Mama Lion roars with Chef Zarates creative menus

Koreatown’s supper club Mama Lion now has renowned chef Ricardo Zarate as a culinary partner to reimagine its menus. Known primarily for its bar and live music scene, owner Robert Kim asked Zarate to invigorate its culinary offerings.

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Recently, my husband and I visited Mama Lion to try some of Zarate’s new items. Most of the dishes are served tapas style, with his signature Peruvian touch combining with regional Asian and Latin influences.

We started with house-made blue corn tortillas layered with grilled mushrooms, caramelized onions, parmesan cheese, a sprinkle of chopped cilantro, a touch of truffle essence and topped with thinly sliced radish. Next, we tried his Taco Tu Madre, a pork chicharrón on blue corn tortillas with avocado, cotija cheese and a citrusy and smoky chipotle yuzu sauce and topped off with a sprinkle of spicy kimchi, which gives this taco a whisper of heat.

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The ceviche frito came next, offering fried sea bass nuggets with chipotle Leche de Tigre, red onion Peruvian salsa criollo and Peruvian “cancha choclo” corn nuts. Crisp romaine lettuce leaves accompany this dish, which and can be eaten as a lettuce wrap.

Another sensational fish dish is the sushi-grade ceviche kampachi. It’s marinated in a citrus based ponzu with a side of avocado mousse. Dots of chili rayu oil not only add a pop of color, but fiery flavor.

One of our favorite tapas was the smoked eggplant tartare arranged in a circle and mixed with chunky avocado, truffle essence and thinly sliced radish spheres on top. It’s ideal to spread on the accompanying crispy toast wedges.

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The most immersive presentations include the kimchi chafe, served in a metal container. Lift the lid to reveal Peruvian kimchi fried rice with a sunny side egg on top. Under the egg are thin white Simeji mushrooms, and a aji and green huacatay sauce. Huacatay is a native Peruvian herb related to tarragon that offers a pleasing mix of mint and basil aroma. Proteins can be added to this dish including large grilled prawns, pork belly or skirt steak.

The pièce de résistance was the lamb chops carried to our table underneath a smoky glass dome. Zarate glazes these chops with gochugaru, a Korean-style red pepper spice, and serves them with a creamy hummus and delightful sweet and tart pickled cucumber spheres. He ignites aromatic herbs and places them on top of the chops before covering with the dome. As the top is lifted, ethereal smoke with the aroma of herbs wafts about the table. These anticuchos (Peruvian-style meat dishes) were sweet, spicy and tantalized my palate.

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Dessert is not yet offered, but I’m hoping Zarate can make his famous tres leches cake that he made at Mo-Chica in downtown Los Angeles years ago.

Dinner is served Tuesday through Saturday from 6 to 10 p.m. Between 10 p.m. and midnight, Zarate offers an amended late night menu with tacos, baby back ribs and sweet potato fries. The bar stays open until 2 a.m.

Every Tuesday night, live jazz is on stage from 9 p.m. to midnight. There is no cover and walk-ins are welcome. $$ 601 S. Western Ave., (213)377-5277.

Also featured in the Beverly Press .

Ricado Zarate’s Newest Peruvian Restaurant

Years ago, I met three-time James Beard Foundation award nominee Chef Ricardo Zarate at his urban Peruvian restaurant, Mo-Chica. Later, he opened Picca, near Century City, and Paiche, in Marina del Rey, introducing Peruvian flavors fused with Asian and European ingredients. Enchanted by his culinary creations, I followed him to Santa Barbara to Blue Tavern restaurant, featuring Californian cuisine with Peruvian flavors. Then, he just disappeared.IMG_1457
The charcoal-fired whole branzino is topped with a very flavorful green mint aji sauce.

Zarate came back temporarily in 2015 with Once, a pop-up restaurant in Santa Monica. Once means 11 in Spanish, and the Peruvian-born Zarate chose the name because he is the 11th of 12 children. Zarate didn’t sit idle. He started cooking in the kitchen of smoke.oil.salt. with chef Brian Gregg, and wrote a cookbook, “The Fire of Peru.”

