Two Afternoons at Paiche
Paiche, the self-described Peruvian Izakaya by Ricardo Zarate of Mo-Chica/Picca fame, opened in mid-April. Having never tried either of Zarate’s other two very well regarded restaurants, I was very excited that one of his restaurants was opening in MDR, close to my neck of the woods.
On two separate sleepy Saturday afternoons in April I had the opportunity to dine at Paiche, first over their opening weekend with Chris Hei, and then again two weeks later with my wife. Rather than write two separate reviews, I’ll pastiche them into one. Hey, if you remove “st” from “pastiche”, you get “paiche”… Ahem, sorry!
In addition to an eclectic selection of beers, wines, sake, and soju, befitting its Peruvian/Japanese theme, Paiche has more than a dozen interesting cocktails. I’ve only sampled two so far, but both were excellent.
1. Asian Paradise, “Kale Juice, Asian Pear Juice, Ginger Syrup, Green Apple Juice,” $10 — Though a “virgin”, the drink still managed to have a bite to it with the ginger syrup. Anyone concerned about it tasting like a “health drink” with the kale need not worry; I couldn’t really taste it. It’s a simple, refreshing, (un)intoxicating concoction.
2. Maracuya Caipirinha, “Leblon Cachaca, Fresh Passion Fruit, Muddle Lime, Martinique Sugar Cane Syrup,” $15 — My wife loves fresh passion fruit, so when we saw this on the menu, she had to get it. I stole a few sips, and really enjoyed the combination of the sweet sugar cane and tart lime and passion fruit.
Paiche’s menu is divided up into various sections: Abrebocas (appetizers), Ceviche and Tiraditos (raw seafoods), Anticucho Grill (skewered/grilled dishes), Frituras (fried dishes), Cocina Caliente (hot kitchen dishes), and Verduras (side vegetables), and I got to sample a selection from nearly every section between both visits.
3. Paiche Wrap Lettuce, “Grilled Amazonian Fish, Anticucho Miso Marinated,” $12 — The restaurant’s namesake is a mild-mannered fish that worked well as a platform for the smoky miso. The fish was topped with shredded carrots and pickles to give the dish a little more crunch.
4. Uni Shrimp Toast, “Sea Urchin, Shrimp Paste Toast, Rocoto Honey Sauce,” $14 — If I were to give a nickname to this dish, I’d call it a “hot mess” (not necessarily in a bad way). The uni gets a little lost in this dish, but the toast has a good texture, and it is delicious.
5. Jumbo Scallops & Sweet Shrimp Ceviche, $12/$14 — On a bed of seaweed and leche de tigre (“tiger’s milk” — a tangy, spicy sauce made from various citrus and spices), the ceviche was not chopped or diced. The delicate raw scallop and shrimp definitely pulled in a great deal of the ceviche marinade, which gave it a much tarter bite than I was expecting, especially since the seafood looked so much like unadorned sashimi. The shrimp heads were well-tempura’d and paired well with the sauce.
6. Salmon & Yellowtail Ceviche, $8/$12 — Similarly prepared and served as above, the fattier fish kept more of their inherent character through the marinating process. The addition of scallions and, in the case of the yellowtail, some crispy garlic “chips” added more complexity to the flavors.
7. Kampachi Tiraditos, “Rocoto Oil Infused, Yuzu Onion Garlic Dressing, Himalayan Block Salt,” $12 — I had assumed the rock salt would be hot, to lightly cook the fish, but that was not the case. It imparted much less salinity than I expected to the kanpachi, which was fortunately not melt-in-your-mouth, and instead had a good chew that contrasted nicely with the crunch of the toasted quinoa. The heat from the rocoto, and tang of the dressing brought everything together nicely.
8. Paiche Tiraditos, “Amazonian Fish, Aji Amarillo Lemon Vinaigrette, Tamari, Sweet Potato Mousse,” $10 — I really enjoyed the texture of this preparation of the restaurant’s eponymous fish, which was a little firmer and more elastic and chewier (in a good way) than it was in the lettuce wrap. The sweet potato mousse and chips, while delicious, were, I thought, extraneous. The fish was fantastic enough on its own.
[Note: One of the early criticisms of Paiche was that the portions were small for the price. Zarate apparently took that feedback to heart and, in the two weeks between my visits, increased the portion size of nearly all of their dishes. You can see this in the tiraditos, which went from 3 pieces to 4 pieces per dish.]
