Mo-Chica, Japan fundraising tasting dinner

Here in Los Angeles, we love and support our local chefs.  We especially adore our local chefs who not only cook amazing food, but also give to charitable causes.  In the midst of a whirlwind start to 2011 with a restaurant relocation, a restaurant opening and a well deserved Food & Wine Best New Chef 2011 award, Chef Ricardo Zarate still finds time to give to charity.  He recently made a guest appearance at Fraiche for the kick off of Rustic Mondays with Chef Benjamin Bailly, where proceeds went to Operation USA.  Last month he held a fundraising dinner at his flagship restaurant Mo-Chica in downtown LA, where his Japanese business partner coordinated a charity to support Japan.

One Thursday of each month, Zarate hosts a multi-course tasting dinner at Mo-Chica for $35, what I consider to be the best deal in America.  His menus are well thought out and executed perfectly, every tasting offering a different combination of delicious dishes with his signature style of understated beauty and elegance that reflects his training in Japanese cuisine.  Last month he donated $10 from every $45 tasting menu to Japan charity, with Street Gourmet LA‘s Bill Esparza and his bossa nova trio Cachaca Nova providing live musical entertainment for the night.  Out of all of the tasting dinners that I have attended at Mo-Chica, this was the stand out; every beautiful plate was fully infused with his generous heart and charitable intention.

stuffed yuccas, manchego cheese, crispy chicken, rocoto sauce

Little bite-sized deep fried snacks were not only adorable but delectable, dipped in the savory rocoto pepper sauce that added a subtle kick of flavor.  Everybody enjoyed the playfulness of this satisfying appetizer- what is there not to like about deep fried crispy cheese and chicken, and getting to lick your fingers at the end?

scallops strips, spicy lemon dressing, salsa criolla

One of my favorite dishes of the evening was the tender and delicate scallops tiradito, thinly sliced with a drizzle of magnificent spicy lemon dressing, salsa criolla and a garnish of microgreens.  An elegant dish with a perfect balance of acidity and spice, almost too beautiful to be eating in a downtown LA food court, yet this is exactly the allure of Chef Zarate’s popular joint.

Peruvian cocktail, ginger juice, ginger ale, pisco brandy

Chef Zarate’s favorite cocktail, the Chilcano, got a modern twist with ginger juice to add extra zing to the refreshing drink.

sea bass, tomato stew , crab meat, roasted tomatoes, garbanzos

My other memorable dish of the evening was the perfectly cooked tender cut of sea bass, a glorious mound of moist flesh with crispy crackling skin, mounted on a base of tomato and garbanzo stew with a generous topping of crab meat.  Seafood never tasted this good, with a hint of smokiness in the rich tomato broth that accented but didn’t overshadow the amazing piece of fish.

Peruvian-style crispy pork belly, black mint sauce

The final savory course was a hearty serving of crispy pork belly, fully injected with juicy pork fat and delightful pork belly essence.  The surface was cooked to a nice crisp while the interior remained moist and fatty.  Served on a bed of creamy bean purée, it was the piquant black mint sauce that brought all of the flavors and elements together for ultimate deliciousness.

Classic Peruvian dessert made of dulce de leche, shortbread

Spain, where alfajores originated, and all other Latin American countries have their own version of alfajores, and Chef Zarate’s Peruvian style alfajor was made by layering crumbly square shortbread cookies with dulce de leche.  I’m impartial to soft chewy Argentine alfajores, but Mo-Chica’s rendition, made by Zarate’s new Spanish pastry chef who will be creating sweets for Picca, was equally scrumptious.

The evening was completely packed with satisfied happy diners who thoroughly enjoyed Zarate’s most successful tasting dinner event yet, while Bill Esparza and crew were rocking the house with contemporary takes on bossa nova classics like So Danco Samba and One Note Samba.  This tasting dinner was days before the big announcement of Zarate’s win for Food & Wine’s Best New Chef 2011, and for all of those lucky diners who were able to attend the dinner, we got a good taste of exactly why.  Thank you Chef Zarate for donating to support Japan.


3655 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90007

(213) 747-2141

Mo-Chica will relocate to its new grand location soon

Picca Peru

9575 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035

Picca will be opening in the upstairs ex-Test Kitchen space in May 2011

Random trivia: Did you know that an alfajor, which is a traditional Arabic confection, finds it word derivative from an Arabic word for honeycomb?  They are traditionally made with honey, almonds, hazelnuts, sugar, flour, breadcrumbs and natural spices.

Rustic Mondays at Fraiche Restaurant

When the 9.0 magnitude earthquake shook Japan on March 11, 2011, and massive tsunamis engulfed the northeast coast of the country, the world watched with sadness and grief at the immense loss of life.  In the midst of this devastation, many have stood up to make a difference by donating their time, money and services for Japan.  Chefs and restaurateurs in Los Angeles have also done their part in raising awareness for relief efforts by hosting dinners where a portion of the proceeds go to charitable funds.  One such fun and delicious event was hosted by Chef Benjamin Bailly and Chef Ricardo Zarate at Fraiche Restaurant in Culver City, where proceeds from the dinner went to Operation USA.

The dinner was the first to kick off a weekly series called Rustic Mondays, featuring a guest chef and his or her prix fixe 3 course dinner in conjunction with Chef Bailly’s 3 course offerings. For a mere $35, diners can choose from either Chef Bailly’s dish or the guest chef’s dish for each of the 3 courses.  Rustic Mondays are not meant to be a competition of chef vs chef, but more of a collaboration and celebration of culinary diversity.

Chef Bailly, who now oversees the kitchens at both Fraiche locations (Culver City and Santa Monica), represented his French heritage while Chef Ricardo Zarate, who was recently crowned Food & Wine’s Best New Chef 2011, came strong with his signature Peruvian delights.

Chef Bailly started off the first course with a Salade Gourmande, a large filling plate of baby greens, haricot verts, sautéed mushrooms, sweet candied tomatoes and goat cheese croquettes tossed with hazelnuts and a very subtle truffle vinaigrette.  A perfectly poached egg bled its thick bright yellow sap onto this salad while the warm goat cheese croquettes proved to be the highlight.

Chef Zarate’s Ceviche Mixto with tender squid, large meaty succulent shrimp, scallops and covina tossed in a Leche de Tigre sauce was the most successful and delicious dish of the evening.  His famous signature dish, a delicately flavored bowl of fresh seafood with bold contrasting textures from crunchy fried corn kernels, diced red onions and airy camote, reminded me through every successive bite why he won the prestigious Food & Wine award this year- unpretentious, simple, humble and delicious.

The seared Scottish salmon in Bailly’s Saumon Aux Lentilles was perfectly cooked, a sweet moist piece of fatty fish that paired wonderfully with the creamy country mustard sauce.  The Puy lentils ragout, while blissfully injected with bacon essence, would have fared better with less cooking time and cleaner textures.

Zarate’s Pachamanca was a double fisting meat lovers paradise, a simple yet satisfying entrée of braised lamb that melted in my mouth, next to a generous serving of equally tender pork belly cooked with a crispy crackling layer of skin.  Meat and potatoes, and in this case Peruvian potatoes with fava beans and baby carrots, were elevated to sophistication with Zarate’s divine sauce.

The French sure know how to please a woman, and they always strike where it counts.  Bailly’s beautiful Paris-Brest hit the spot with its soft airy buttery pâte à choux and its glorious praliné crème studded with cocoa nibs.  2 servings of this beautiful pastry still left me longing for more.

Sol y Sombra, a refreshing cold dessert by Zarate, contained fun delightful textures from its mixture of dried plums and almonds on quinoa con leche with a drizzle of purple corn syrup.

Rustic Mondays, a global celebration of Los Angeles chefs, was off to a wonderful start at Fraiche Restaurant with our beloved Chef Zarate as its first guest.  Future guest chefs will include an amazing line up of some of our most famous and cherished talents.  In addition, Deysi Alvarez and Jody Barton will be creating unique cocktails to pair with these dinners, such as the Algorrobina made with egg yolk, carob syrup, cream and pisco, my favorite drink of the evening.  Thank you to Chef Bailly and Chef Zarate for contributing a portion of the dinner proceeds for Japan earthquake and tsunami relief.

