In early 2009, when Lima native Ricardo Zarate opened the original Mo-Chica at Mercado La Paloma and drew fascinated diners in droves using Peruvian comfort food as bait, it soon became clear that was just the beginning. He eventually built enough of a base that he no longer had to hold down two jobs, leaving the executive chef post at Venice’s Wabi Sabi to work on additional projects. In July, he teamed with front of house counterpart Stephane Bombet and restaurateur Bill Chait on Picca, a contemporary Peruvian cantina in Beverlywood. Now Zarate and Bombet are wasting no time in opening a fine-tuned take on Mo-Chica along a red-hot stretch of downtown L.A.’s 7th Street, called Mo-Chica on 7, which should debut in Fall 2011.
Yesterday, Bombet and Zarate walked me through the former, fleeting home of Sandella’s Flatbreads, which they leased six months back at 514 West 7th Street, down the block from Bottega Louie and across the street from Seven Grand. The duo added half of a hallway to increase flow and designed the space themselves. Bombet said the “rustic modern” design is a “natural evolution of Mo-Chica,” with the same earthy color scheme, but with more of a “downtown artsy vibe,” complete with street art courtesy of Peruvians.
The interior-only space will feature a 45-seat dining room in back with banquettes and a communal table. A hallway with counter seats connects to the front room, which will house a full bar, an exposed concrete ceiling, columns and flooring, and a pair of eight-seat communal tables next to the glass front. Three high-top tables will adjoin an open kitchen, allowing for views of the action. During my visit, pencil marks on a yellow wall designated “rice cooker,” “charbroiler,” range 36,” “range 24,” “range 24,” and “working table,” which hinted at the layout.
According to Bombet, “The idea is just to do Mo-Chica in the same way, but in a better environment.” Given that, expect similarly comforting Peruvian dishes, with a bigger menu: 10 starters, 10 entrees, desserts and a host of specials. Zarate was especially excited about serving patita con mani, a boneless pig feet stew with potato and peanut, and pachamanca, a multi-meat stew with root vegetables that’s traditionally cooked in a hole in the ground with hot stones, but will instead be treated to hay-smoking in an oven. He also expressed an interest in preparing more exotic animals, like cuy (guinea pig), which is popular in Peru. For dessert, look for picarones (pumpkin donuts) with figs. The menu will be the same at lunch and dinner, and cocktails are still TBD, but will undoubtedly include Pisco. “This Mo-Chica is what it’s supposed to be,” said Zarate, referring to the inherent limitations of the original space, which still has no liquor license. “It’s a grown up Mo-Chica,” said Bombet. “Now the baby can walk. We’ll see if she can run.”