$6.00] | lemon, Ragusano
Next up was Sotto's signature snack of Sicilian chickpea fritters. They were fun little bites, crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, loaded with a straightforward savory character, amped up by the salty Ragusano, and topped off by a hit of lemon-y tang.

La Camorra Fly By Night Return of the Daq (OMG!)
La Camorra [$12.00] | Rittenhouse rye whiskey, Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, Campari, Carpano Antica, orange twist
Fly By Night [$12.00] | Sheep Dip Scotch, Saler's Gentian liqueur, King's Ginger, Angostura and Peychaud's bitters, grapefruit essence
Return of the Daq (OMG!) [$12.00] | Smith and Cross rum, Zucca rabarbaro, fresh lime juice, Maraska maraschino, fragola
Sotto's cocktail program--the work of Julian Cox and Nick Meyer these days--has always been worthy of praise, so naturally we had to have a few to begin. Based on our server's recommendation, I went with the La Camorra and wasn't disappointed. It was a stout concoction, classic in essence with a great balance of boozy, bitter, and sweet-aromatic flavors perked up with just a bit of citrus-y flair. The Fly By Night was a success as well, with a slight smokiness and a lovely mix of ginger and grapefruit nuances. My favorite of the bunch was the Return of the Daq (OMG!), a riff on the daiquiri that served up a perfect balance of sugary and astringent flavors over a base of Smith & Cross.

Grilled pork meatballs
Grilled pork meatballs [$11.00] | snap peas, pecorino, bitter greens
I normally shy away from ordering meatballs, often finding them uninspired, but my god, these were the best I've ever had. They came out utterly juicy and brimming with piggy goodness, offset by just a whisper of char. The meatballs were fantastic alone, but I appreciated the tempering effect of the greenery here as well. You need to get this.

Pittule Pugliese
Pittule Pugliese [$6.00] | vincotto, ricotta
Next up were globules of fried dough--dense, filling nuggets with a savory yet slightly sweet taste to 'em that paired well with the sweet vincotto (grape must condiment) and creamy-cool ricotta.

Tomato-braised octopus ai ferri
Tomato-braised octopus ai ferri [$16.00] | chickpeas, preserved lemon, chard, bottarga
Between this and the version at Bestia, I gotta say that the Italians have got a way with polpo. It was flawlessly cooked, coming out tender, yet still with a bit of bite and a wonderfully crisp crust, redolent of smoky char notes. The bottarga, meanwhile, served to amplify the natural brine of the octopus, and I loved the moderating effect and textural play of the garbanzos as well. A must-try.

Casarecce [$16.00] | braised lamb ragu, egg, pecorino
Our first pasta was of the rolled variety. The casarecce arrived properly firm to the bite, and worked flawlessly against the hearty, meaty ragu, while the egg and cheese added further lusciousness to the dish. Hard not to enjoy this one.

Struzziero 2011 Greco di Tufo
We transitioned from cocktails to wine, the first of which was the Struzziero 2011 Greco di Tufo [$56] from Campania. I quite liked this one, with its marked stonefruit flavors on the tongue joined by dry, herb-y notes that made for a very balanced wine.

Toasted grain fusilli corti
Toasted grain fusilli corti [$19.00] | Devil's Gulch rabbit ragu bianco, porcini, thyme
"Short" fusilli are a treat from Calabria and showed off a delightfully hearty, nutty character that I adored. The pasta was a perfect match to soak up the comfy, cozy flavors of the rabbit sauce, which I found simply delicious, with a hit of earthiness from the porcini and a great aromatic component from the thyme.

Spaghetti [$19.00] | spicy octopus ragu, black kale, burrata, breadcrumbs
Spaghetti was well-executed as well. The spicy ragu worked wonders here, beautifully countered by the astringency of the kale while the burrata added a palpable luxuriousness to the dish.

Guanciale [$17.00] | house-cured pork cheek, ricotta, scallions, fennel pollen
Pizza is naturally a must-order here, and the guanciale variety is one of the more popular selections available. For me it starts with the crust, properly bitter and leopard-spotted, with a blend of crisp and fluffy textures. To that, the pork cheek imparted a focused saltiness to the pizza that paired swimmingly with the lush chunks of ricotta sprinkled on top, all while the fennel and scallions offered up a bit of the levity to the mix.