Fraiche Restaurant

9411 Culver Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 839-6800

Random trivia: Did you know that pâte à choux, made from butter, flour, eggs and water, refers to the light airy pastry dough that is the basic template for many other dishes that we love to eat?  Flavored with cheese they become gougères, mixed with potato purée and fried they become pommes dauphine, shaped into elongated tubes and filled with cream they are éclairs, and they are also what make croquembouches, profiteroles, beignets and crullers.

12 sensational dishes of 2010

The food and beverage industry in Los Angeles saw its share of culinary trends in 2010, from pop-up restaurants, a return to good butchery, local sourcing of food (locavorism), Asian comfort food, a celebration of bacon, mezcal cocktails, house-made charcuterie, head-to-head competition on TV shows, good old fried chicken, snout to tail diningwholesome pies in lieu of cupcakes, celebrity chefs opening up shop in tinseltown, and food and restaurant wars.  It was a busy but fruitful year for me, navigating through these food trends and traveling around the world in search of delicious nibbles.

Through it all, there were 12 dishes that left a strong impression on both my palate and my heart.  I had many delicious dishes this year, but these 12 dishes that I selected had something else that made it truly special.  Food is an expression of a chef’s love and an extension of a chef’s soul.  When a chef cooks from the heart with genuine care and intention, that essence comes through in his or her food, and speaks directly to the diner.  Through personal interactions with these special chefs, I was able to taste, smell and see the beauty of their creations with a higher level of respect and understanding.  Behind each dish was a talented chef with a radiant smile that I will never forget.

Deep fried fugu- Chef Kenzo Sato, Shigeyoshi (Tokyo, Japan)

Despite its 2 Michelin star status, there is no pretentiousness or attitude at this humble 39-year old restaurant in Tokyo.  I have been coming here every year for the last 6 years, of course looking forward to the meticulously prepared food, but more eager to see Chef Kenzo Sato’s lovely smile.  His warm hearty laugh and funny stories are the finishing spices to each delicate dish that is prepared in front of me in the open kitchen.  There is a special comfort and security in coming here, for he knows my likes and dislikes, and prepares a sensational omakase meal according to my palate.  I never have to order or remind him of what I want- it is already understood, and the highlight of each experience comes in my favorite dish at Shigeyoshi, the deep fried puffer fish dish, which he saves for me.  It goes without saying that it requires a special license and tremendous skill in preparing the poisonous puffer fish, but it takes special love and thought to prepare this simple but comforting dish of fugu.  The best pieces are from the head, with thick wedges of white tender meat juxtaposed against gelatinous jiggles of fat fugu lips.  Chef Sato smiles as he watches me attack this dish, waiting to resume conversation until I am done licking my fingers clean.

Sea urchin tostada with pismo clams- Sabina Bandera Gonzalez, La Guerrerense (Ensenada, Mexico)

To this day, that life-changing satisfying bite into the crunchy tostada generously topped with sea urchin, heaps of freshly shucked pismo clams, avocado and home-made ‘Chilito Exotico’ salsa, haunts me.  My body craves it, my mind obsesses about it, my dreams are dominated by it.  Matriarch Sabina Gonzalez, who has been operating out of a small food cart on the street corner of Ensenada in Baja Mexico for more than 30 years, creates each tostada to order, smothering it with fresh offerings from the local Baja waters and topping it with motherly love.  It’s a family affair, and her daughter comes down from San Diego on the weekends to shuck clams and oysters as the master cocktailer.  Each bite releases a splash of ocean breeze inside my mouth before the distinct savory spices of the pineapple salsa kicks in.  This is pure Baja, and it doesn’t get any better than this tostada, followed by a big hug, both from Sabina.

Octopus carpaccio with nopales- Chef Javier Plascencia, Cebicheria Erizo (Tijuana, Mexico)

Photo of Javier Plascencia courtesy of Barbara Hansen, of Table Conversation

It wasn’t just the fun geometric shapes or the vibrant color palettes in this octopus carpaccio that won my heart, but the innovative concept of compressing octopus legs into round sausages and slicing them thin to reveal wheel-like cross sections that impressed me in the cebiche themed restaurant of accomplished Tijuana chef Javier Plascencia.  The gelatin coating around the octopus legs acted as a natural food glue to keep the circles together.  The tender octopus slices in ponzu sauce were given a unique Baja twist with the contrast of buttery avocados and crunchy, slimy nopales.  A refined and beautiful dish with unforgettable textures and delicious flavors is sure to be an industry secret, I thought, but I was struck by Chef Javier Plascencia’s openness about sharing his secrets.  ‘Shoot me an email and I’ll send you my recipe’, he told me, ‘and let me know when you come down to Tijuana, I’ll make sure to be there for you’.  Really?  The amazing thing about this incredibly handsome and kind chef is that he actually means every word that he says.  And with 7 amazing restaurants under his belt and a highly successful run at Test Kitchen where his fig leaf wrapped short rib dish was deemed one of the best dishes of the year by Jonathan Gold, he still maintains the same level of approachability and humility.

