My dietary needs have reached an obsession. It’s not about health. Nor is it about finding the holy grail. It’s about time optimization. So let us be honest. Sheisty food is everywhere. And I love it. So many easy options to satiate any sort of desires. Even if it’s not great food, its satisfying enough to make me step away from a pursuit of culinary grace. So step back and look at your life. I’m doing it right now. And I pray there are five hundred fantastic meals left in it. This eating experience so far, clouded by so much mediocrity… this can’t be it. There has to be more.
It’s a reckless endeavor. The beginning of an exorbant and dangerous eating expedition through the city. Well it isn’t really a beginning – this has been going on for years. It has been in artery clogging fashions, from tripe tacos at witching hours to pastrami chili fries for lunch. I’m trying to find that meal that will be one of my great five hundred. My well being comes second to an unabashed love of gluttony.
I am glad you are part of it.
So let’s start this LAIY column with ambition. Peruvian food has been in LA for years as a niche haute cuisine. There are places all over the city, satisfying that desire for a form of Latin American cuisine that is not as readily available. Mexican food is so pervasive that the mere idea of “Latin American cuisine” without our southern neighbors feels false.
In that regard, strictly Peruvian cuisine is so unrealistic to LA that it has to be imperative to our vibrant culture. It is the counter point to mediocre or middling Latin food. Picca is the latest addition to this dining scene. It has legit cred: chef Ricardo Zarate has became a mainstay of the Peruvian dining circle in the city. To his credit, his award as one of the Best New Chefs in 2011 feels slightly inevitable – his first restaurant, Mo Chica, has provided the best ceviche in the city while his work at Wabi Sabi and Sai Sai are also well respected. Picca is a step in a different direction. The ceviche is still there and it is wonderful. But here the focus is on bite sized, tapas style portions of traditional and modern Peruvian dishes.
Of course, beverages come first. The All Saints Fizz is a pisco sour doctored up with all the bells and whistles. The Martin Ricky reminds me of my favorite Mexican cocktail, the Vodka Ricky, with its citrus blast. The Sidecar has a heavy, amazing rhubarb flavor. The Avocado Project is like an avocado pina colada smoothie and could make any avocado-loving Californian instantly happy.
I found great delight in creating a medley of opening dishes. My dining party and I began with a smattering of Empanadas that were lightly baked with spicy and funky feta sauces. The chicharrons de pollo were more popcorn chicken pieces, familiar and delectable. Choritos, or mussels, bathed in a spicy buttery broth with diced pancetta waiting just under that hot savory mess. And when you can’t have more seafood, order some ceviche. The ceviche crocante took tender halibut and blended it with crispy calamari, a textural stunner. By contrast, a tuna tartar, while excellent, felt standardized against these savory dishes.
Embodying modern Peruvian cooking means some Japanese flare as well. Peruvian and Japanese culture are surprisingly so entwined that even a recent President of Peru was Japanese. Causa Sushi, a significant chunk of the menu, is a combination of ceviche and sushi. The traditional tuna tartare came with wonton pieces. So don’t feel out of place ordering a dish with urchin or eel.
I suggest diving headfirst into Anticuchos. Antichuchos are the same great food everyone eats all across the world – protein on a stick, spiced and cooked. The beef hearts stole our heart as it absorbed the fire’s smokiness and became tender morsels of beef. They felt softer than the beef filet. A smattering of potatoes were paired with a quail egg, perfect little vegetarian bites. The prawns, charred, soft, and salty all at once, were softened with a dash of pesto. Sweet potato is pervasive in new world cooking, so the bites of camote, drizzled with honey, were almost a dessert unto themselves.
The main plates follow a similar pattern. They are smaller, heartier tastes and not large entrees. The duck confit provided a solid flavor yet lacked the crunchy fat I am accustomed to. Braised oxtail soup was both sweet and hearty. Followed with some excellent churros and a nightcap, I was somewhere in between satiated and sedated for the first time in 2011.
Picca combines traditionalism and experimentation. Inspired morsels feel like bolts of divinity. But the simple bites stand out because they are simple. It’s like walking between hills and mountains. No matter what, you’ve climbed higher than everyone. But when you’re on top of the mountain, why ever go down?