Hatchi Series at the Breadbar – Ricardo Zarate

Ever since I started going to the Hatchi dinner series at the Breadbar in Century City, I find myself anxiously counting down the days to the following event, as it only seems to get better and better each month.  Since June 2009, the Breadbar has featured a new guest chef every month at their innovative Hatchi event where these talented chefs serve 8 dishes for $8 each.  Hatchi means 8 in Japanese, and chefs prepare 6 savory and 2 sweet dishes for this one night-only event.  They are given complete freedom to express their culinary creativity and showcase their unique personality and style.  It’s also a wonderful opportunity for diners to sample new foods in a casual environment for a low price.

Past events at the Hatchi series spotlighted distinguished chefs such as Debbie Lee, Michael Voltaggio, Roberto Cortez, Remi Lauvand, Eda Vesterman, Waylynn Lucas and Marcel VigneronJanuary’s event featured Ricardo Zarate, executive chef at Mo-Chica in downtown LA.  Mo-Chica is a small restaurant inside of the Mercado La Paloma that serves contemporary Peruvian cuisine.  Although they’ve been open for less than a year, they’ve already created quite a buzz with their luscious ceviches and hearty stews.  Chef Ricardo Zarate, who hails from Lima, incorporates  local ingredients and fresh produce to create beautiful dishes that stay true to Peruvian culture and flavor.   However, there’s also another side to him.  He’s worked in upscale Japanese restaurants such as Zuma and Tetsuya in London, and most recently as executive chef at Wabi-Sabi in Venice.  I was excited to see how he would express this marriage of Peruvian flavors and Japanese aesthetics into his one night event at the Breadbar, called Peru Mucho Gusto (Peru, Nice to meet you).

I knew it was going to be a fun and special night when I was greeted at my table by young and beautiful Fumi, the Japanese owner of Mo-Chica.  ‘Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!’- Happy New Year! she shouted with a huge smile, as she handed us Mo-Chica keychains wrapped inside traditional Japanese otoshidama bags.  It’s a tradition in Japan for children to receive money from relatives and family friends during New Year’s day, and it’s usually presented inside small decorated envelopes.  Getting otoshidama from all of my relatives was the highlight of New Year for me growing up in Tokyo.  It had been a really long time since anybody gave me one, so I really appreciated this fun act of hospitality. She also passed out roasted peanuts served inside origami kabuto (samurai helmets) made with Japanese newspaper.

We ordered a round of the Pisco Sour 2010 cocktail, made with pisco, fresh lemon juice, orange juice and egg whites. The egg white foam was light and airy, and the balance of tequila with citrus flavors was delicious.

The first of 8 courses was the Sopa de Coliflor, purple cauliflower soup.  The purple hued soup was garnished with generous chunks of crispy pancetta, a drizzle of feta cheese dressing and cilantro, and offered with a side of crispy croutons.  I loved the smooth and silky texture of the warm soup, and the different layers of flavors in each bite.  There was a hint of sourness in the soup that made it really refreshing, and the tartness of the feta cheese and cilantro kept it alive.  This was one of my favorite dishes of the evening.

The Causa Trio of peruvian potato salad with 3 different seafood toppings was Chef Zarate’s interpretation of 3 classic sushi rolls.  Here we can see our first hint of how Zarate integrates Japanese and Peruvian concepts.  Each piece had the same base of yellow potato salad that was soft and light.  The one to the left in the photo had a topping of chunky scallops with mentaiko sauce.  Mentaiko is spicy marinated pollock roe, which is commonly used in Japanese cuisine.  The center piece was topped with a mixture of shredded blue crab with mayo and huancaina sauce.  Huancaina sauce is a thick yellow Peruvian sauce made with aji amarillo, or yellow Peruvian pepper.  The preparation to the right featured spicy blue fin tuna with rocoto aioli, made with hot rocoto chili peppers from Peru.  I loved Chef Zarate’s playful and unique Peruvian twist on the popular spicy tuna, blue crab and spicy scallop rolls.

Mo-Chica has made a name for itself through its famous ceviches, and I was curious to see what kind of ceviche Zarate was going to serve at this special event.  Ceviche Mixto that night was made with tairagai, uni and sea bass marinated in leche de tigre sauce.  Although each Latin American country has their own version of ceviche, the Peruvian style is often served with leche de tigre (tiger’s milk) sauce that is made with Peruvian peppers (in this case aji amarillo peppers), lime, onions, garlic and a hint of Pisco.  Of course there’s no actual tiger’s milk in these astringent tart marinades, but its potency is believed to be an aphrodisiac and a cure for hangovers. The chunks of marinated tairagai and fish were nestled inside of a tairagai shell, topped with cilantro and slices of red onion.  Slivers of uni added a sweet creaminess which mellowed the sharp acidity of the ceviche, and the large kernels of giant Inca corn added great texture to the dish.