Chocolate, cassis, vanilla and passion fruit macarons- Thomas Haas, Thomas Haas Patisserie (Vancouver, Canada)

As a fourth generation German Konditormeister, or Master Pastry Chef, Thomas Haas was genetically destined to become a sensation in the pastry world, and his talent is evident in every tasty morsel of chocolate ganache and chewy caramel.  At his namesake patisserie in Vancouver, he creates a peaceful haven of sweets where one can enjoy a warm cup of herbal tea with sandwiches, tarts, cakes and chocolates while shopping for hot chocolates and cookies.  I went in for his famous chocolates, but was swept off my feet by the perfection of his macarons, especially the passion fruit macaron.  A perfect crunchy outer shell that gives way to a soft moist merengue, leading right into the flavorful center filling- the textures and flavors were spot on in these delicate little bundles of joy.  Despite being a world-renowned patissier and busy restaurateur, Thomas Haas was behind the counter, packaging chocolates to order, working the cash register, giving advice to customers and even cleaning tables.  I had met him the night before at a restaurant in Vancouver, and he welcomed me with a bright smile to his patisserie, bringing over these wonderful macarons with a pot of tea to my table.  With such a hands-on approach to running his patisserie, I knew that he personally made these macarons by hand, which made them taste even better.

Scrambled eggs with black truffle- Chef Haru Kishi, my house (Los Angeles)

How do you honor an aromatic, majestic piece of black truffle?  Leave it to talented Chef Haru Kishi, formerly at the Gordon Ramsay restaurant in West Hollywood, and now executive chef of Chaya Brasserie.  Perfectly cooked scrambled eggs, patiently prepared at low temperatures, made fluffier with soft boiled egg whites passed through a fine sieve, spooned over a bed of asparagus and bacon, and garnished with dramatic shavings of black truffle that release its pungent aromas with each passing across the sharp blade of a truffle slicer.  The delicate crunch of asparagus, the smokiness of bacon, the soft pillowy texture of warm fluffy eggs, the final strong hit of truffle essence that spreads inside my mouth and permeates up into my nares- a decadent, rich and unforgettable experience worthy of a final meal.  Life is perfect at that moment, and nothing else matters. Everything that this talented chef makes is amazing, and I have personally seen the tremendous amount of thought that he puts into his work.  As a close friend, it makes me happy to see him blossom through his various struggles and finally come into his element at Chaya Brasserie, a most fitting location for his Japanese and French background.

Venison tenderloin tartare, macadamia nuts, beet chips, wasabi cream, lavender- Chef Marcel Vigneron, Venison dinner ( Los Angeles)

Marcel Vigneron has become a household name since he became famous on Top Chef season 2, and currently on Top Chef All-Stars.  Although he has gained a reputation as the Top Chef villain, in real life he is quite the opposite.  Personable, thoughtful, kind and extremely fun to hang out with, he is one of the most hard working chefs in Los Angeles.  He’s obviously talented and gifted with charisma, but behind the scenes he puts in just as much thought and hours into each beautiful and innovative creation.  One such plate that I still think back to is the venison tenderloin tartare with macadamia nuts, capers, pickled cipollini onions, beet root brunoise and walnut oil.  The venison was prepared perfectly with a fine balance of acidity and flavor.  Scooped onto a crispy red beet chip with a smear of wasabi cream and a hint of lavender aroma wafting from the board, this delectable dish transported me to venison heaven at a private dinner party at Terroni restaurant.  Spending the entire day with the chef, from shopping at the farmers market to prepping in his kitchen, I was able to see an inspiration evolve into an idea, an idea into a sketch, and a sketch finally culminate in the most breathtaking dish.