Tor de Colle 2007 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
To go with the heavier courses, we opted for a bottle of the Tor de Colle 2007 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo [$58]. This one was quite pleasing as well, dry on the palate, with a tannic quality to it and a marked berry fruit character joined by a peppery spice. It stood up nicely to the food.

Whole grilled orata
Whole grilled orata [$29.00] | currant and artichoke acquasale, olive-pistachio vinaigrette
Gilt head bream was masterfully presented: tender and moist, with a particularly savory skin and charming brininess to it that melded surprisingly well with the tangy acquasale.

Crispy pork belly porcetto
Crispy pork belly porcetto [$24.00] | Chino Farms pumpkin mostarda
In sandwich form, the porcetto is perhaps Sotto's signature item at the moment, available during lunch only. Less well known, though, is this version of the delicacy, served only on Sundays we're told. It's similar to its better known cousin porchetta, but not quite the same, being traditionally made from a slow-roasted, salted and herbed suckling pig. Differences notwithstanding, the end result is a contrast of tender, fatty, immensely flavorful flesh and wonderfully crunchy, salty skin that satisfies your basest cravings. A dab of mostarda added a hit of piquancy to the dish, and the greens a certain levity, but clearly, the pig was the hero here.

Sotto Dessert Menu
Time for dessert. There is no dedicated pastry chef here, so the sweet stuff comes from the two Chefs as well. Click for a larger version.

Olive oil cake
Olive oil cake [$7.00] | pine nut crema inglese, honey whipped cream, roasted grapes
The olive oil cake was pretty phenomenal, one of the tastiest I've had no doubt, with its slight savory character flowing beautifully into the sweetness of the pine nut crema and whipped cream, all while the grapes added an unabashedly sugary smack to the dessert. Really well balanced.

Cannoli Siciliani
Cannoli Siciliani [$7.00] | ricotta, orange marmalade, pistachios, chocolate
A Sicilian treat, cannoli comprise rolled tubes of fried pastry, stuffed here with a mixture of ricotta, pistachio, orange, and chocolate. It was a paradigmatic presentation of the dessert, with the crisp dough playing off of the orange-chocolate nuances beautifully, all while the ricotta served as subtly sweet base to the course.

Bittersweet chocolate crostata
Bittersweet chocolate crostata [$8.00] | hazelnuts, salted rosemary caramel
Our party closed out with Sotto's tart-like crostata. Here we're talking rich, lush, chocolate-y flavors joined by a savory, herby element from the rosemary caramel, all while the hazelnuts offered up a nutty crunch to the fray.

Sotto's going as strong as ever, with Pollack and Samson serving up some of the most unique, and delicious Italian cooking in the Southland. I love the duo's focus (or obsession, more appropriately) on the southern reaches of the country, which allows them the latitude to present to diners some of the region's lesser known delicacies, a blend of rustic and refined that makes me feel thankful that we have a place like this. Definitely a star in LA's Italian repertoire.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Trois Mec (Los Angeles, CA)

Trois Mec Restaurant
716 N Highland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038
Thu 04/18/2013, 07:00p-09:30p

Trois Mec Exterior

Given the fervor and fanfare that Ludovic Lefebvre has generated through his LudoBites pop-ups over the past several years, I think it's pretty safe to say that Trois Mec ("three guys") is likely the biggest LA opening of 2013. The restaurant represents a collaboration between Ludo, Jon Shook, and Vinny Dotolo, though from a practical standpoint, it's Ludo's restaurant, his food, his style. The Dudes are taking on more of a management/operations role, bringing over Animal's Ashley Ragovin to serve as GM, and also installing Operations/Beverage Director Helen Johannesen. In the kitchen, Ludo will be supported by Chef de Cuisine Doug Rankin, formerly of Chris Cosentino's PIGG at Umamicatessen (Ink and The Bazaar, too), not to mention eliminated The Taste contestant Renée Everett (she preps in the morning).

Now, this being a proper Ludo venture, things just wouldn't seem complete without reservation drama, and indeed, the process didn't go quite smoothly with the restaurant's new (and controversial) ticketing system, Next Table (as popularized by Next and Alinea in Chicago). Though I was able to register with no problem, I had difficulty actually logging in, and failed to secure a ticket. Judging from the stream of tweets from the @TroisMecLA account, I wasn't alone. Fortunately, a friend and longtime reader stepped in and included me on her reservation. Some way, somehow, things always tend to work out in the end, and for that, I'm grateful.