IMG_7754His cooking inspired my family and I to take a 10-day trip to Peru. Upon our return, I emailed Zarate to share my culinary experiences. He replied back and to my joy, told me that his restaurant Rosaliné (named in honor of his late mother) recently opened and that I should come in for dinner. We visited Rosaliné for dinner on a Saturday night and the restaurant was packed. Even with a reservation, we waited 20 minutes for a table.

Standing next to the small and crowded bar, we ordered four pisco sours – the quintessential South American cocktail. Piscos are made with Quebranta Pisco, a light-colored brandy made from fermented grape juice. The high-proof spirit is mixed with freshly squeezed lime juice, simple syrup, whipped egg whites and a drizzle of Peruvian bitters, and dusted with cinnamon and served in small ceramic cups resembling flower pots.

Rosaliné is located in the old David Myers Comme Ça space in West Hollywood. Los Angeles-based architect Kevin Tsai re-designed the room with herringbone patterned flooring and tiled walls. Baskets filled with greenery hang from the ceiling and a long, glass skylight and creates an atmosphere reminiscent of the verdant Peruvian jungle. Wood tables and mid-century chairs are complemented by a scattering of bright red metal chairs, adding some color into the room.

The dining room is dark and can get a bit loud, especially when all the tables are filled. The menu is divided into categories: Abrebocas (small plates to be shared), La Familia (larger portions), Mamaqucha (from the sea), Allpa (from the soil), and Pachamama (from the land).IMG_1443

We started with causita crocante – four crispy potato spheres nestled in a Sea Star Seafoods choice boned salt codfish box. The crispy potatoes with salted cod were topped with a pickled radish and wasabi Dijon mustard that gave it some zest.

Another eye-catching treat was Zarate’s Peruvian causa in a mason jar. I fondly remember him serving it at Once. Zarate starts with a base of Peruvian botija olive aioli and layers it with yellow potato mousse, smooth avocado and beautiful, thick eggplant terrine. It’s served with thickly sliced grilled quinoa bread brushed with oil. The smooth causa spread on bread is filled with earthy flavors.

IMG_1468I also liked his aceitunas, which arrived on a wooden plank accompanied by a bag of turmeric flat bread pieces to scoop up the spicy Peruvian olives, eggplant puree, micro greens and crunchy cancha corn, similar to a corn nut.

Ready for more food, we ordered the chafe paella made with Peruvian fried rice that is cooked in a skillet until slightly crispy on the bottom. The server brought it to our table piping hot and stirred in prawns, pancetta and pork La Chang Chinese sausage in a fermented seafood paste.

IMG_1460I didn’t see paiche on the menu, however Zarate offers a whole charcoal-fired branzino that’s heightened with a green mint aji sauce. Wood fired tomatoes, beans and grilled lemons adorn the dish.

We all enjoyed the tender pork osso buco wrapped in banana leaves and surrounded by crispy plantains. The pork was covered with a brick red ancho sauce made from slightly spicy ancho chilies and peanuts. It was served with a pickled hard-boiled egg and soft garbanzo tamale.

IMG_1461Not wanting dinner to end, we ordered two desserts. The first was a small slice of a sour Japanese umeboshi pickled plum tart on top of a purple corn spread with a scoop of a slightly orange flavored Chancaca ice cream and a wisp of cinnamon. The second dessert was Peruvian cake with goat’s milk blended with vanilla bean, sugar and coconut milk and served with Harry’s Berries strawberries and meringue kisses that have been slightly torched to a golden color. A scoop of guava sorbet is offered on the side, and a few maracuya passion fruit seeds are sprinkled atop the cake.

When our bill arrived, our server told us that a 20 percent service charge is included, so there is no need to tip. At the end of the evening, it’s divided among the kitchen and service staff.

I saw Zarate in his open kitchen and whispered to him, “Your mother is looking down so proudly on all of your accomplishments.”

$$$ 8479 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. (323)297-9500.

My review was also featured in the Beverly Press on September 21, 2017 – http://beverlypress.com/2017/09/rosaline/

Once – Better Than A 10!

Writer with
Writer with Executive Chef Ricardo Zarate

Following chef Ricardo Zarate, one of my favorite Los Angeles chefs, has been an exhilarating culinary adventure. I first met the three-time James Beard Foundation award nominee at his spirited, urban Peruvian restaurant, Mo-Chica. He followed that success by opening Picca, near Century City, and Paiche, in Marina del Rey, introducing pleasing South American cuisine with a touch of Asian and European flavors.

