Once by Ricardo Zarate at Santino’s
I was a late-comer to Ricardo Zarate‘s cooking, having never dined at Mo-Chica (neither the original at Mercado la Paloma, or at the standalone store where B.S. Taqueria is now) or at Picca when he was still a part of that operation. The only restaurant of his that I’ve dined at was Paiche and that was two years ago. I’ve enjoyed his food at various events, including at Cochon 555 this year, where his “Fusion of 5,000 Years” historical culinary tour across six dishes really impressed me.
I had an opportunity to try Zarate’s food again, and not just in sample size portions, but in a proper sit-down dining experience, at Once, pronounced on-seh as in “eleven” in Spanish. Once is a pop-up that the chef is doing on Thursday through Saturday evenings at Santino’s in Santa Monica for the near future, and it’s worth checking out!
The bar program is courtesy of Feisser Stone of Hinoki and the Bird, who created the cocktail menu for Once. It’s quite creative and pairs really well with the dishes on the menu. My wife went with the Passion Fruit Brut, a playful drink of champagne with a paleta of passion fruit melting into it. I went with the heady Ginger-Byrrh, which did not shy away from the spiciness of the aromatic root.
Once is named such because Zarate was the 11th child in his family, and his menu consists of 11 dishes. The menu does change week-to-week depending on the seasonal ingredients available to the chef. There are some mainstays, including two of our favorite dishes of our meal, the Ensalada Rustica and the Ceviche Criollo Crocante. The vegetables in the former dish were just so fresh tasting, while everyone at the table fought for every last scrap of fish and the tart leche de tigre sauce in the latter dish.
The charcuterie board, a near-ubiquitous item on menus around town, is a little different at Once. It is called Mar y Tierra, sea and land, and the cured meats are paired with bite-size pieces of delicious grilled octopus!
We tried two of the larger format dishes: La Pollada and Chaufa Paella. I was impressed at how moist the white meat on the grilled chicken was. I thought the flavors and ingredients in the fried rice were great, though I would have liked the rice a little crispier.
Overall I really enjoyed our meal at Once. Often times pop-ups are prix fixe affairs, so I really like that the format is a la carte—if I wanted to pop in for a drink and a ceviche, I could do that. Since the menu changes, it’s a nice way to try an item that might not have been available on a previous visit!
As I mentioned, Once at Santino’s runs Thursday through Sunday evenings. When I asked how long they’ll be working out of the space, he said probably for a few months, so give it a try while you can!
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Once (on-seh) by Ricardo Zarate
Santino’s Santa Monica
3021 Lincoln Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90405