Trois Mec Interior
Trois Mec Interior
Trois Mec is situated inside the building once occupied by Raffallo's Pizza, which closed in the middle of last year. The interior's been completely gutted and rebuilt, and is now swathed in white marble, while mirrors give the illusion of a larger space. There are four tables against one wall, opposite an eight-seater kitchen counter, giving a total capacity of 26. A wine cellar built by Premier Cru sits in one corner. According to Ludo, the idea is to convey the experience of dining in a working kitchen, with every table being a kitchen table, in effect. Sharp-eyed readers may notice Jon Shook conversing with none other than Jimmy Kimmel in the second photo.

Trois Mec Menu Trois Mec Wine List Trois Mec Wine List
The Trois Mec menu comprises five courses (plus "snacks") at $97.13 per person (inclusive of 9.75% tax and 18% tip, on a base price of $75). A ticket entitles a diner to food only, while a wine pairing ($49) and other francocentric wines are available for an extra charge at the restaurant. Click for larger versions.

Mugwort beer and elderflower
elderflower and mugwort beer
We commenced with a palate opener comprising mugwort beer and elderflower, a fun way to start that showed off a refreshing sweetness with just the right amount of astringency.

Herb and flower tart
Herb and flower tart
2011 Rouletabulle, Eric Texier
Our first "snack" was an herb tart featuring fennel, little gem, and sorrel. It was essentially a one-bite salad, with the bright, bitter taste of the herbs transitioning beautifully to the richness of the buttery, savory crust, all while the dressing served to tie together and accentuate the dish. To pair with our snacks, we were poured a delightful sparkling Chasselas from the northern Rhône. This was described by Ragovin as a "naked poolside wine," and indeed, it was sweet and bubbly, an unabashedly gluggable vin that's perfect for summer sipping.

Buckwheat popcorn
Buckwheat popcorn
2011 Rouletabulle, Eric Texier
I could see the buckwheat becoming a mainstay snack here, and for good reason. The "popcorn" was undeniably satisfying, giving us a fantastic crunchiness and a lip-smacking, almost chicken-y savoriness. They really need to bag and sell this stuff.

Peas and asparagus with salmon roe
Peas and asparagus with salmon roe
2011 Rouletabulle, Eric Texier
I've got quite the pea fetish, but I'd never had a presentation quite like this before. The combo of peas and asparagus delivered a blast of bright, green, astringent, yet sweet flavors that were superbly complemented by the enveloping weight of the miso mayo. If that wasn't enough, we had pricks of saltiness from the salmon roe that served as an intriguing, yet effective accent piece here.

Chicken with sesame seed and mustard
Chicken with sesame seed and mustard
2011 Rouletabulle, Eric Texier
As we all know by this point, Ludo is comfortable around coq, and that was made very clear in this dish. The chicken arrived juicy and tender, with a rather profound flavor to it that perfectly married the nutty savoriness of those sesame seeds with the tanginess of mustard. I just wanted to keep eating.

Asparagus, brioche, egg yolk, yuzu, green alder
1: Asparagus, brioche, egg yolk, yuzu, green alder
2011 Jurancon Sec, Dm. Bru-Bache
With the snacks out of the way, it was now time for the meal proper to begin, and what a start! This just might be the best asparagus dish I've ever eaten. The spears were flawlessly prepared: bright and bitter, with a supple snap to them that I reveled in. The key to this, though, was to mix everything together. That way, you got a blast of sour, bitter, savory (love those brioche crumbles), and creamy that resulted in some fantastic flavor transitions and a great mix of textures as well, with the asparagus always remaining the star of the show. A smart, multifaceted course that paired swimmingly with the complex fruity-minerally notes of the Jurançon.

Carrot, bbq, orange, yogurt, avocado, watercress
2: Carrot, bbq, orange, yogurt, avocado, watercress
2011 Pinot Auxerrois, Maurice Schoech
You could smell the curry-esque aromas from a mile away on this one. Indeed, that spice permeated the dish, infusing the carrots with an in-your-face smack of flavor that coexisted with sweet and smoky nuances. The end result was a mélange of bold, lusty elements that made this one of the most intriguing presentations of carrot that I've experienced. I especially appreciated the countervailing levity imparted by the juicy citrus wedges here, as well as the almost ethereal lightness of the yogurt. I'm not a fan of cooked carrot in general, but Ludo worked it out here. In addition, I really enjoyed the wine on this one, an Auxerrois Blanc from an Alsatian grand cru Riesling producer that perfectly blended sweetness and minerality in a crisp, refreshing format.