I also followed him to Santa Barbara to experience his Blue Tavern restaurant, featuring Californian cuisine with a Peruvian flair in hand-tossed pizzas, pasta and grilled meats. Sadly, it all came to an end when he disappeared from the L.A. restaurant scene.
While dining at different restaurants in Los Angeles, I recognized a few of his loyal servers and whispered, “Where is Ricardo Zarate?” Quietly, a few told me, “He is coming back, and he will make a sensation when he does.” I held onto those words.

Last month, I learned Zarate is back. He opened a pop-up in Santa Monica at Santino’s on Lincoln Boulevard. Many of his previous employees wanted to work with the kind and gentle chef again, especially his Paiche crew.

Naming his new pop-up Once (pronounced on-seh) made perfect sense, since in Spanish it means number 11, and Zarate is the 11th of 12 children in his family. Growing up in Lima, he was in charge of cooking for his family at a young age.IMG_7385

I eagerly made a reservation to reunite with my old friend and experience his new venture. The interior of Santino’s is dark, with lots of wood and light fixtures with designs made from wine corks.

I sat at a table for two and noticed the pleasing scent of grilled vegetables and meats. Zarate’s son was assisting him at the grill. The tables are close together letting guests see the different dishes being delivered in the dining room.

Feisser Stone, known as a superstar mixologist at Hinoki and the Bird helms the bar at the back of the restaurant. Guests may order beer, wine and low-proof cocktails including the Mint To Be made with sherry, lime, cucumber and garnished with mint. It was very refreshing on a warm summer night. I also ordered a Passion Fruit Brut made with champagne, aperol and a small passion fruit popsicle. The bubbles of the brut slowly melted the popsicle.

The menu features 11 a la carte dishes that change weekly based on ingredients Zarate finds at farmers’ markets. His goal is to create dishes that people are eager to share with others at their table.

IMG_7390My favorite starter was the Peruvian causa in a mason jar. Causa is a popular layered Peruvian potato dish served cold. Zarate starts with a base of Peruvian black botija olive aioli, layers it with smooth avocado and mashed yellow potatoes, and tops it with a beautiful, thick, eggplant stew with pieces of the dark purple skin. It’s served with thinly sliced grilled bread brushed with oil. Causa has the consistency of budino, and is an exquisite spread on the toasted bread.

We were also thrilled with the smoky barbecued figs paired brilliantly with peppery arugula and crisp pepitas dusted with Parmesan. The dish was drizzled with savory balsamic rocoto chile pepper dressing.

Zarate offers seafood dishes including one of his famous ceviches, which are packed with heat. Paella is grilled on the back patio, and charcuterie plates include octopus and cured meats.

After a plate of deep-fried, crispy Japanese mackerel sprinkled with sea salt arrived, I passed the plate to an inquisitive man at a FullSizeRender-22nearby table. He closed his eyes and smiled after he tasted the crispy fish dipped in a lovely citrus aioli. When Zarate’s wood fire-grilled Peruvian paella was brought to his table in a large, black skillet, the guest urged me to try the fried rice mixed with amarillo aioli, black tiger prawns, juicy and sweet Hokkaido scallops and Chinese lachang sausage.

Three meat options on the menu include a small rib-eye plate and a much larger rib-eye dish served with cipollini onions and grilled tomatoes. We ordered the filet mignon sliced and served in a black skillet with roasted tomatoes, braised cipollini onions, red onions, grilled green onions and sliced fingerling potatoes. Zarate uses Kimlan soy dressing to make savory gravy, and serves a sunny-side-up egg on top, making the dish spectacular.

Zarate also offers three desserts each week including panna cotta, and chocolate and picarones. We ordered the chocolate mousse with lucuma – a Peruvian fruit with maple and sweet potato flavors – and topped with Chantilly cream. The couple seated next to us loved the sweet potato beignets served with a cup of fig syrup. Glasses of sherry, vermouth, Moscato D’Asti, Cardamaro, Bonal and Byrhh – an aromatized apéritif made of red wine – are available for guests craving after-dinner drinks.

