I can count on one finger the number of times I’ve had Peruvian cuisine. This was years ago in San Diego at some little mom-n-pop place and honestly, the meal was just okay. A couple of weeks ago, buzz started hitting my Twitter feed about Chef Ricardo Zarate’s soon-to-open Picca in the space above Test Kitchen (now Sotto). I was curious since his other restaurant, Mo-Chica, was raved about by fellow food bloggers and I wanted to have another go at Peruvian food. I fortunately snagged an early dinner reservation on one of their $40 prix-fixe sneak-peek nights last Friday and invited Kristen of Rock My Palate and Mark & Angela of I Flip For Food.
The space is nicely decorated with mirrors, wood, and features a large bar and lots of ambient lighting. Modern but casual-comfy…. We were quickly seated and started perusing the cocktail and food menu. Since I couldn’t drink (thank you, Baby), our wonderful waitress, Kimberly was quick to suggest a pitcher of Peruvian purple corn juice ($6) for me. Loved it! It tasted a lot like grape juice; now if only I could have had some vodka to mix in. The others at the table indulged in some house signature cocktails – pisco sours, Maracuyo (a sort of passion fruit mimosa) and…Banana Hammock, a banana flavored concoction. The girls had fun teasing Mark about this drink since he was the one that ordered it.
The menu is quite large and is sectioned into 4 parts; since the dining experience is meant to be progressive, it’s recommended that you order something from each section and it’s easy to share plates amongst a group. Guess what we did?
We were started off with an amuse bouche trio of tres leches de tigre – sea urchin, rocoto (a type of Andean chili pepper) and aji amarillo (a Peruvian yellow chili pepper). For such a small amount, these little bites packed quite a flavor punch.
Part 1: Primeras
This was delicious and refreshing but not any different from other tuna tartars I’ve had.
The table was a fan of this. I found the yolky broth was a little salty on its own but dip some of the toasted bread in it and oooooh, yeah! Flavor-gasm!
Basically, fried chicken but done very well. Nicely crispy, juicy, not oil-saturated, and tasty, especially when dipped in the spicy rocoto sauce.
I found the scallop was overwhelmed by the cheese and lemon sauce but the layer of baked cheese…well, you don’t let a good thing go to waste.
Part 2: Segundas – Causa Sushi
The “sushi” added a little Japanese flair. Yellow mashed potato cubes were topped with what you would normally find at a sushi restaurant. I enjoyed the Spicy Yellowtail the most.
Another table favorite was this bright and tangy ceviche. Chock full of squid, scallops, and two large shrimp, I enjoyed this very much. The choclo (a large Andean corn with kernels the size of lima beans) added a nice texture and subtle nuttiness.
Part 3: Terceras – Anticuchos
Meat on a stick, anticuchos is a popular Peruvian street food. For the filet, I didn’t really taste much sea urchin in the butter but the meat was juicy and had a nice smokey note to it. It was my first time eating beef heart. The flavor was milder than I expected and the spicy rocoto sauce was a little overpowering. The texture was slightly chewy. Overall, the only issue I had was getting over the fact I was eating heart. Organ meats make me slightly geeby. The pollo was wonderfully done and did not succumb to the dryness that so many chicken breasts fall victim to. I can definitely bring my carnivorous Husband here and have him order from this section and be happy.
A large prawn split in two, nicely grilled. I liked how you could eat all of it…shrimp brains!
Part 4: Cuartas
This dish, I think, was my favorite of the night. It was a little creamy like a risotto and the rice was cooked to a tender but not mushy consistency. The blend of seafood gave it a nice briny note. I could have eaten a HUGE bowl of this and died happy.
This was a hearty vegetarian dish. I adore pumpkin and really liked the tomato-y note in this dish. The one thing I didn’t care for was the choclo texture which was tougher than the choclo in the ceviche.
By the time this dish arrived, I was pretty much stuffed so I only took a little bite. The meat fell right off the bone; the flavor was hearty and rich. I could see this being a comforting dish on a cold fall/winter night.
Four different desserts were offered so, of course, we ordered one of each, despite being a bit full. Kimberly had me at churros…yes, please! These were filled with dulce de leche and served with a trio of dipping sauces – chocolate, mango and carob. I liked it best with mango. We also got a delicious lemon tart that had a beautiful slice of candied lemon, a Peruvian cheesecake that had an unexpected spicy note thanks to some aji amarillo and a berry parfait which was good but fairly standard.
As I mentioned before, our meal was $40 prixe-fixe that night but we did get a peak at the prices for some of the items ordered and I have to say, they were reasonable and some were lower than I expected. We were definitely happy and our appetites more than satiated. Note, though, that an 18% service charge is automatically added to your bill.
Overall, I was quite happy with this meal and definitely look forward to returning with Husband in tow. Picca is a place I would bring out-of-town guests for a fun and nice dinner.
4 1/2 NOMs for Picca!
9575 West PIco Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035