Potato pulp, brown butter, bonito, onion soubise, salers
3: Potato pulp, brown butter, bonito, onion soubise, salers
2008 Saint Aubin, Sentier du Clos, Henri Prudhon
This is a course that I'm sure will become one of the signatures here at Trois Mec. The potato showed off an almost "fluffy," yet substantial consistency, with a satisfying butteriness to it that was beautifully highlighted by the umami-laced flavors of the katsuobushi, all while the soubise and Salers contributed an integrating creaminess and heft to the dish that underscored everything. Make no mistake though, the potato always remained the hero in the dish, as it should. Such a humble ingredient, but properly elevated.

Ludo behind the camera
There's no no-photo policy anymore (unlike at MasterCard's Priceless LA preview dinners), but using flash is highly discouraged.

Rib cap, shallot broth, black walnut, clover spelt
4: Rib cap, shallot broth, black walnut, clover spelt
2010 Gevrey-Chambertin, Dm. Maume
Our most substantial course of the night featured rib eye cap set in a "risotto" of spelt. The steak itself arrived fatty and tender to the bite, with a hearty, smoky flair (notes that were mimicked in the wine) to it that paired smartly with the piquant, comforting soupe à l'oignon-inspired sauce. The spelt, meanwhile, did an admirable job mixing things up texturally, and also served to moderate the dish.

Strawberry, almond ice cream, rhubarb, rose ice, olive oil cake
5: Strawberry, almond ice cream, rhubarb, rose ice, olive oil cake
Bugey-Cerdon, Patrick Bottex
Dessert was a success, no doubt one of the best that Ludo's ever served. The sugariness of strawberry was proudly conveyed here, gorgeously set off by the floral aromatics of the rose while the olive oil cake imparted a subtle savory balance to things. The sweet, nutty, amaretto-esque ice cream was a further point of interest in the dish, making for an utterly balanced dessert that was delicious alone, and even better with the accompanying sparkling Gamay.

Caramel tart with cumin and habanero salt
Caramel tart
We closed with a caramel tart laced with cumin and habanero salt, a fitting end to the meal that did a wonderful job in countering the sweetness of the caramel with just a trace of spicy, savory goodness.

Ludo singing
Toward the end of the evening, Ludo once again regaled us with another rendition of a traditional Burgundian drinking song (first encountered with David Féau and company at The Royce).

Well it's about damn time. It was worth the wait though. As someone who's consumed more than my fair share of LudoBites dinners (dating back to 2.0), it's clear that the Chef has upped his game here. The cooking gives the impression of more polish, more restraint, while at the same time jiving with the concept of presenting something fancy, but not too fancy--call it bistronomy if you wish. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that, taken as a whole, this is the best food Ludo's ever presented (with apologies to his work at L'Orangerie and Bastide, which I did not have the pleasure of experiencing), and I have no doubt that Trois Mec is well on its way to become one of LA's iconic dining destinations. Dinner and a show? No, dinner as the show.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Paiche (Los Angeles, CA)

Paiche Restaurant
13488 Maxella Ave, Marina del Rey, CA 90292
Fri 04/12/2013, 07:30p-01:05a

Paiche Exterior

The Ricardo Zarate train keeps on rollin'. Hot on the heels of Picca and Mo-Chica is Paiche, the Chef's latest project with partner Stephane Bombet named after a large Amazonian fish that's prominently featured on the menu. Though the restaurant was slated to become a ceviche-focused spot initially, it's now squarely advertised as a Peruvian izakaya of sorts. The seafood-centric slant remains, though, as Paiche focuses on the coastal cuisine of Peru, and also pays homage to the Japanese influences inherent in the cuisine.

Angelenos got a first taste of Paiche at a pair of Food & Wine Best New Chefs dinners on March 26th and 27th featuring Naomi Pomeroy and the duo of Jamie Bissonnette and Viet Pham. This was followed up by a lottery-based sneak peak days later. The restaurant was supposed to grand open on April 2nd, but the debut was pushed back to the 12th due to an emergency in the Chef's family.