It was around this time that they introduced the live band and dancers for the Festejo performance. This was a first for the Breadbar Hatchi series to have live entertainment, and we were lucky to have scored front row orchestra seats to this spectacular show.  The general mood at the event was already festive, but the live music brought the energy level up a whole notch.  The drummer beat on the cajón box drum with fire and intent, while the Peruvian flute narrated a tale of Incan history and passion.  The female dancer swirled and twirled very gracefully around the small space in front of the pastry case, smiling happily yet seductively, and the male dancer pounded his bare feet into the concrete with determination and rhythm.  It was an astounding performance, and everybody put down their forks to watch this mesmerizing show.

Tiradito de Pescado was a hamachi carpaccio served with sundried tomato yuzu dressing and topped with a mixture of chopped green onions, tomatoes, Peruvian corn and cilantro.  Tiradito is a Peruvian dish that is more like a carpaccio, and its origins come from sashimi-eating Japanese immigrants who came to Peru.  Although similar in concept to ceviche, tiradito dishes feature raw fish that is sliced long and thin in sashimi style, and is not doused in an onion-heavy marinade.  The hamachi slices were beautifully marbled with light yet flavorful fat, and the yuzu dressing was the perfect complement.


Carapulcra, which is an old Peruvian stew that is traditionally made in clay pots with dried potatoes, chiles, peanuts and spices, was reinvented in a contemporary style with roasted black cod.  It is believed that Carapulcra is the oldest Peruvian stew and that its ancient origins go back to pre-Incan times.  A perfectly cooked piece of moist black cod was topped with a tangy chimichurri sauce and chewy bits of fried pancetta.  The sour and bitter flavors of the chimichurri was a wonderful contrast to the earthy carapulcra made with peruvian sun dried potatoes.  I was in love with the hearty potato stew, and although it was the first time that I had carapulcra, it gave me the same feeling of comfort and warmth that ramen does. The next time that I’m craving comfort food, I’m going straight to Mo-Chica to get me some carapulcra.

Seco de Cordero represented pure traditional Peruvian cuisine.  This lamb shoulder stew was braised in black beer and seasoned with cilantro, aji peppers and cumin.  Peruvian canario beans, which are similar to Italian cannellini beans, added a gratifying dose of heartiness to the delicious stew, while the salsa criolla, made with sliced onions, tomatoes, cilantro and chili peppers, intensified the bursting complexity of flavors in each bite.

The tender chunks of lamb had absorbed all of the marvelous flavors in the stew, and we were literally fighting over this dish.  Now that I know that this dish is on the regular menu at Mo-Chica, I wish I hadn’t been so aggressive with my dining companions in eating most of the stew.  I almost lost myself and my manners in this captivating bowl of cordero heaven.

One of the 2 desserts that we had was titled Selva Negra- possibly after the Selva Negra cloud forest reserve in Nicaragua which is famous for producing great organic coffee, since the flourless chocolate cake looked like a cup of coffee.  The chocolate cake came straight out of the oven and was served nice and warm.  I really enjoyed the bright orange colored lúcuma ice cream with tamarillo sauce.  I had never even heard of lúcuma before this Breadbar event, but it’s an Andean subtropical fruit also known as ‘eggfruit’, that’s mostly found in Peru.  It tasted like a combination of very familiar flavors, and we were all trying to figure out how to describe its taste.  It reminded me of ube, Filipino purple yam, while another tasted sweet potatoes, and yet another tasted maple syrup.  The more lucent yellow tamarillo sauce, made from the tamarillo fruit which is native to Peru, had a tart flavor that reminded me of passion fruit and oranges.  This ice cream was to die for.


Last but not least, the 8th dish of the Hatchi series dinner showcased yet another Peruvian specialty.  Kiwicha Con Leche Y Esencia De Mazamorra was served elegantly in a martini glass.  Kiwicha, also known as amaranth, is a superfood of sorts, an Andean supergrain high in nutritional value that has been cultivated and used by the Incas and the Aztecs.  These fine round grains which almost look like quinoa, are the size of poppy seeds.  It was prepared with milk to make a dessert that resembled tapioca pudding.  The dark sauce poured over the kiwicha looked like rich chocolate, but was in fact made with mazamorra, or purple maize cooked with cinnamon and sweet potato flour.  Although this dessert looked sweet and heavy, it was surprisingly light and easy to eat.  Since I don’t have a sweet tooth, I really appreciated this simple and savory dessert.

And just like that, another successful and fun Hatchi event came and went like the wind.  Chef Zarate’s Peru Mucho Gusto event seemed to be over in a blink of an eye, since we were having so much fun.  With the delicious food, the fantastic music, intoxicating dancing and impeccable service from the Breadbar staff, this was the best Hatchi dinner so far for me.  I really enjoyed learning about all of these new foods and flavor combinations.  I realized that there is still so much out there in this big world that my taste buds haven’t experienced yet.  It motivated me to travel more and open myself up to new experiences and cultures.  Thank you Chef Zarate for introducing me to the dynamic flavors of your beautiful Peruvian culture, and for honoring my Japanese culture in your perfectly integrated dishes.

Mo-Chica

3655 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90007

(213) 747-2141

Breadbar

Upcoming Hatchi dinner events:

February 25th – Iso Rabins, Forage

March 25th – Kuniko Yagi, Burning Sensation

April 29th – Saul Cooperstein, Deli 2010

Random trivia: Did you know that kiwicha, for its high content in protein, lysine, carbohydrates and minerals, is considered to be one of nature’s most potent foods?  This grain is packed with such high amounts of energy and nutrition that it’s part of the NASA energy food pack used by astronauts on their long trips in space.