Kikouchi soba- Soba artisans Akila Inouye and Sonoko Sakai, Soba Pop at the Breadbar (Los Angeles)

Buckwheat flour and water- there are only 2 simple ingredients in making Kikouchi soba, making it that much more of a complex dish.  Soba master Akila Inouye and soba artisan Sonoko Sakai have been working hard all year to spread the culture of soba in Los Angeles.  Many trips to Japan, many suitcases of freshly milled Japanese buckwheat flour, many soba classes in Sonoko’s house and many long hours of preparation for their pop-up soba event at the Breadbar, all in the name of wanting Angelenos to understand the culture of Japanese soba.  Soba is Japan’s soul food, full of tradition and sacred history.  Thanks to these dedicated soba artisans, I was able to have a taste of home and a moment of peace as I dipped these delicate buckwheat noodles into their homemade bonito broth and happily slurped away.

Potato mousseline, poached egg, chorizo crumble- Chef Ludovic Lefebvre, LudoBites 5.0 (Los Angeles)

Chef Ludo needs no introduction- he took command of the Los Angeles culinary scene with his sensational and popular pop-up events, LudoBites 4.0, 5.0 and 6.0 in 2010.  Every dish was whimsical, colorful, flavorful and creative, delighting diners with his ever changing menu ideas.  There were many favorites, but the stand-out dish for me was the silky potato mousseline over a perfectly poached egg, bursting with warm yellow yolk that melted right into the fatty chorizo crumble.  Every bite made me want more and more.  I wanted to share this wonderful dish with my friends, but I also didn’t want to share this wonderful dish with my friends.  What was I to do?  Order another round, of course, which I did at every visit to LudoBites 5.0, my favorite of the 3 this year.  Ludo’s talent and success got much deserved praise from critics on both coasts, but there were always people who wanted to criticize, scrutinize, dissect and rip him apart.  People love to hate this handsome charismatic chef, but what they don’t know is that behind each artistic and poetic dish was a lot of blood, sweat and tears- literally.  Despite a debilitating medical condition that would normally deem a person completely disabled and incapable of working, Ludo fought hard through each day of LudoBites to cook for his dedicated fans.  He gritted his teeth to endure relentless pain and gave his best smile for at least 20 photos a night, but I could see the pain in his eyes. Dedication and hard work never meant more to me than at LudoBites this year, and for that, hats off to this amazing chef.

Quinoa crème brûlée, purple corn- Chef Ricardo Zarate, Mo-Chica (Los Angeles)

Mo-Chica and its star chef Ricardo Zarate are now on Los Angeles’ Best of list, and in the next few months we will be seeing the opening of Mo-Chica’s new downtown location and Zarate’s new anticuchos restaurant Picca, but he almost never made it this far.  In the first year of business, Mo-Chica nearly went under.  People didn’t think to try this new restaurant that was serving lamb shanks and arroz con pollo for close to $10 a plate, when adjacent taco stands in the Mercado la Paloma food court were offering $3 plates.  Zarate had a vision, and he didn’t want to compromise on quality or preparation.  He knew that some day, people would understand his food and how good it was.  Almost a year went by, and he was paying out of his own pocket to sustain the business.  Finally, food critics caught wind of this amazing Peruvian chef, and just like that, the news spread like wild fire and Zarate was well on his way to recognition.  His food is fantastic, each bursting with vibrant flavors, with a delicate sensitivity that reflects his training in Japanese cuisine.  The regular menu is solid, but every last Thursday of the month he offers a 6 course tasting menu for $30, possibly the best deal in the country.  I have had grilled octopus with cilantro pesto on a bed of aji mashed potato, mackerel tempura on seabass ceviche, and braised short ribs to satisfy even the most stern critic, all memorable and stellar.  However, it was a quinoa and purple corn crème brûlée on one such tasting dinner that made me gasp with delight.  Not too sweet, perfectly creamy, with a beautiful deep purple hue, and most of all a surprisingly delicious way to enjoy quinoa. ‘I was supposed to use kiwicha, but I didn’t have any, so I substituted quinoa at the last minute.  I hope it’s still good?’, the ever so humble, honest and kind chef told me.  Even such accidents, under Zarate’s spell, become a delicious miracle.

