I have to admit – despite my self-proclaimed knowledge about food and restaurants, I had never heard of the name Ricardo Zarate before the OAD dinner at Providence last month. And while I read about Mo-Chica briefly from Jonathan Gold’s 99 Essential Restaurants list, I didn’t know that it was Chef Zarate’s place, nor did I know about the chef’s acclaim (he was named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs earlier this year). He was also behind the Test Kitchen project that now houses Sotto (located directly below Picca). If I had knew all this before going into that dinner last month, I wouldn’t have been surprised that Chef Zarate’s food was on par with the three other chefs (Cimarusti, Urasawa, Lefebvre) that night. And when the chef came over to our table and told us about his upcoming restaurant Picca, I knew I had to go when it opened.
I had wanted to visit Picca before our dinner last Wednesday, but knew that the restaurant would be packed and wanted it to cool down a little (the restaurant is on Eater LA’s Heat Map as one of the hottest restaurants currently in L.A.). Well, judging by the scene at 8:30pm on a Wednesday night, it looks like there are no signs of the place cooling down. Luckily, myself, Ben, Eugenia, and Linh-Nam were seated promptly upon arriving at our exact reservation time.
Unlike the traditional Peruvian food that is served at Mo-Chica, the food at Picca is a little more upscale, with a Japanese influence (and in a much more chic and trendy setting). Kind of like a reversed Nobu. At first, the though of Japanese influence gave me goosebumps, since I despise fusion cuisine for the most part. But reading up on Peruvian cuisine, I learned that it was greatly influenced by the Japanese (and also other cultures like the Chinese). So my fears were quickly alleviated. It also helps that Chef Zarate has an extensive background in Japanese cuisine.
The extensive menu at Picca is essentially all tapas, divided into five sections: primeras (starters), segundos (causa sushi, ceviches and tiraditos), terceras (anticuchos), cuartas (entrees), and ultimos (desserts). Our waiter suggested that we order around four to five dishes per person. And while I had hoped to try all fifty dishes on the menu like KevinEats (in my wildest dreams!), the four of us “settled” on seventeen (or nineteen if you count the two that I had at the OAD dinner):
papa rellena – stuffed potato, slow cooked beef, boiled egg, rocoto aioli ($6)
Ben said that this tasted like chili cheese fries. While I wouldn’t agree with that, the dish did taste very homey. A good start to the meal.
(Left) albacore – garlic chip, ceviche sauce ($5), (Right) spicy yellow tail – spicy mayo, green onions, wasabi tobiko ($6)
These two dishes are causa, essentially Peruvian sushi. Instead of rice, there is a yellow mashed potato mixture. We got a couple orders (each order has two pieces) of the albacore and spicy yellow tail. The former was absolutely delicious. The latter was pretty good in its own right, but felt too much like a typical “spicy” sushi.
jalea mixta – crispy mixed seafood, tartare sauce ($11)
A mix of fried calamari, sea bass and shrimp accompanied by a tartar sauce. The calamari was perfectly fried, and overshadowed the other two seafood in my opinion. Simple, but solid dish.
Because we have dessert extraordinaire Eugenia in our dining party, having dessert is essential in our meal. Since they were going to bring out the dishes in random order anyways, Eugenia requested that they might as well mix in the desserts to that order as well. They happily obliged. These churros had a caramel-y custard filling, and there were chocolate, orange marmalade, and carob sauces on the side. My favorite dessert.
(Left) pollo – chicken breast, rocoto pesto ($5), (Right) beef filet – sea urchin butter, garlic chip ($8)
The dishes I was looking forward to the most – the anticuchos. Imagine Peruvian yakitori, and you have the right picture. Since these were also two to an order, we got a couple orders of the pollo and beef filet. I hate ordering chicken in restaurants because I find it boring, but the pollo was arguably my favorite antichuco of the night. The beef filet was very good as well – tender filet which was accented by the delicious uni butter.
cheese cake ($5)
We were warned that this cheesecake was nothing like a traditional one. While I knew that it wouldn’t be conventional, I was still caught off-guard upon first bite. It had a slight pepper-y taste (from the aji amarillo), and left a very cheese-y aftertaste. And I’m not talking about cream cheese taste either – it was more like Mexican cheese blend. Not too crazy about this dessert, but thought it was creative at least.
tres leches cake ($5)
Looked more like a parfait than a tres leches, with an abundance of fruit on top. I believe that this was Eugenia’s favorite dessert of the four. I liked it as well, but preferred the churros.
seco de pato – duck leg confit, black beer sauce, cilantro rice ($12)
Duck leg confit? I love duck! And while the duck was very good by itself, I was surprised to find myself liking the rice underneath even more.
ceviche crocante – halibut, leche de tigre, crispy calamari ($16)
A very interesting combination of raw and fried. The halibut ceviche was topped with fried calamari in a citrus marinate (the leche de tigre). I really liked this dish.
chicharron de costillas – crispy pork ribs crostini, sweet potato puree, feta cheese sauce, salsa criolla ($8)
Seeing the description, I was intrigued by how the combination could possibly come together harmoniously. It did, but I wasn’t exactly wowed by the dish.
lemon tart ($5)
I liked this dessert as well. My second favorite behind the churros.
oysters a la chalaca – pan fried oysters, cherry tomatoes sarsa ($9)
The oysters in this dish are actually fried instead of being raw. They tasted good, but I felt that I would’ve liked them even more raw, especially with the cherry tomato salsa.
scallops – mentaiko ($7)
At this point of the dinner, we had ordered fourteen dishes, and everyone else was full. But I had starved myself during lunch, and was determined to make the most out of my first visit here. So I ordered three more things. The first was the scallops causa with mentaiko (marinated pollock roe). Another delicious causa. I’m surprised how much I was digging the causa dishes, since they seemed so fusion-esque. I would probably go to a causa sushi bar now if they had such a place.
corazon – beef heart, rocoto sauce ($5)
Also got another order of anticucho, the beef heart this time (since I was feeling a little frisky from having a couple of drinks). Te amo mi corazon! They were really delicious. And I would go to a anticucho-a (play on yakitoria, obviously) place too!
choritos – steamed mussels, pancetta, aji amarillo butter ($9)
Got this order per recommendation from our waiter (who said that the butter was sea urchin). While the lack of uni is a little disappointing, the aji amarillo butter was still great to dip the accompanying bread in. The mussels themselves were very good as well, and it was interesting to taste the bits of pancetta.
We also got five different drinks between the four of us (Chilcano de Anis, Martin Ricky, The Avocado Project, Pisco Sour, Chicha Morada). I was responsible for the Chilcano de Anis and Pisco Sour, and thought that the former (with lime juice, ginger syrup, anise syrup, pisco, soda, mint sprig, and pernod) was my favorite of all the drinks that night. Note that the Chicha Morada isn’t an alcoholic drink. It’s a Peruvian purple corn drink – tasted like grape juice with a slight horchada twist.
I came into this dinner at Picca with extremely high expectations, and luckily, most of those expectations were met. None of the dishes we had that night were subpar, but most of the dishes didn’t blow my mind either. Just a group of really good Peruvian dishes. Maybe after a couple of more visits and trying all the dishes on the menu, I can truly appreciate the mastery of Chef Zarate’s Peruvian-Japanese combinations. But for now, consider me impressed, but left wanting more.
Chris Hei grade: B+
9575 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Note: credit DarinDines for the first photo. Also, I would like to apologize (again) for the terrible photos via my iPhone. If there isn’t ample lighting, the photos usually suck. I am not a prominent or wealthy enough food blogger to invest in a DSLR camera. So live with it, my few readers.