Spago

The one and only Spago in Beverly Hills by Wolfgang Puck, his flagship restaurant that put him on the map. It’s still standing strong after all these years.  It had been at least 5 years since the last time that I ate there, but it was still as crowded as ever and as delicious as ever. Spago is 1 of only 3 restaurants in Los Angeles to win a 2 Michelin star rating in 2008.  I had a wonderful meal in their outdoor terrace by the water fountain on a sunny Los Angeles day.

Beautiful dainty canapés with a glass of bubblies for starters:

Tuna tartare with bubblies

Tuna tartare with bubblies

The first canapé we had was spicy tuna tartare in a sweet sesame tuille with daikon radish sprouts and bonito flakes.  The tuille was a little too sweet for my liking, but it was nice to experience the different textures of crunchy, moist, flaky and crisp in one bite.

Hamachi and smoked sturgeon

Hamachi and smoked sturgeon

Next we had Japanese hamachi (yellow tail) marinated in a soy-yuzu dressing with pumpkin seed oil, with shiso leaf and marinated mountain burdock root garnish.  A very tangy spoonful with a strong citrus kick.  Personally, I wasn’t too crazy about this.  The soy yuzu dressing overpowered the hamachi, and I couldn’t taste that wonderful fattiness that I love about hamachi.  I think the dish would have gone better with a less fatty white fish like halibut.

My favorite canapé was the house smoked sturgeon on lemon herb blini with sweet onions, chives, dill crème fraiche and salmon caviar.  I love anything that is smoked, but this sturgeon was absolutely delicious.  A perfect smokiness that was subtle enough to still allow the sturgeon flavors to shine through.  The lemon herb blini added the perfect amount of citrus acidity paired with the rich crème fraiche to bring everything together.  I would go back to Spago just to have another bite of that.

Anchovy and quail canapé

Anchovy and quail canapé

Our last canapé was a dried baby anchovy ring with soft boiled quail egg, microgreens, dill, anchovies and olives.  A wonderful fusion of different textures, saltiness and flavors in one bite.  Canapés are such a delight, aren’t they?

I had to order the oysters, since they are one of my favorite foods.  We had Fanny Bay and Kumamoto oysters on a beautifully decorated and garnished cold plate.  I loved the vibrant colors on this dish- a feast for the eyes.  Spring is here!

Oysters, oysters, oysters!

Oysters, oysters, oysters!

One of Wolfgang Puck’s favorite childhood recipes, the Austrian chicken bouillon with julienned vegetables.  Chicken buillon seems like a boring dish, but it’s one of the most difficult to execute well.  Because of its simplicity, it’s very easy to tell how good or bad the chef’s techniques are.   This one was comforting, the kind that makes you sigh with relief.

Chicken bouillon

Chicken bouillon

Bouillon

Bouillon

Next was a small tasting of a seasonal pasta dish.  Fresh spring green pea ravioli with parmesan cheese. I love seasonal dishes where you can taste the full potential of the ingredient.  I loved the combination of the sweet pea purée inside the raviolis and the fresh firm peas that burst inside my mouth.

Pea ravioli

Pea ravioli

Finally for the main courses.

Flounder

Flounder

Steamed ‘Hong Kong style’ flounder with baby bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, snap peas and green onions in a Hoisin sauce.  The flounder was perfectly moist and sweet, and the dish was as good as anything you could get in a top rated Hong Kong restaurant.

I had the Snake River Farm’s Kobe ‘Szechuan’ Steak with stir fried bok choy, choy sum and shiitake mushrooms.

Snake River Farm's steak

Snake River Farm's steak

The wagyu beef from Snake River Farm is one of the best that you can get domestically, and is very close to the Japanese wagyu beef.  The steak that I had was wonderfully marbled and dripping with flavor.  I could have easily mistaked it for Japanese beef in a blind taste test.  Absolutely tender, perfectly smokey, and marvelously fatty.  Every bite of meat melted in my mouth with ease.  Delicious!

http://www.snakeriverfarms.com/

Finally, for dessert, we had blackberry granita with lemon cake.

blackberry granita with lemon cake

blackberry granita with lemon cake

and 12 layer chocolate cake with Tahitian vanilla gelato….

chocolate cake

chocolate cake

We were way too full to finish either dessert.  The blackberry granita with lemon cake was too sweet for me, as well as the chocolate cake, but the Tahitian vanilla gelato was wonderful.

After all these years, I can see why Spago is still immensely popular and manages to fill their tables.  The ambience and service are top notch, and the food really pleases all 5 senses.  Spago is a classic establishment that can always be counted on for fine dining and an excellent experience.

http://www.wolfgangpuck.com/

Random trivia: Did you know that the swimbladder of Beluga sturgeon is used to clarify certain wines and beers?  Therefore, many vegetarians don’t consider these particular brands of alcoholic beverages to be truly vegetarian.