Cabrit, goat meat fricassee- Chef TiGeorges, Test Kitchen (Los Angeles)

In the wake of the devastating earthquake that shook Haiti in January, no dish tasted more soulful than the goat meat fricassee that Haitian chef Georges LaGuerre, affectionately known as TiGeorges, cooked for his Test Kitchen dinner.  TiGeorges himself lost his restaurant to a fire while working hard to raise earthquake relief funds, and this Test Kitchen dinner was the first time that he was able to cook for Angelenos again.  Goat meat was baked with key lime, boiled in vinegar, then grilled over a fire and served with a sauce of key lime juice, olive oil and habanero chiles.  The long process of cooking the meat resulted in an incredibly tender juicy plate of meat that fell effortlessly off the bones.  Haiti is a beautiful country that has endured years of foreign occupation, slavery, poverty, corruption and now one of the worst natural disasters that the modern world has ever encountered.  This cabrit dish represented Haitian pride, strength and soul, just like its talented chef TiGeorges.

Winter grain porridge- Chef Dominique Crenn, Atelier Crenn preview Test Kitchen dinner (Los Angeles)

Michelin starred and Iron Chef conquering female chef Dominique Crenn, who is opening her own restaurant Atelier Crenn in San Francisco next month, graced us with her presence and her sensational talent at the Test Kitchen in Los Angeles for one special evening this month.  After having eaten at more than 12 Test Kitchen dinners this year, I can honestly say that her dinner was the single most impressive and delicious dinner of them all, displaying graceful beauty and culinary elegance.  As a speaker at the TEDx Bay Area Women event earlier this month, she shared her vision of using food as a medium for honoring nature as our ultimate nurturer, and her pledge for caring for our food sources by ‘returning to the soul’.  Indeed, every dish at her 5 course Test Kitchen dinner was a poetic tribute to mother earth and her plentiful bounties that sustain our lives, and was worthy of taking the top 5 places for my best 12 dishes of the year, but one stood out above the rest.  The winter grain porridge, a new type of dessert, that evoked a garden on a sloping hillside with its soft bed of red Peruvian quinoa cooked in chamomile tea, poached quince braised with Tahitian vanilla, hazelnut milk, nougatine, and micro chamomile and hibiscus flowers that sprouted from the soft earth, strewn between orange and green leaves that all together illustrated a portrait of nature.  The textures were soft, light, chewy and crunchy, and I felt like I was digging my spoon right into the earth.  It made me feel happy to be alive.

Seared toro, ankimo, caviar- Chef Hiroyuki Urasawa, Urasawa (Los Angeles)

Stepping through the entrance of Urasawa for the second time, I found myself breathing a sigh of relief, for I knew that I could just relax, sit back and get the best food and the most stellar service of my life.  Beer poured in a ceramic beer mug was at the perfect temperature, the cypress countertop sanded down every day with 3 types of sandpaper was soft and supple, and when I took my camera out of my bag, Chef Hiro summoned his server to lay a white cloth napkin on the counter upon which to place my camera.  It was like being back home in Japan, where attention to detail and meticulous service was the standard.  Here, in this Beverly Hills haven, I had many amazing dishes, one of which was a seared toro wrapped around monkfish liver and myoga ginger, neatly tied in the center with a strip of Kyoto turnip and topped with a heap of caviar.  Little yellow flecks of yuzu rind added a refreshing aroma to the ponzu sauce, all perfectly presented on a golden ceramic pedestal.  Chef Hiro is a true professional who exemplifies the Japanese culture of precision and obsession.  What people don’t know is that despite Urasawa’s reputation, Chef Hiro doesn’t make much money from his business.  He pays an enormous amount of rent, to honor the same space that his teacher, Chef Masayoshi Takayama of Masa, has given him, and he spends most of his money in preparing the best quality ingredients for his meals.  He lives in a rental apartment in downtown LA, and doesn’t even own a computer.  Oblivious to the fact that Urasawa has been on numerous blogs, he thought about it for a second, and then asked, ‘so…these blogs…it’s like, free advertising?’  Indeed, Chef Hiro, indeed.

Thank you to all of these wonderful chefs for making 2010 a special year for me, and bringing beauty and meaning to my life.  Their dedication and hard work to their craft is admirable, and is reflected in their food.  May 2011 be an equally delicious year for all!

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.


3655 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90007

(213) 747-2141


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.