Zarate twice walked into the dining room to greet some of his familiar guests. A few diners stood up to shake his hand and pat him on the back. I rose to give him an appreciative hug and congratulated him on his new endeavor. Zarate is back and better than ever.

Reservations are available Thursday through Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. until October for tables for two, four or six guests. Reservations can be made up to two weeks in advance by visiting https://www.table8.com/v/once-by-ricardo-zarate.

A limited number of tables are available on a first come, first served basis. If seats are available at the bar, walk-in guests are welcome to sit and watch Zarate do what he does best – cook amazing Peruvian plates.

3021 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica. http://www.eatonce.com.

This article was featured in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News on September 10, 2015.

Mo-Chica

DSC_0084The special tasting menu featured on Tuesdays at Mo-Chica encouraged me to gather a group of friends to experience Chef Ricardo Zarate’s Peruvian cuisine.

We sat in the back room of the restaurant admiring the vibrant red walls with the words “Mo-Chica” in big letters. A hip-looking llama by famed local graffiti artist Kozem enhances this urban restaurant’s unique vibe.

Looking over the cocktail menu by Deysi Alvarez, we ordered watermelon margaritas – a melon libation with a sweet yet spicy zing – and Peruvian maids, which is similar to a mojito with albilla pisco, cucumber, mint, fresh lime and evaporated cane syrup.

Later we ordered a couple of white wines from Argentina and Spain. The Catena chardonnay offered a hint of honeyed tropical fruit flavors.

Three of us selected the five-course tasting menu for $27 per person. The first course was a salad of vine-ripened roasted heirloom tomatoes with smooth burrata, huacatay pesto (Peruvian black mint) and crunchy quinoa, which originated in Peru.

Chef Zarate enjoys using quinoa and Peruvian black mint in many of his dishes.

One friend ordered a la carte off the main menu. Her grilled artichoke was topped with huacatay pesto.

Our second course was an interesting ceviche trio. Our favorite was the Hokkaido (Japanese) scallops with bottarga (a shaved Mediterranean cured fish roe) resting next to monkfish liver with cherry marmalade. Liver of any kind is definitely an acquired taste. The cherries do sweeten its distinctive flavor. Last, was a delicate bite size piece of Hamachi (Japanese yellowtail) with a slightly salty seaweed salad.

The third course was a roasted chicken thigh layered with truffles. The flavors were intensified with Shitake mushrooms and a jalapeno sauce. Our server Jean, from Lima, DSC_0091explained that the sauce is made with tofu to thicken it without having to add any fat. It was a gorgeous dish. We all enjoyed the golden colored Kobacha, a Japanese winter squash.

After taking a bite of the magnificent short rib entrée, we all agreed this dish was the best of the four served. The meat was incredibly tender and full of distinctive flavors that soaked into the creamy quinoa risotto.

Our last course was a splendid slice of tres leches cake. One friend commented that she wished the cake was soaked with more leche, yet she liked that it was accompanied with a blueberry sauce as well.

We asked Jean which Peruvian dishes on the menu were foods that he ate as a young boy. He said that his grandmother would always make him Papa a la Huancaina –  a dish of Peruvian potatoes, olives, and hard-boiled egg with a spicy cheese sauce made with Peruvian aji Amarillo peppers. Chef Zarate offers his version with green beans and bacon to elevate it to a more modern culinary comfort food.

Upon leaving, we all agreed that Chef Zarate’s beef short ribs were the highlight of the tasting menu. Many top-notch restaurants in Los Angeles serve beef short ribs for $27. At Mo-Chica, it was one of the five courses served for that same price.

Come try the Tuesday tasting menu at Mo-Chica. The dishes will vary each week, yet I guarantee that you will enjoy the unique flavors and creative presentation of Chef Zarate and his talented culinary staff.

Open for lunch and dinner. The lunch special is two daily dishes with rice and a dessert for $15 per person. The restaurant is open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays.  Lunch service begins at 11:30 a.m. Come between 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to get 20 percent off your bill. Dinner is from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. $$ 514 W. 7th St. (213)622-3744. http://www.mo-chica.com.

