It seems like only yesterday that this was still Test Kitchen. In fact, it's been about six months since restaurants were doing pop-up runs on the inside. On the outside, it was just a large, undistinguishable red building. Those days are long gone. Now, it still doesn't have a sign, but it has sprawling letters artfully tossed across its front: P-I-C-C-A.
Picca is the joint effort of Chef Ricardo Zarate (of Mo-Chica) and managing partner Stephane Bombet. Zarate recently won the accolade of being named a Food & Wine Best New Chef, and the restaurant pairs his Peruvian cuisine with an opening cocktail menu crafted by Julian Cox. We loved our experience at Sotto downstairs. Could it be that two of our favorite new restaurants in LA would end up under the same roof?
Inside Picca, summer light pours in from ceiling-high windows. Walls feature a mix of wood, whites, and stylish design. Another mirrored wall outlines and defines some of the basic gastronomic staples of Peru- ceviche, anticuchos, pisco. The result is welcoming, cozy, and even a little informative for those less familiar with Peruvian cuisine.
With their grand opening happening on Saturday night (June 25th), Picca opened their doors Thursday and Friday for a trial run in the vein of the good ol' Test Kitchen days. We were quite excited to meet Catty Critic and Rock My Palate for an early Friday crack at the menu, which is broken down into five sections, plus dessert. Picca recommends a progressive dinner, ordering one from each of the sections.
We started things off with a few drinks. The house pisco sour (below, left) was subtle and refreshing. The Maracuyo (below, right) was refreshingly citrusy and subtly sweet, a perfect summer sipper. All drinks include pisco, the national liquor of Peru.
In addition to all the Pisco drinks on the cocktail menu (below, left) was the Banana Hammock (below, right). I don't normally order banana cocktails, but Mr. Cox seems to know his way around the pisco and made a banana cocktail I wasn't ashamed to drink. I was, however, a little ashamed to have to ask our server for a 'banana hammock'.
Our journey began with the tres leches de tigre (below), or "tiger's milk." Much like the bold-flavored ceviche marinade that this dish is named for, the trio of rocoto, aji amirillo, and sea urchin flavored shooters packed some serious punch. A few members of our party found them to be a little too overpowering, while others loved the eye-opening tartness.
Zarate highlights his Peruvian menu with a touch of Japanese flair. With the causa sushi (below), he dresses mashed yellow potato with the toppings you'd expect from sushi. The snow crab with cucumber, avocado and huancaina sauce was on the fishier side but the sweet meat plus the creamy sauce was still a nice combination. The yellow tail with spicy mayo, green onions and wasabi tobiko had a bit of smokey flavor in addition to the spice. The spicy tuna with tobiko and cucumber had a nice little kick.
One of the group's favorite dishes of the night had to be the ceviche mixto (below) which arranged mixed seafood, choclo and sweet potato into a beautifully composed dish. The choclo is a large-grain Andean corn that's common in Peruvian fare and in addition to its slightly nutty flavor, it is some seriously giant corn. And the kitchen doesn't skimp on the seafood - the dish was loaded with tasty squid rings, huge and juicy shrimp and sweet morsels of scallop. After the strong tartness of the Tiger's Milk trio, the creamy ceviche was a nice contrast.
Next, we went onto the tuna tartare (below) with tuna, avocado, lemon soy dressing and wanton chips. Conventionally prepared, the tartare was perfectly executed. Its simple, clean flavors expressed a noticeable subtlety in comparison to other dishes.
The conchas a la parmesana arrived, picturesquely nestled atop mounds of salt. The mild taste of the scallops and the hidden bed of spinach underneath them were a little overwhelmed by the layer of crispy parmesan cheese. But who doesn't love crispy cheese? And the bright lemon sauce cut through some of the oiliness of the parmesan.
Another huge hit at our table were the choritos, steamed mussels, panccetta, aji amarillo butter. The briny flavor of the mussels was tempered deliciously by the lush, yolky sauce. After the shellfish was gone, we sopped up the rest of the buttery sauce with the accompanying toasted bread.
The chicharron de pollo, marinated crispy chicken, salsa criolla, rocoto sauce was really flavorful - bright and fresh - and the chicken meat was juicy. We were hoping that the coating would be a little crispier, but this small glitch didn't stop us from picking the plate clean.
Anticuchos are a staple of Peruvian street-food, and Picca offers an extensive selection of skewered meats cooked over a charcoal flame. The beef filet (below, left) with sea urchin butter and garlic chip presented an awesome char over the tender meat. Unfortunately, the plate was cleared away by Picca's attentive crew before any of us were able to lick the delicious sea urchin butter from it. The corazon (below, right) is Zarate's beef heart anticuchos served with rocoto sauce. The slightly chewier meat had a delicious iron-y taste (which isn't to say it was ironic, but that it tasted of iron.) The Pollo (also below, right) was similarly enjoyable, and paired chicken breast with a tasty rocoto pesto.
We moved on to a couple of the entreees, first digging into the arroz con erizo (below), a Peruvian paella with mixed seafood. The tender grains of rice were bathed in a sumptuous, oceany sea urchin sauce that had us drooling, and each piece of seafood was perfectly plump and juicy.
The locro de quinoa (below), was just as hearty as the rice dish, thanks to the filling nature of the grain and the inclusion of more choclo. The sweet pumpkin stew got a salty flavor boost with the help of some parmesan cheese, and the crispy tomato topped with toasted bread crumbs lent a great tang.
The very simple Santa Barbara prawn (below) dish offered sweet shrimp meat with a nice char.
The chanfainita (below), was the ultimate way to end the parade of savory dishes. The braised oxtail, which featured mote and a hearty potato stew, simply fell off the bone and melted in your mouth. Typically, we're used to heavier renditions of this savory dish, but here the tender meat was accented with a welcomed dash of zest.
And then there were churros (below, left). Oh boy, do I love a good a churro. And these are as good as they get. With a rich dulche de leches cream filling inside, these sugary meal-enders went well with all three of their dipping sauces (below, right) which consisted of chocolate, mango and carob.
Along with the churros, the Peruvian cheesecake (below) may have been a consensus favorite. A little aji amirillo provided a very unexpected pop of heat and savoriness amidst the otherwise sweet dessert.
The lemon tart (below, left) was a favorite of Angela's, with an awesome candied lemon garnish and a wonderful crumbly crust supporting the creamy and bright filling. She also really enjoyed the tres leches (below, right) dessert, which embedded berries in its layers of liquid soaked butter cake.
We were giving adorable little Picca cow keychains to take away. Press the button on their cow's head and they light up like a mini-flashlight.
We were literally blown away by the cuisine at Picca. Los Angeles is lucky to have chefs like Ricardo Zarate and we're glad to now have a second great reason to return to 9575 W. Pico Blvd.