The Distinguished Gourmand: Mo-Chica
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I’ve finally shed my scared-eater skin and decided to try new styles of cuisine. The decision came to me on New Years 2008, when I devised my 101/1001 list. “Hey Evan,” I thought to myself, “Why don’t you try to eat more than American and Italian food for a change? Other people do, and they don’t all get food poisoning every day!” So I’ve been trying new things. Tonight I suggested a Peruvian place to Nicci called Mo-Chica. She almost suggested somewhere else, but then she read the Yelp reviews and changed her mind. Good thing for us, we had an amazing dinner tonight. Mo-Chica has definitely been the best adventure in new cuisine I have taken.
The eatery is located near the campus of USC, at 3655 Grand Avenue. The building which houses it goes by the name Mercado La Paloma. The best description of the place would be a standalone food court. There are a half dozen small restaurants inside. Each one has a few tables dedicated to its clientele. As Nicci and I approached the counter at Mo-Chica, a young woman helped us to a table for two near a small stereo speaker emitting Peruvian music. She handed us two menus, and proceeded to describe the appetizers to us. At first, we decided on Causa Del Dia (potato salad of the day), but after our waitress told us that the Ceviche was “famous,” we switched our order. After a few questions about the main courses, Nicci and I decided on our dishes: she ordered Aji De Gallina, and since I was planning on ordering that I quickly switched my order to Arroz Con Pollo. Nicci snidely commented something about my ordering chicken and rice, but after I told her I was interested in seeing how it was prepared in Peruvian cooking she understood my choice.
The ceviche took about ten minutes to prepare and serve. The portion might be considered by folks looking for hearty portions to be too small for two people to share. I think we were both satisfied by what we were able to eat. The dish was prepared with a handful of raw sea bass cubes, cilantro, corn nuts, hominy, and seaweed in a spicy, lemony and milky sauce. Everything tasted really fresh. The light ingredients in that size portion made for an excellent starter. For $5, it almost felt like theft!
The presentation of the main courses was stunning for such a small place. Each dish was served along with its sides in proper china, on a large wooden tray. The plating was remarkable. You’d never think you were in a warehouse-like marketplace by the way everything was served. Nicci’s Aji de Gallina was described as shredded chicken, walnuts, hardboiled egg, and boiled potatoes in a bread sauce. It looked like a yellow curry, and smelled kind of like alfredo sauce, but the flavors were definitely Latin. In actuality the sauce was a combination of yellow chillies, milk and bread. Our waitress was kind enough to describe all the components of the dish. It was served with a side of green beans, bread, and rice with hominy. The green beans were surprisingly sweet. The side of white rice gave us the chance to sample a trio of homemade sauces. One was a savory cheese/bread sauce, one was a moderately spicy mustard-colored sauce, and the red sauce packed a pretty good kick.
My dish, chicken breast (plus one leg) and sauteed rice with peas, carrots, tomato, onion and cilantro, was served in a salsa madre. It came with a side salad, sweet green beans and bread. The mixed greens salad was lightly dressed and — like the ceviche before it — tasted remarkably fresh. The chicken was well-cooked, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The rice was expertly flavored, and did not require any of the three sauces I chose to liberally mix into the dish. The portion size was perfect — not to hearty, just enough to be sufficiently full upon completion.
As we were finishing our dishes, our waitress returned to the table and said that the chef had decided to cook for us a dessert — free of charge — which she called an “experiment.” It was a carob mousse. She said it would be chocolate-flavored, but I don’t think there was any actual chocolate in the dish. The first taste completely took us by surprise. We were not expecting such a delicate yet rich treat. If they made a beer with that roasted coffee-like sugary flavor I’m pretty sure I would fall in love with it. Aside from its phenomenal taste, the dish served a second purpose as the perfect palette cleanser. Any hint of fire from our spicy main courses was immediately smothered by our cool, decadent dessert.
The meal we ate at Mo-chica was outstanding. I was shocked to learn that they’ve only been in business for three months. From the local music to the stunning presentation and bold Latin flavors, I could not have asked for a better introduction to Peruvian cuisine. What’s more, the entire meal cost less than $30! The kind staff and chef at Mo-chica deserve to be singled out as incredible and friendly food preparers and providers. The choice to gift us a free dessert was a very kindhearted gesture, and shows a commitment to customer service that one rarely finds in Los Angeles. Hopefully once they make enough money they will open more locations. Nicci and I both look forward to returning in the very near future to this culinary gem near USC.
Oh, yeah, Mo-chica also delivers! Amazing!
3655 Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90007
Mon. – Sat. 11:00am – 10:00pm
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