Chef Ricardo Zarate’s newest restaurant, Paiche in Marina del Rey, opened earlier this month to a standing-room crowd. I was invited to a pre-opening “hard-hat” tasting a few days earlier and saw two young artists with brushes in hand applying gold paint on to floor to ceiling cobalt blue posts. They were replicating the scales of the Paiche fish, the restaurant’s namesake.
“Paiche is a large freshwater fish found in the Amazon,” Zarate said. “The babies can be around 10 to 14 pounds. The adults grow up to over 400 pounds.” The bigger fish are known to come out of the water to snatch small land animals walking along the Amazon basin.
Cooking has been a part of Zarate’s life from an early age, he said. With 12 brothers and sisters, he often helped out in the kitchen. “I’m number 11, one of the youngest,” Zarate said. “I didn’t realize I wanted to work as a chef until I was 16-years-old. I just knew that I enjoyed cooking for others,” he said.
Later, he studied at Institute of Americas Culinary School and after graduating, settled in London. He worked at various restaurants and consulted with Gordon Ramsay before coming to Los Angeles and opening Mo-Chica in 2009, his first of three restaurants.
Located in downtown Los Angeles, Mo-Chica is named for the language of a pre-Incan civilization. Zarate’s authentic Peruvian food became so popular, that he had to move to a bigger space on 7th street in 2012.
Next came Picca, which means, “to nibble.” It’s a Peruvian cantina with a Japanese cuisine influences. Zarate has a chef’s counter where guests can dine and watch the chef and his staff prepare creative nouvelle dishes.
Paiche is the third creation from Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chef in 2011. It has a Japanese Izakaya feel with lacquered wood tables and Zen-like Steelite International plates. Small smooth stones are at each place setting for guests to rest their chopsticks.
Ricardo puts passion into his creative plates and enjoys using yuzu, an aromatic Japanese citrus fruit. We tasted yuzu with the seared albacore salad topped with a hard-boiled quail egg. He also adds a hot pepper sauce called aji in many dishes. It has been used in Peru since the times of the Incas, and is a staple in Peruvian cooking.
Many times aji is made into a piquant sauce with tomatoes, cilantro, onions, and water.
One of my favorite dishes was the eggplant with a slightly spicy aji and miso sauce. Microgreens and shaved Parmesan cheese topped this vegetarian dish.
We tried various fish dishes and really enjoyed the crispy fish with a slightly tart lime yuzu dipping sauce.
Zarate is known for his beautifully presented ceviche dishes. The seared tuna tartar was ceviche style, topped with caviar and served with crisp wonton chips.
A satisfying plate of yellowtail and salmon served sashimi style arrived with a sweet miso sauce and topped with garlic chips. Another dish of seared albacore and halibut is bathed in a pool of aji amarillo aioli.
Three pieces of Amazonia paiche were plated in an aji amarillo lemon vinaigrette with a sweet potato mousse on top and a crunchy sweet potato chip. It was a light, buttery type of fish. Now I know why this is the most requested fish in South American restaurants.
One of the most dramatic looking dishes to be sent to our table was a Santa Barbara prawn with its head and all, wrapped in filo dough, fried and slicked with a spicy jalapeno ponzu dressing. The sauce was tart and a dark brown color.
King crab legs accompanied Diver scallops with a red chili rocoto amarillo sauce.
We gave a thumbs up to the bite-size stuffed yucca beignets filled with Manchego cheese and topped with grated Parmesan cheese.
Patiently, we waited for the dessert of a puff pastry filled with sweet potato and topped with a pumpkin cream with caramel and toasted pecans.
The residents of Marina del Rey are fortunate to have Paiche and Ricardo Zarate in their neighborhood. It’s an exciting culinary destination for foodies to sip a glass of wine, sake, or creative cocktail as they experience a rollercoaster of pleasing sensations. Open for lunch daily from 11:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Dinner begins daily at 5:00 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. 13488 Maxella Ave. (310)893-6100.
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