Paiche Interior
Paiche was penned by the Santa Barbara-based DesignARC, with input from both Zarate and Bombet. Not surprisingly, the space features an ocean-y theme draped in shades of blue, appropriate for the menu as well as the MdR locale. There's an open kitchen of course, adjacent to the bar, a 42-seat semi-enclosed patio, and de rigueur swaths of reclaimed wood all over.

Paiche Menu Paiche Drink Menu
The menu at Paiche is vast, featuring 60 small plates divided into various sections. A lot of people have complained about the price/portion ratio here vis-à-vis the other restaurants; I'm not sure why it tends higher, but I'm curious to see how Paiche responds. To drink, you'll find a cocktail program by Deysi Alvarez (Mo-Chica), in addition to beer, soju, and a selection of Latin-focused wines and liquors. Click for larger versions.

Side Car / Papa Hemingway / Pisco Sour
Side Car [$14.00] | Pierre Ferrand Cognac // Royal Combier Liqueur // Meyer Lemon Juice // Orange Zest // Sugar Rim
Papa Hemingway [$13.00] | Matusalem Rum (Original Cuban Formula) // Lime Juice // Grapefruit Juice // Luxardo Maraschino
Pisco Sour [$11.00] | Porton Pisco // Organic Egg White // Lime Juice // Evaporated Cane Syrup // Cinnamon Tincture // Angostura Bitters
There were no less than 16 cocktails on the menu, and we made sure to sample each and every one of 'em. The Sidecar was a fairly traditional version, with a nice interplay between citrus-y and boozy notes, all while the sugar rim added a hit of sweetness on the finish. The Papa Hemingway, meanwhile, showed off a certain lightness to it, with the rum really tempered by the lime and grapefruit and the maraschino contributing a sugary contrast in the cocktail. Finally, the Pisco Sour represented a prototypical presentation of the drink, but with the addition of cinnamon. It worked out rather well, with the classic eggy and boozy nuances complemented by a lovely trace of sweet spice.

Shrimp Dumplings
Shrimp Dumplings [$9.00] | Soy Lime Dressing // Spicy Rocoto Infused Oil
Now, on to the food. Dumplings were fantastic, really conveying the sweet, saline essence of shrimp and playing it off of the Asian-y flavors of the soy-lime dressing, all while the cilantro added a wonderfully aromatic touch on the close. Just gimme a big bowl of the stuff!

Paiche Wrap Lettuce
Paiche Wrap Lettuce [$12.00] | Grilled Amazonian Fish // Anticucho Miso Marinated
Here was the first of three dishes featuring the restaurant's eponymous fish. It did not disappoint, with the miso providing a great depth of flavor to the paiche while the pickles imparted a crunchy, tangy counterpoint to the course. Tasty, and something you should probably order.

Uni [$25.00]
The uni ceviche brought us an entire tray of the echinoderm. Taken alone, the urchin conveyed a cold, creamy, briny character with a whisper of bitterness. It was solid by itself, but the key was to eat it with all the other elements here, resulting in a mélange of textures and a deft marriage between the uni and that leche de tigre.

Pink Panther
Pink Panther [$12.00] | Platino Atlantico Rum // Muddled Mint // Strawberry Juice // Grapefruit Juice // Lemon Juice // Orgeat Syrup // Topped with Cava
At this point, we were delivered a Pink Panther by mistake, but we gladly drunk up the error. It was a summer-y, quaffable cocktail, with almost no booziness to it and a bracingly pure expression of strawberry sweetness.

Ceviche Plate
Four of our ceviches arrived on one long slab, though I much would've preferred each dish on its own separate plate.

Sweet Shrimp
Sweet Shrimp [$14.00]
The sweet shrimp was the only serious misstep of the night. Texturally, it was off, delivering a soft, mushy consistency rather than the snappy, springy bite that you'd expect, while the taste really didn't convey the sweet salinity that I wanted either.

Squid [$8.00]
Squid was better, supple and creamy, with a marked shiso character and a touch of sesame(?) savoriness.

Crab [$8.00]
The crab was the heartiest item on the plate: sweet and ocean-y, with a satisfying texture and a creamy richness from its hefty topping.

Jumbo Scallops
Jumbo Scallops [$12.00]
Last up were the scallops. They were on point to be sure, with a lovely chew to them and a subtle sweet brine that worked beautifully with a prick of salt and the acerbic zing of the ceviche liquid.

