The wonders of Mercado La Paloma have been well documented, including on this site, but The Dove Marketplace has never been better thanks to a Peruvian flavor injection from Lima-born executive chef Ricardo Zarate.
Zarate named Mo-Chica for Peru’s pre-Incan language and utilizes local, seasonal ingredients. LA Times food editor Betty Hallock alerted me to the find with her Daily Dish post, and Mo-Chica instantly vaulted to the top of my must-try list. The logo features twin chile peppers that form pursed lips. The food isn’t very spicy, but the flavors are clean and robust, and Mo-Chica may already be L.A’s best Peruvian restaurant.
Zarate has been tearing it up over his first two months of business. He’s at Mo-Chica every day until 3 PM, then drives to Venice, where he’s executive chef of Wabi-Sabi along Abbot Kinney. When he’s not at Mercado La Paloma, protégée Mario Orellana controls the kitchen.
Our group, which included Pat Saperstein (Eating LA) and Matthew Kang (Mattatouille) split several dishes, including the Ceviche del Dia ($5). Japanese red snapper was lavished with leche de tigre – a mix of lime juice, garlic, ginger and celery – and plated with sweet yam slices, steamed hominy-like choclo and blistered corn kernels (cancha).
Special Ceviche ($15), showcased silky slices of “flat scallop” and chunks of Japanese red snapper on a massive mussel shell. This preparation was marinated in a similarly tangy (but sweeter) sauce and plated (shelled?) with familiar accompaniments. Given that, the dish probably wasn’t worth 3x the price of the other still-viable ceviche.
Mo-Chica also features Causa del Dia ($4), a vivid Peruvian potato salad of the day. In this case, it was a cake of creamy crab meat dressed with cascading green chile sauce that really made the dish pop.
The counter hosted a caddy of colorful sauces: orange rocoto, green aji and a yellow garlic sauce. These were all impressive, substantial versions of the classic Peruvian condiments, especially the spicy pepper-blended rocoto.
Chicken Sudado ($13) featured juicy chunks of chicken breast, tomato and onion, all treated to an addictive herb-flecked beer sauce. In this case, Zarate incorporated a lighter Modelo, but he prefers darker Peruvian beers with other dishes.
Seco de Cordero ($13) was probably a little too seco (dry), but the flavor more than compensated, with lamb shank that pulled off the bone into a moat of cilantro-beer sauce and earthy canario beans. In this case, Zarate uses a Peruvian black beer called Cuzqueña for its bitter qualities. Up top: salsa criolla, a Peruvian variation on pico de gallo that included more of those blistered cancha.
Since Mercado La Paloma is dry, Pat was forced to bring a bag of contraband beer from Anderson Valley: Boont ESB, Hop Ottin’ IPA and Boont Amber Ale. The Amber Ale was a good match for the sudado and the ESB paired well with the cordero, both of which incorporated somewhat similar beers.
Mo-Chica offered a very good Peruvian value and top ingredients in a colorful communal setting. Our only regret: Mo-Chica ran out of carab mousse.