BREADBAR co-owner Ali Chalabi and chef Noriyuki Sugie have made repeated efforts to give inventive chefs a stage with their monthly “Hatchi Series.” On January 28, lauded Mo-Chica chef-owner Ricardo Zarate took to the Century City stage, delivering a captivating Peruvian dining experience that he dubbed “Peru Mucho Gusto.”
A trio was playing traditional Peruvian music on BREADBAR’s patio, including a percussionist who was blistering a black cajon (box) with lightning quick hands. Throughout the evening, a number of dancers (some hired, others not) took the floor to accompany the music.
Hatchi means “8” in Japanese. Given that, each Hatchi menu offers 8 dishes for $8 per dish, with a minimum order of 4 dishes per person. I was invited by BREADBAR’s publicist to partake in Zarate’s meal, which showcased Mo-Chica’s greatest hits from the past year.
Instead of bread, tables received paper boats filled with blistered corn kernels (cancha), which were similar to popcorn, but chalkier.
Earthy purple cauliflower soup was showered with crispy pancetta and drizzled with tangy feta cheese dressing.
Causa Trio featured Peruvian potato salad cakes stained yellow with turmeric. For the most part, the starchy potato muted the fairly bold flavors of the seafood and sauces: spicy minced blue fin tuna with rocoto aioli, pulled blue crab mixed with mayo and drizzled with huancaina sauce, and scallops topped with cascading mentaiko (marinated cod roe).
Zarate printed a Peruvian fact sheet for the meal, and he explained that “Causa” refers to the war between Peru and Chile. A Lima potato farmer offered support “for the cause” of Lima and a symbolic (and iconic) potato dish was born.
Ceviche Mixto featured tender cubes of sea bass bathed in uni sauce. The dramatic serving vessel was the shell of Tairagai – giant razor clam – anchored to the plate with salt. The shell also hosted steamed kernels of hominy-like choclo, red onion strands and aji Amarillo leche de tigre sauce, a tangy mix of lime juice, garlic, ginger and celery.
My favorite dish of the night was Tiradito de Pescado, silky sheets of yellowtail bathed in sun-dried tomato yuzu dressing and topped with a mild salsa.
Another winner was Carapulcra, tiny nubs of Peruvian sun-dried potatoes tossed with chimichurri, strewn with crispy bits of pancetta and topped with a juicy fillet of crisp-skinned black cod. According to our cheat sheet, Carapulcra is the oldest dish in Peru, originally eaten in the Andes with camelid meat. Camelid is apparently an Andean cousin of the camel.
The only disappointment of the night was Seco de Cordero, lamb shoulder stewed in a sauce made from cilantro and Peruvian black beer called Cuzqueña, which Zarate uses for its bitter qualities. The meat was plenty tender, but it was also bland, even when paired with pinto-like canario beans and salsa criolla, a Peruvian variation on pico de gallo.
Kiwicha con Leche y Esencia de Mazamorra was a mildly sweet pudding made with kiwicha, a tiny Peruvian grain. I liked the intensely sweet purple corn essence, the mixed nuts and the subterranean prune. The only thing that didn’t fit were the peanut butter chips. According to Zarate’s notes, Incas called it “dessert of the gods.”
We finished with Selva Negra, a flourless chocolate cake named for a region of Peru known for its chocolate. The potted cake was fluffy and hot, but the highlight was a dish of vibrant lucuma ice cream poured with bright orange tamarillo sauce. Lucuma and tamarillo are both tropical fruits.
Tasting Kitchen bartender Devon Espinosa was in the house to make three different Pisco cocktails. We split a Cocktail de Algarrobina, made with Pisco, carob syrup, orange zest and cinnamon. Espinosa said that when Zarate handed him the carob syrup, he was overwhelmed by the bitterness and pungency. He added dulce de leche and St. Germain, which Tony’s bartender Skyler Reeves calls “bartender bacon,” since it makes every cocktail better.
After the meal, I asked Zarate what was in the works. The Lima-born chef said that he has a couple more events in February, and then hopes to open a restaurant on the Westside, though no location is set. If the Hatchi turnout was any indication, there’s a market for Mo-Chica closer to the 405.