Tuna Tartar
Tuna Tartar [$16.00] | Caviar // Soy Ceviche Dressing // Wonton Chips
Our next course sort of reminded of the tuna tartar at Nobu--not a bad thing mind you. The fish was ground to a fine grain, and dutifully displayed an oily, briny character, augmented by the soy, that went perfectly with the salty kick of caviar. I loved the crunchiness of those chips, too.

Assorted Pickles
Assorted Pickles [$7.00] | Mixed Vegetables
A commendable array of pickles here: crisp, tart, and nice with the included whole grain mustard.

The Last Ice Age / Oaxacalifornia Love / Mojito de Martinique
The Last Ice Age [$13.00] | Pisco Porton // Hakushu Whiskey 12 Yrs // Organic Egg White // Lime Juice // Lemon Juice // Evaporated Simple Syrup // Fernet Branca Liqueur Drops
Oaxacalifornia Love [$13.00] | El Jimador Tequila // Organic Vida Mezcal // Pineapple Juice // Pineapple Rocoto Gomme
Mojito de Martinique [$14.00] | Neisson Eleve Sous Bois Rhum Agricole // Pine of Fresh Mint // Muddled Limes // Martinique Cane Syrup // Seltzer Water
Round number two for cocktails. The Last Ice Age was rather fetching with its balance of pisco and whiskey flavors against the sweet, eggy, creamy elements in the drink--one of my favorites of the night for sure. The Oaxacalifornia Love, meanwhile, was even better. I'd had it before at Mo-Chica, and loved its smoky nose, tart and spicy notes on the midpalate, and lingering finish redolent of mezcal. I gave up mojitos long ago, but the Mojito de Martinique was certainly a laudable version of my former drink, perhaps a bit more contemplative than usual.

Wagyu Beef
Wagyu Beef [$12.00] | Seared Wagyu // Parmesan Sauce // Aji Amarillo Vinaigrette // Black Truffle
Wagyu arrived tender and fatty, imbued with a heady hit of truffle, though I wanted more substantial slices here, so that there'd be a more apparent beefiness to pair with that tangy aji amarillo dressing.

Uni Shrimp Toast
Uni Shrimp Toast [$14.00] | Sea Urchin // Shrimp Paste Toast // Rocoto Honey Sauce
I've never met an uni toast I didn't like, and Zarate's was no exception. The combo of urchin and shrimp worked flawlessly, and I loved the lightness imparted by the tomato "salsa" here. A must try.

Amaebi [$12.00] | Filo Dough Wrap // Sweet Shrimp // Jalapeño Ponzu Dressing
Shrimp arrived wrapped in phyllo, reminding me of a similar dish that I'd had at Nobu before. This one was just as good, with a fantastic crispness from the dough that worked beautifully with the amaebi--lovely head, too. What was even better, though, was the sauce here, a mouth-watering mix of jalapeño heat and ponzu sour-savor that made us wish we had some bread around to sop up the remaining liquid. I could've used another one (or six) of these.

Paiche [$10.00] | Amazonian Fish // Aji Amarillo Lemon Vinaigrette // Tamari // Sweet Potato Mousse
Our second preparation of paiche showed off a gorgeous savoriness to it that was heightened by the umami-rich relish of the tamari, though the sweet potato wasn't strictly necessary.

Bernard Devoto, aka The Master of Intoxication / Cuba Libre / Palma Fizz
Bernard Devoto, aka The Master of Intoxication [$14.00] | Sino Tequila Reposado // Christian Drouin Calvados // Yellow Chartreuse // Benedictine // Angostura Bitters
Cuba Libre [$12.00] | White Flor de Cana Rum // Squeezed Lime // Mexican Coke
Palma Fizz [$13.00] | Quinoa Vodka // Lime Juice // Ginger Syrup // Pomegranate Reduction // Dashes of Rose Water // Club Soda
Continuing on with the cocktails, we had here the wordy Bernard Devoto, aka The Master of Intoxication, with its aroma that was half way between medicinal and candied Jolly Rancher, a sensation that continued on the palate--I was down with it. The Cuba Libre was a by-the-book preparation with a strong lime component, though the cola seemed a bit flabby. Lastly, we had the Palma Fizz, a bright, bracing cocktail with a strong blast of ginger over an undercurrent of sweet, tart flavors.

Spatchcocked [$10.00] | Grilled Chicken // Panca Moro Miso Sauce
Boneless, butterflied chicken was tasty, the bird coming out moist and tender, with a deep, satisfying sapor from the miso sauce, all set off by a bit of char astringency.