9. Pacu Ribs, “Amazonian Fish Ribs, Anticucho Lime Miso, Zapallo Puree,” $12 — The smokiness of the miso really worked well the pacu (a cousin of the the piranha), balancing the fattiness of the belly-end of the ribs. Perhaps I’m just not a huge fan of puréed, sweet, starchy vegetables, but like the mousse in the paiche tiraditos, I thought the zapallo (yellow gourd) was unnecessary. Just personal taste.
[Note: As with the tiraditos, the pacu ribs also experienced a size upgrade, after the aforementioned early feedback from diners.]
10. Pork Neck, “Grilled Pork Neck, Gochujang, Green Onions,” $10 — I was expecting the delicate, strips of fatty pork meat found at many a Korean BBQ, but these were meaty and almost beefy. Delicious, but somewhat disappointing.
[Note: Portions were small on the first visit, but I’m assuming it underwent an augmentation similar to the last two dishes (I didn’t order this again on the second visit).]
11. Calamari Relleno, “Stuff Baby Squid, Morcilla, Aji Pepian,” $10 — One of my favorite dishes from the first visit, the stuffed calamari reminded me very of sausages or even meat dumplings. I didn’t get too much of a blood-sausage taste from the morcilla, which is too bad. I bet blood and squid sepia would be a nice combination.
[In an effort to sample different dishes, I did not order this dish on my second visit, even though it was one of the highlights of my first meal, but I’ve been told that the portion size on this dish has increased, both in number (3 instead of 2) and in the size of the relleno.]
12. Chaufa de Langosta, “Lobster, Mixed Seafood, Fried Rice,” $12 — Who doesn’t love a lobster fried rice? The pickled ginger and shredded scallions were a nice touch too. Of course, as with all lobster dishes I’ve had here in L.A., I wanted more lobster! It’s the New England expat in me. :-)
13. Arroz con Conchas Negras y Erizo, “Blood Clams, Sea Urchin, Risotto,” $18 — Another one of my favorites, I did order this one on both visits. The clams were meaty and had a great chew, like squid or abalone, and the hemoglobin gave the rice a rich, deep flavor profile. The sea urchin was subtly incorporated into the “dynamite” sauce that topped the risotto, but imparted its sweet, coconut-y essence to the dish. The toasted quinoa added textural contrast to the creamy rice.
[Note: The portion size of the risotto did not seem to increase between the two visits.]
14. Sweet Potato Gnocchi, “Burned Butter, Huacatay, Grated Parmesan,” $12 — My wife ordered this dish. Having already established I’m not a huge sweet potato fan above, I did try one, and I remember it as being very good, but it has not made a lasting impression on me. My wife really enjoyed it, though.
15. Green Tea Coconut Cake, $12 — The three layers of the cake–the moist tres leche bottom, the creamy matcha mousse, the sugar and coconut crisp–could have given the dessert split personality disorder, but they all worked pretty well. I would have liked a little more green tea flavor, but it was otherwise a good east-meets-west dessert.
16. Chocolate Tart, $9 — This was a cross between a thick, rich chocolate mousse and a thick, rich flourless chocolate torte, in a pie crust. The fresh passion fruit syrup gave the dessert a bit of levity.
I have not had an opportunity to go back to Paiche in the past 1.5 months, but I still get cravings for the Calamari Relleno, Paiche Tiraditos, and Arroz con Conchas Negras y Erizo. I am extremely happy that the restaurant responded to customer feedback and increased portion sizes for many of their dishes, with no increase in price. It is a great example of excellent customer service!
While I had expected to like the ceviche a little more than I did, the menu is chock full of other items, including vegetarian and vegan options that should work for nearly any eclectic dinner party. My biggest problem now is whether to go back to Paiche or to try Picca/Mo-Chica!
Pro-Tip: Paiche runs a “Happy Hour” everyday from 2:30 PM to 5 PM, where everything on the menu is 20% off, no exceptions.
Note: Paiche just announced today via Twitter that they have a new lunch menu, omakase style: $19 for four courses, or $29 for five. Sounds very interesting! I look forward to trying these prix fixe lunches.
13488 Maxella Avenue
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292