Published in the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

 

The Pleasing Paiche

IMG_1420Chef Ricardo Zarate’s newest restaurant, Paiche in Marina del Rey, opened earlier this month to a standing-room crowd. I was invited to a pre-opening “hard-hat” tasting a few days earlier and saw two young artists with brushes in hand applying gold paint on to floor to ceiling cobalt blue posts. They were replicating the scales of the Paiche fish, the restaurant’s namesake.

“Paiche is a large freshwater fish found in the Amazon,” Zarate said. “The babies can be around 10 to 14 pounds. The adults grow up to over 400 pounds.” The bigger fish are known to come out of the water to snatch small land animals walking along the Amazon basin.

Cooking has been a part of Zarate’s life from an early age, he said. With 12 brothers and sisters, he often helped out in the kitchen. “I’m number 11, one of the youngest,” Zarate said. “I didn’t realize I wanted to work as a chef until I was 16-years-old. I just knew that I enjoyed cooking for others,” he said.

Later, he studied at Institute of Americas Culinary School and after graduating, settled in London. He worked at various restaurants and consulted with Gordon Ramsay before coming to Los Angeles and opening Mo-Chica in 2009, his first of three restaurants.

Located in downtown Los Angeles, Mo-Chica is named for the language of a pre-Incan civilization. Zarate’s authentic Peruvian food became so popular, that he had to move to a bigger space on 7th street in 2012.

Next came Picca, which means, “to nibble.” It’s a Peruvian cantina with a Japanese cuisine influences. Zarate has a chef’s counter where guests can dine and watch the chef and his staff prepare creative nouvelle dishes.

Paiche is the third creation from Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chef in 2011. It has a Japanese Izakaya feel with lacquered wood tables and Zen-like Steelite International plates.IMG_1435 Small smooth stones are at each place setting for guests to rest their chopsticks.

Ricardo puts passion into his creative plates and enjoys using yuzu, an aromatic Japanese citrus fruit.  We tasted yuzu with the seared albacore salad topped with a hard-boiled quail egg. He also adds a hot pepper sauce called aji in many dishes. It has been used in Peru since the times of the Incas, and is a staple in Peruvian cooking.

Since Chef Ricado Zarate has hit L.A.’s restaurant scene, he has opened three restuarants, Mo-Chica, Picca and now Paiche. He was named “Best New Chef” in 2011 by Food and Wine magazine. One of my favorite dishes was the eggplant with a slightly spicy aji and miso sauce. Microgreens and shaved Parmesan cheese topped this vegetarian dish.

We tried various fish dishes and really enjoyed the crispy fish with a slightly tart lime yuzu dipping sauce.

Zarate is known for his beautifully presented ceviche dishes. The seared tuna tartar was ceviche style, topped with caviar and served with crisp wonton chips.

A satisfying plate of yellowtail and salmon served sashimi style arrived with a sweet miso sauce and topped with garlic chips. Another dish of seared albacore and halibut is bathed in a pool of aji amarillo aioli.

IMG_1446Three pieces of Amazonia paiche were plated in an aji amarillo lemon vinaigrette with a sweet potato mousse on top and a crunchy sweet potato chip. It was a light, buttery type of fish. Now I know why this is the most requested fish in South American restaurants.

One of the most dramatic looking dishes to be sent to our table was a Santa Barbara prawn with its head and all, wrapped in filo dough, fried and slicked with a spicy jalapeno ponzu dressing. The sauce was tart and a dark brown color.

King crab legs accompanied Diver scallops with a red chili rocoto amarillo sauce.

We gave a thumbs up to the bite-size stuffed yucca beignets filled with Manchego cheese and topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

Patiently, we waited for the dessert of a puff pastry filled with sweet potato and topped with a pumpkin cream with caramel and toasted pecans.

The residents of Marina del Rey are fortunate to have Paiche and Ricardo Zarate in their neighborhood. It’s an exciting culinary destination for foodies to sip a glass of wine, sake, or creative cocktail as they experience a rollercoaster of pleasing sensations. Open for lunch daily from 11:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Dinner begins daily at 5:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. 13488 Maxella Ave. (310)893-6100.

This review was published in the 4/25/13 issue of the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News.

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