Pacu Ribs
Pacu Ribs [$12.00] | Amazonian Fish Ribs // Anticucho Lime Miso // Zapallo Puree
The pacu is a South American freshwater fish that happens to be related to the famed piranha. Its ribs were surprisingly substantial, with a rich, meaty character and a hint of spicy sweetness that satisfied.

Calamari Relleno
Calamari Relleno [$10.00] | Stuffed Baby Squid // Chorizo // Aji Pepian
Stuffed squid is always a smart decision, as was the case tonight, coming out torpedo-shaped, with a great interaction between the ocean-y flavors of the cephalopod and the meaty, spicy chorizo. Lovely texture on the squid, too, and I appreciated the starchy counterpoint in the course as well.

The Georgia Mint Julep / Chilcano de Clovos / Champs Elysees
The Georgia Mint Julep [$13.00] | Pierre Ferrand Cognac // Creme de Peche de Vigne Liqueur // Mint Leaves // Seltzer Water
Chilcano de Clovos [$13.00] | Pisco Oro Quebranta // Limes // Ginger Syrup // Cloves Syrup // Angostura Bitters // Seltzer Water
Champs Elysees [$13.00] | Pierre Ferrand Cognac // Green Chartreuse // Lemon Juice // Simple Syrup // Angostura Bitters // Lemon Essence
The Georgia Mint Julep was a reworked version of the original, with a juicy peach sweetness initially leading to intermingled flavors of slightly medicinal cognac and mint on the midpalate. Another modified classic, the Chilcano de Clovos gave us a strong essence of ginger along with more subtle overtones of clove. Finally, the Champs Elysees arrived very well balanced, with the base of cognac flowing smoothly into bitter and citrus-y nuances.

Grilled Quail
Grilled Quail [$16.00] | Pisco Basted // Ume Plum Wine Dressing
One of my favorites was the grilled quail. It was delicious, with a wonderful char bitterness to go along with the juicy, mouth-watering meat, amplified by the deep flavors of the plume wine. I just wanted to keep eating.

Chaufa de Langosta
Chaufa de Langosta [$12.00] | Lobster // Mixed Seafood // Fried Rice
Yet another highlight of the meal was Zarate's lobster fried rice, which just might be the best fried rice I've ever had (interestingly, the other one that comes to mind was at Picca). The inherent brine of the various seafood here was so deftly conveyed, set off even further by the smoky char essence in the dish and working hand-in-hand with the slightly sticky grains of rice. At the same time, a blast of citrus offset the strong flavors at play here, and the radish was a beautiful touch as well. A bigger bowl please!

Arroz con Conchas Negras y Erizo
Arroz con Conchas Negras y Erizo [$18.00] | Blood Clams // Sea Urchin // Risotto
Risotto came out somewhat crispy, and positively imbued with the ocean-y relish of the clams and urchin. Quite enjoyable, though I would've liked more texturally from the clams.

Seco de Paiche
Seco de Paiche [$14.00] | Amazonian Fish Stew // Cilantro Aderezo Sauce // Pallares
Our final paiche dish didn't let us down. Indeed, it was the heftiest of the trio, with the tender, tasty meat playing off of the cilantro notes in stellar fashion, all while the bean-y pallares did a wonderful job in grounding the dish. Definitely worth a try.

Quinoa con Alverjitas
Quinoa con Alverjitas [$14.00] | English Peas // Quinoa // Risotto
Quinoa was soft and gritty, with a nutty relish that paired swimmingly with the bright, verdant flavors inherent in the peas.

Octopus / Kampachi
Octopus [$10.00]
Kampachi [$12.00]
More ceviches. First was the octopus, a soft, supple, satisfying example that had an almost olive-y zestiness to it. The kampachi, meanwhile, was firm and incredibly dense, with a mild taste that was taken up a notch by the tangy leche.

Haricot Vert
Haricot Vert [$7.00]
Green beans didn't seem all that exciting on the menu, but they were stupendous, probably one of the best versions I've had in fact. I loved their waxy, crunchy consistency and deep, dark flavors, heightened by the use of katsuobushi.

Spinach [$6.00]
Spinach was similarly on point, with a fantastic texture to it and faultless blend of savory and astringent flavors. I quite appreciated the use of crispy bits of cancha here, too.

