Tag Archives: Peruvian

March 4, 2010

4 Mar

9 am

1 banana

1 glass of water

12:45 pm

Mario’s Peruvian Seafood

1/4 order of arroz con mariscos (seafood-fried rice)

1/4 order of camarones de saltado (shrimp with potatoes, tomatoes and onions)

1 bread roll

1 20 oz. bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper

There are now more accomplished Peruvian restaurants than Mario’s in Los Angeles. Los Balcones del Peru, a mile north on Vine, is more sophisticated and Mo-chica is in another stratosphere. But Mario’s has been around since 1990 and was the reference point to Peruvian cuisine for many Angelenos. There were always a handful of Peruvian spots around LA, but Mario’s cooking is a bit more polished. Calamari and shrimps are rarely overcooked and always tender, which is an accomplishment in itself for restaurants in that price range. I always get the arroz con mariscos out of habit. It’s not the most exciting dish on the menu, but I find it highly satisfying and the best way to get a generous serving of seafood. Portions are also huge, even splitting dishes into two meals is daunting. Saltados, the popular Peruvian dish of meat stir-fried with tomatoes, onions and french fries, is probably the most popular dish here. I drove by Mario’s every day on my way to and from work so this was a regular take-out option for me. It’s a huge pain in the ass though. Mario’s is situated in a tiny mini-mall that has the most ill-conceived parking lot in LA. It’s narrow, so SUV drivers need nerves of steel to navigate through it, and the exit is labelled as the entrance, which often leads to standoffs between two cars, like two rams about to butt heads during mating season. Inside, Mario’s decor is bare, service is blunt and there are people hovering because there’s nowhere else to stand while waiting for tables. But over the past 20 years, we’ve come to accept those annoyances as part of the procedure for a reliably good Peruvian habit.

5 pm

Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf

1 small mocha latte

9 pm

Gobi Mongolian BBQ

1 plate of Mongolian BBQ

3 pieces of sesame bread

1 can of Siames Twin Ale

My only previous experience with Mongolian BBQ was Great Khan at the Santa Monica Mall. It was typical mall food, filling, extremely salty and not something that would displace Hot Dog On A Stick as my preferred mall option. So I was bemused when Gobi opened in Silver Lake with a sleek interior and a fancy beer/wine list in the middle of a hipster enclave. Sure enough, there’s a giant stone grill where a cook flips meat, noodles and vegetables around, and there is a giant buffet with frozen meat, vegetables, noodles and sauces for you to concoct a meal out of. Gobi is considerably better than mall food. There are better vegetable options like shiitake mushrooms, giant chunks of eggplants and green cauliflowers. You can also load a TON of garlic if one chooses. And they offer lamb, which should hold up well to the melange of flavors one piles on. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what meat you choose. They all end up tasting the same after you mix in 15 other ingredients. The fun of Mongolian BBQ is to see how much you can pile into a 24 oz. bowl, because whatever’s in the bowl ends up in your meal. If you’re geometrically adept, you can theoretically build a dish big enough for your entire dinner party. I figured that by putting the heavier vegetables on the bottom (eggplants, cauliflower), then the lighter ones like tomatoes, then leafy greens, then a pile of noodle to smoosh everything down was the best way to fill volume with food. The resulting plate was big enough for 2 1/2 meals. Being the slob that I am, I ate the whole damn thing, then took my friend Abigail’s leftovers home for tomorrow.

BTW, Mongolian BBQ isn’t actually Mongolian. It’s a product of Taiwan from the 1960’s, back when kitsch like Polynesian and teppanyaki cuisine caught on. Mongolian BBQ is actually a kitschier adaptation of Benihana, if that’s possible, and some genius decided to call it Mongolian because, well, that’s a good, racist way to symbolize brutish consumption of food. So no, Mongolian BBQ is not exactly a moment of culinary genius. But it can be fun playing Tetris with your food, and I don’t have to sit through yet another onion volcano.

Dec. 21, 2009

21 Dec

9 am

1 banana

1/2 cup milk

12:15 pm



1/2 arroz con mariscos

1/2 quinotto

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.

6:30 pm

ham sandwich on wheat with mayo

8 asparagus spears

1 can of Diet Coke

7 pm

4 Oreo cookies

1 cup milk

9:30 pm

1 cup Breyer’s reduced-fat chocolate ice cream

Dec. 3, 2009

3 Dec

10 am

1 bowl of Reese’s Puff’s

1:30 pm

Pollo a la Brasa

1/2 chicken

rice and beans

1 Diet Coke

I drove by this place on Tuesday and HAD to come to this venerable Peruvian chicken joint soon after. If you drive past the intersection of Western and 8th in Koreatown, you’ll notice this small, dumpy shack. It’s actually tough to spot, but it’s also impossible not to smell the burning wood and chicken that covers a 6-block radius. Being anywhere within that radius triggers an insatiable craving. The best way to find the location is to spot the car wash next door and the piles of logs that spill out of the shack, parking lot and the car wash itself. It’s all avocado wood and all destined for a giant spit roaster that produces a towering pillar of heat and smoke up in the air, slowly roasting whatever chicken is slowly spinning in it’s midst. The result is a bird infused with all the smoky flavor without losing any of it’s juiciness. It’s powerfully good. You can opt to embellish the chicken with a spicy aji sauce made out of Peruvian peppers, but it’s not necessary. You get two choice of sides, either soggy fries and salad or mushy rice paired with beans that are easily the best choice.

7:45 pm

12  pieces of mini veggie dumplings

1 can of Coke Zero

Store-bought this time.

%d bloggers like this: