After a family trip to Peru two years ago, I have had a weakness for ceviche. While researching places for dinner in the LA, I found Picca Peruvian Cantina, which completely changes the way average individuals look at classic dishes. Everything is made with a twist, incorporating Japanese flare into various parts of the dishes. I knew this needed to be my last meal in LA, and appropriately, my sister’s 20th birthday dinner.
We parked on a side street, opting to turn down the traditional LA valet system, available at Picca. The outside of the restaurant was absolutely adorable, standing out amongst the dark LA buildings.
We walked up the steps into the beautifully decorated interior. Dark long wooden tables mark the front area, with mirrors lining the walls. On each of the mirrors, definitions are carefully written, pertaining to the theme of the Peruvian restaurant. It’s simplicity elevated to create a comfortable, yet trendy atmosphere.
Leigh and I were seated on the left side of the restaurant, which was marked by long, comfortable benches and high top tables. We opted to sit up high, staring at all of the wonderful smelling food placed on the tables around us. We also looked in awe as the two bartenders shook drinks in both hands, making it look more like an art form/exercise then the simple act of drink making.
The waitress came over and gave a simple rundown of the meal, describing the menu as Peruvian with Japanese influences. It seemed slightly unusual, but we would quickly realize worked extraordinarily well. The chef, Ricardo Zarate, has been compared to the likes of David Chang, revolutionizing the way people look at traditional Peruvian dining. This comparison is spot on.
All of the dishes are designed for sharing, which makes it perfect to try a bunch of different dishes from the various sections of the menu. And it’s how the restaurant gained in its’ name, “Picca,” which means “Nibble.”
We started off with the ceviche, the most traditional Peruvian dish. However, the Ceviche Croncante is about as far from traditional as you can get. And it’s awesome.
A little bowl of heaven. This dish had every dimension and taste; crispy, acidic and light. We wouldn’t comprehend all of the amazing flavor profiles in this bowl, tied together by the most interesting, delicious sauce. Ceviche is prepared by ‘cooking’ raw fish in a citrus sauce. This preparation used a thicker citrus sauce, packing way more punch and flavor. The sauce alone was wildly addicting, making the halibut and crispy calamari taste unlike anything I have ever had before. The raw pieces of halibut sat at the bottom of the bowl, soaking up the lemon sauce. The halibut created a light, fresh contrast to the crispy calamari. The crisp pieces of calamari were surprisingly light, as well. They lacked any greasy element, allowing them to be perfectly fried and unlike anything you would find at a dive-y restaurant. This is calamari done right. We liked this bowl clean, wishing to order this again and again.
Next, we ordered a dish from the Causa Bar, which is Picca’s take on Sushi. Instead of rice, they put varieties of raw fish on top of shaped, mashed potatoes, paying tribute to the vegetable Peru is known for. We opted to order the Spicy Yellowtail Causa.
My sister, Leigh’s screen name back in the AOL days was PotatoLover6, and anytime a dish has potatoes in it, it needs to be approved by the expert. This was quickly Leigh approved. These little pieces of causa are delicious, and able to be eaten in two simple bites. The surprisingly necessary part of the dish happens to be the little sliver of pickled cucumber, strategically placed between the yellowtail and mashed potatoes, adding the essential little bit of crunch to an otherwise extremely soft dish.
The fish is prepared perfectly, and of the highest quality. Mixed with the spicy and addictive mayonnaise, the yellowtail is divine. It’s a high quality version of the typical ‘spicy tuna’ roll. The box-shaped mashed potatoes melt in your mouth contrasting with the punch of spiciness coming through from the yellowtail tuna. These can be totally addictive and you can easily order many of the various types of these without blinking an eye.
Next, we ordered the Conchas a la Parmesana, per the recommendation from the food blog, Immaculate Infatuation. Normally, the combination of cheese and fish is a huge turn off, and I should have listened to my instinct. The waitress was kind enough to warm us about the piles of salt on the bottom holding up the shells of the scallops.
Immaculate claimed, “I’ve never had a scallop like that, and it might have ruined me for all future scallops. I’ll never get over you.”
I don’t think we ate the same thing at all. These scallops were nearly inedible. Each of the scallops were buried under a thick layer of striking yellow parmesean cheese and sauce, overwhelming the palate. When we found the little piece of fish and piece of fresh spinach, it was okay, but boy we were sadly misguided. It was so disappointing because every other dish was phenomenal. I wish we had listened to our instinct and not tried the funky combination.
Finally, we ended the meal on a really high note. The menu is marked with Chef’s Favorites, and we decided to try the Seco de Pato, the braised Duck Leg.
No knife necessary when ripping off the rich pieces of duck from the bone. The pieces were moist, crisp and completely delicious. This is the way that duck should always be prepared, with all of the fat having rendered out of the piece of bird. The rich, crispy duck paired so well with the unusual cilantro rice. I have an affinity for cilantro and combined into a sticky sauce mixed with rice was perfection. I have no idea why this hasn’t graced menu before. I’m sure after people try it here, we’ll start seeing a lot more of this unusual, but totally-makes-sense, combination. The beer sauce on top added more complexity of flavor without overpowering the main stars. It just inserts a simple sweetness and bite of acidity into the entire dish. It was the perfect high note to end on for main part of the meal.
In traditional Wolfson fashion, I snuck off to the bathroom to inform the waitress that it was my sister’s birthday. I asked her to send over the most chocolate-y dish on the menu. She was happy to oblige, suggesting the Chocolate Bombas.
These were the most wonderful way to end the meal. The little pockets of wanton wrapper encased melting, gooey chocolate inside. The powdered sugar covered our entire hands, as we giggled and enjoyed the warm, delicious, crunchy dessert. On the side, a light airy, little, pudding-esk dish provided a break from the overly chocolate bombas. The texture was a little unique, almost gritty, but it was wildly addicting and I couldn’t figure out why. We enjoyed these delicious pockets of dessert, while appreciating the last few hours left together before my flight back to New York.
If you are in LA, Picca should definitely be on your ‘go-to’ list, if it isn’t already. The atmosphere is both perfect for dates and also just a night with the girls, enjoying delicious food and great company. The food is phenomenal, with the clear exception of the Scallops. Make sure to try some of an item from the Causa Bar, and trust me you can’t go wrong with any of the Ceviche. Picca really is revolutionizing modern day Peruvian food.
I know this restaurant would be a gigantic hit in New York, and I’m already researching some form of an equivalent here to get my necessary fix when the craving arises. It’s a top notch restaurant anywhere, and makes the LA food scene seem a lot more revolutionary then I could have expected. So Nibble at Picca, you will be glad that you did.
Picca – 9575 West Pico Boulevard – Los Angeles, CA
Picca Peruvian Cantina
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Perfect For: Impressing Foodies, Quality Seafood, Special Occasions, Small Plates, Adventurous Eating, Date Night
Favorite Dishes: Ceviche Croncante, Spicy Yellowtail Causa, Seco de Pato, Chocolate Bombas