Maracuya Caipirinha / Americano Margarita
Maracuya Caipirinha [$15.00] | Leblon Cachaca Rum // Fresh Passion Fruit // Muddled Lime // Pure Cane Syrup
Americano [$13.00] | Campari // Sweet Vermouth // Dash of Orange Juice // Seltzer Water // Flamed Orange Peel
Margarita [$12.00] | Jimador Tequila // House Made Orange Bitters // Lime Juice // Agave Nectar // Pinch of Gusano Salt
Our final cocktail troika got started with the Maracuya Caipirinha, which had a blast of passion fruit tartness over the classic flavors of the drink. The Americano, on the other hand, was delightfully effervescent, with a pleasing bittersweetness that went superbly with the flamed orange. Lastly, we had Paiche's version of the ubiquitous Margarita. I'm happy to report, though, that it was one of the best I've had, with a superb woody, savory character from the combo of tequila and gusano (worm) salt.

Pork Necks
Pork Necks [$10.00] | Grilled Pork Neck // Gochujang // Green Onions
Zarate's pork neck was also a standout for the table, giving us delectably sweet, smoky, almost char siu-esque flavors that made absolute sense against the pork. Yum.

Chicharron de Pescado
Chicharron de Pescado [$11.00] | Crispy Fish Chicharron // Lime Yuzu Sauce
Nuggets of fish were fun little bites, with a surprisingly strong salinity to 'em that paired in commendable fashion with that puckering lime-yuzu condiment.

Crispy Tuna Tacu Tacu
Crispy Tuna Tacu Tacu [$8.00] | Spicy Tuna // Crispy Tacu Tacu // Rocoto Aioli
Spicy tuna was about as tasty as you'd expect, brightened up a bit by the rocoto while the tacu-tacu (fried rice and beans) served to temper the bite.

Rock Shrimp Tempura
Rock Shrimp Tempura [$10.00] | Spicy Chancaca Soy Dressing // Rocoto Aioli
Rock shrimp were easy enough to like, reminding us of a Chinese-style walnut preparation, especially with the slight sweetness in the dish. My concern here was that the batter was overly thick, distracting us from the inherent goodness of the shrimp.

Saltado de Quail
Saltado de Quail [$19.00] | Sauteed Quail // Five Spice // Rosemary Rocoto Dressing
A sauté of quail was a table favorite. Tender and incredibly succulent, the bird was teeming with savory flair, and yet imbued with the heady essence of five spice and char. Delicious, especially when taken with a scoop of the included slaw.

Saltado de Camarones
Saltado de Camarones [$14.00] | Sauteed Shrimps // Tomato Onion Stew // Home Made Pasta
Our final savory dish was yet another saltado, this time of shrimp. It didn't quite reach the lofty levels of the aforementioned quail, but was appealing in its own right: creamy and comforting, with the tomato and onion working masterfully with the shrimp and pasta.

Chocolate Cake
Chocolate Cake [$9.00]
Apparently, lauded LA Pastry Chef Waylynn Lucas helped Paiche out with the desserts, a fact that I don't think I've seen advertised before. Her chocolate cake came out looking much like a chocolate tart, but was enjoyable nonetheless, with the dark, sugary notes of the chocolate balanced by the in-your-face tartness of passion fruit. Nice crust here, too.

Chicha Raspadilla
Chicha Raspadilla [$9.00]
What we had here was what basically amounted to shaved ice made with chicha morada. It was surprisingly to my liking, with the overt sugariness of the ice making sense alongside the crisp, tart cubes of apple and pineapple.

Churros [$9.00]
Churros, finally, were as scrumptious as you'd expect: hot, fluffy fritters dusted with sweet spice--tasty alone, and just as good with the two dipping sauces.

Ricardo Zarate / Stephane Bombet
Two thumbs up from Ricardo Zarate and Stephane Bombet.

Cuisine-wise, aside from the gaffe with the sweet shrimp, the kitchen was pretty much on point, delivering an appealing array of dishes with some true standout items. The cooking upholds the standards set by Mo-Chica and Picca, though it offers up a palpably different, though compatible, and arguably more refined experience, a Japanese-inflected ode to seafood in effect. As for what's next for Zarate and Bombet, the two are aiming to launch Suave Riko, a pollo a la Brasa joint that was supposed to be housed in the original Mo-Chica space (which the duo has since given up). After that, there's always the Peruvian fine dining concept that the Chef's been hinting at for the past few years...