Executive chef Ricardo Zarate kicked off 2023 by opening Colibri Pop-Up at Los Balcones restaurant in Hollywood. At Colibri, Zarate prepares some of his favorite rustic comfort foods from his native Lima, Peru.
A pink neon hummingbird sculpture is displayed in a corner window, as a nod to the word colibri, which in Spanish means hummingbird. A large sketch mural of hummingbirds also adorns a side wall at the entrance. Chef Zarate darts around the dining room and kitchen, almost like a colibri.
Offering his warm smile, he shared with me that his nickname was Colibri growing up in Lima because he knocked on neighbors’ doors asking them if they could teach him how to cook. His rapping was light and swift, just like a hummingbird’s wings.
I admired the painted white walls, hanging green plants and flickering candles displayed near in a shelf next to the bar, providing a cozy and romantic ambiance
Restaurant manager Stephanie led me to a table underneath two small pink neon signs that read, “I Love You” and “Thank You,” and recommended I try the new Hummingbird cocktail for its appealing color and flavors. Made with mezcal, Aperol, grapefruit, VSOP and lemon, it is well balanced and gives refreshing sweet and sour notes.
Three other friends joined me, and we ordered some of the other drinks on the menu including a spicy pineapple margarita and a Peruvian Chicha Sour, a pisco cocktail enhanced with Peruvian purple corn to give it a beautiful purple color. It’s mixed with lime juice and simple syrup, before topped with a light pink frothy whipped egg finish. Drops of orange angostura bitters give this drink an artistic laurel heart shaped design on top.
Wines on the menu include an organic Koyle Costa Sauvignon Blanc, a Terra Santa rosé and a Spanish red Cune Rioja Crianza. Beers include Cusquena Gold Lager from Cusco, Peru and Peruvian Cristal lager offering notes of lemon, ripe apple and sweet malt.
We ordered a few dishes to enjoy with our drinks. The first to arrive was the tiradito, a visually stunning Peruvian dish featuring raw yellowtail sashimi in a spicy and tropical tasting sauce. White coconut milk had red dragonfruit and yellow olive oil swirls on top. Thinly sliced cucumber and radish spheres, plus some micro herbs garnish this dish. A sprinkling of coarse and crunchy limon pepper salt provides a slight heat profile and citrus finish.
Next to arrive was the sea bass ceviche classico in an acidic and spicy leche de Tigre. I enjoyed the cooked sweet potato wedge, and firm cancha corn and large kernel choclo corn. Peru is famous for its corn, in fact over 55 varieties grow in the South American country.
Quinoa is also a Peruvian Superfood and the Cesar verde salad has a nice crunch and saltiness from a generous sprinkling of popped quinoa and shaved parmesan cheese.
Be sure to order the tamals on the menu. Zarate makes two types – beef and mushroom. Both are made with cooked yellow and orange Peruvian corn masa and topped with either king oyster mushrooms or tender beef. The mushroom tamal was my favorite with a side of chopped salsa criollo on the side and a boiled egg sliced in half for a little protein.
My other favorite was the tallarines rojos, made with soft and long ribbons of handmade tagliatelle pasta. A crispy chicken thigh was on top with light yellow huancaina tomato ragu made with ali amarillo chili peppers and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
Since it was a cold evening, the beer-basted short rib on a bed of rustic quinoa grits and Peruvian corn was warm and comforting to eat. The tender meat melted in my mouth offering a kaleidoscope of robust and aromatic flavors from huacatay herbs and a smoked brick colored rocoto pepper aioli to tone down the heat.
Even though the arroz con mariscos was dramatic looking with dark squid ink rice and smoked red rocoto seafood sauce, I felt the fried calamari were too crisp and crunchy and the shrimp and scallop were hard to find buried in the thick, black rice.
However, I really enjoyed the three paletas ice cream pops served on a bamboo mat. Each icy treat on a stick had a different flavor. One was made with strawberries and topped with dark chocolate shavings, another was coconut and popped quinoa on top. The mango one had a crunchy black limon pepper salt top for a sweet and tart profile.
A goblet of churro balls arrived and were filled with a luscious and warm caramel filling. The donut holes were light and crisp and the blueberry dipping sauce on the bottom of the glass was a nice touch.
The last dessert we tried was a slice of layer cake made of four distinctive layers, starting with a layer of vanilla cake on the bottom, and then smooth and creamy flan above. The top layers include chocolate cream and whipped cream with a couple raspberries and blueberries. Pink crunchy Pocky sticks give the dessert height and a sweet crunch.
Before leaving, I gave Zarate a hug, and we reminisced about his days at Mo-Chica, Picca, Paiche, Blue Tavern, Once, Pikoh, Rosaliné, Causita and now, happily, at Colibri. He is one of the best Peruvian chefs to introduce flavorful South American fare to Los Angelenos. He incorporates recipes he learned how to make while he was an inquisitive colibri darting around his neighborhood knocking on doors.
Colibri is a quaint and romantic spot for a date night, meeting friends for cocktails and bites and during an upcoming Valentine’s Day dinner with a loved one.
Open Tuesday to Thursday 5 to 10 p,m., Friday and Saturday 5 to 11 p.m. $$ 1360 Vine St., (323)561-0332.