1/2 cup milk
1/2 arroz con mariscos
1 glass mayurca (passionfruit juice)
1 glass water
Every time I go back to my alma mater’s campus, USC, I’m filled with blinding jealousy over some of the perks I didn’t get to enjoy. Where I stayed in cramp, decades-old dorms, there are now gleaming condo-like lofts surrounding the campus. While I spent hours editing in cramped, dingy bays, the film school now has a $150 million monolith as big as a battleship with names like “Spielberg,” “Lucas” and “Zemeckis” towering over the gateway. It’s a monument to brazen talent and money that Ayn Rand would’ve loved. I especially envy the food options. Chano’s, a dingy, late-night burrito stand, was my favorite eatery around campus at the time. Now there are Chipotle’s, microbrews, a wine bar, and across the 110 freeway, Mercado La Paloma, a Mexican mini-mall with a handful of stalls selling trinkets, crafts, dresses and food. The venerable Yucatan eatery Chichen Itza anchors one end while the other is inhabited by Mo-chica, a modest Peruvian food stand that belies an accomplished chef trained at various sushi restaurants.
It seems like every other restaurant has ceviche, tartare, sushi, sashimi, crudo and every other type of raw fish dishes, and I’ve watched many Top Chef contestants pump them out to save themselves. It’s relatively easy to prepare and easy to sell, but few are memorable. Mo-chica’s ceviche is the type you’ll remember. Sashimi-grade fish is sliced into medallions and marinated in a citrus and pepper sauce that’s a spicy slap in the face. The fish is only “seared” on the outside though. The inside is still raw, and that’s where you notice the chef’s trained skill at picking out high-quality fish. The tartness is strong but not overpowering and the peppers have a curry-like essence and gives you another flavor to contemplate. There’s boiled sweet potatoes to temper the punch, and bland ears of corn, both in hominy and puffed form for textural differences. The ceviche changes every day, depending on what’s available at the fish market. The one I had was sea bass. That’s a powerful incentive to frequent Mo-chica.
The arroz con mariscos provided the one misstep in the meal; the rice was gummy. But the flavors were still excellent, and there was a generous amount of mussels, clams and a pair of jumbo shell-on shrimps. It was our other main course that beguiled us. “Quinotto” isn’t really Peruvian. It’s a quinoa-and-mushroom dish that looks and feels like cream of wheat. Despite it’s humble look and demeanor, the flavors are deep, earthy and satisfying. It’s like a really creamy risotto, still toothsome from the quinoa grains but not gummy like rice tends to get. My friend Robyn took one bite and said, “Oh wow, that’s good.” I couldn’t argue.
ham sandwich on wheat with mayo
8 asparagus spears
1 can of Diet Coke
4 Oreo cookies
1 cup milk
1 cup Breyer’s reduced-fat chocolate ice cream