Sunday, June 9, 2013

Paiche Peruvian Izakaya and Prehistoric Amazonian Fish Ribs!

They had me at Peruvian Izakaya.

When Chef Ricardo Zarate and partner Stephane Bombet announced that they would be opening their third restaurant, the 2011 FOOD & WINE Best New Chef's follow up to Picca and Mo-chica - the concept sounded so intriguing that I immediately put it on my To Do list.

Paiche is a modern take on Peruvian meets Japanese izakaya-style cuisine, a gathering place for small plates to go with drinks - and featuring a prehistoric species of Amazonian fish that also serves as the restaurant's name.

It was to be off-the-foodie-map geographically though, over in Marina del Rey - a lovely neighborhood on the water, to be sure, and very on theme for a seafood centric restaurant - but not the first to come to mind as a dining destination.  But that Paiche had decided on this location is an exciting development, that hopefully will inspire a trend of more 'adventurous' food options in the area. 

The restaurant is on the ground floor of a modern, chic apartment complex, across from DSW at Marina Marketplace. The decor is appropriately oceanic, blues and wood panels in an airy space - complete with tank of live seafood and the open kitchen running most of the length of one roughly wave-shaped wall.

Kicking off the meal with a cocktail - I had to choose one with pisco since that's from Peru: Chilcano de Clovos ($13) pisco oro quebranta, organic lime juice, ginger syrup, cloves syrup, seltzer water, angostura bitters

As for food, the menu was divided into sections like ceviches, anticucho grill etc - but I pretty much ordered anything that sounded good and more unusual, without paying attention to balancing selections from each area (not sure if that is ever a good idea, but that's just how I eat...)

So first up of course: Uni Shrimp Toast ($14) sea urchin / shrimp paste toast / rocoto honey sauce.  This one actually made me think of a mashup more of Japanese and Italian than Peruvian - it was like a hybrid of sushi and bruschetta.  With the Peruvian element coming through perhaps just in the South American chile peppers used in the sauce.

Triangles of toasts were topped by shrimp paste, finely chopped tomatoes,  then rice, sea urchin and a chile pepper (yep, that's what rocoto is, I had to Google it too) honey sauce.  

I am a huge worshipper fan of sea urchin - and really wanted to love this - but the jumble of bold flavors between heat, sweet, tart, and varying textures of the other ingredients to me ended up slightly overwhelming the uniquely funky flavors and natural lusciousness of the uni - you kind of spend the whole time trying to process what you're tasting versus purely enjoying it.  

When I asked him what items I should not leave without trying, the first thing my server highly recommended was the Paiche Lettuce Wrap ($12) grilled amazonian fish / anticucho miso marinated - and he did not steer me wrong - I LOVED the perfectly balanced sweet umami smokiness of the grilled Amazonian fish, and its tenderness against the refreshing juicy crunch of lettuce, topped by crispy sweet potato wisps.  The sauce was particularly addictive - this is one to eat with your hands, and I definitely licked my fingers clean. Easily one of my favorites of the dishes I tried.

As I also love quail, and liked that my pisco cocktail could possibly go well with food that was also prepared with the liquor: I tried the Grilled Quail ($16) pisco basted / ume plum wine dressing.  While I loved the flavors in the again boldly flavored sauce (this is not a place for culinary wallflowers, for sure!) - for the price, I would have liked the pieces of quail to be more consistently grilled, for more distinct contrast between deliciously smokey crisped 'skin' with tender juicy interior on every piece.

My other absolute favorite of the meal, all the more because I wasn't sure what to expect at first from the description on the menu was Pacu Ribs ($12) amazonian fish ribs / anticucho lime miso / zapallo puree.  They arrived looking like pork ribs at least from the top, due to the BBQ-sauce-colored rocoto teriyaki glaze.  But on closer inspection they were actual ribs from a fish - apparently that is cousin to the piranha! - that had the most amazing combination of the unbelievable tender flakiness of a Cantonese-style steamed fish, and the hefty feeling of meat ribs smothered in deliciously sticky sauce.  On the side was another South American specialty: zapallo or squash puree (yep, had to look that one up too) whose milder flavor and creamy texture perfectly complemented the fish.

When I first saw Uni Ceviche on the menu, I wasn't sure if I wanted to spend $25 on what would essentially amount to sashimi, but decided last minute that I wanted that to be my last savory taste (especially when my server confirmed that it would be like a 'tray of sea urchin' - I figured chefs would of course have access to much better quality uni - and the Peruvian twist is in the aji amarillo lemon vinaigrette that would come with it).  It was delicious, but I have to admit that in terms of presentation the wooden tray kind of reminded me of how uni is sold at Nijiya market, and that while I liked the aji amarillo sauce on its own, I found it to be too bold as to overwhelm the delicate flavors of the uni.  I ended up eating most of the tray on its own, without the sauce - but of course I will never be one to complain about any amount of good uni.

For the sweet finish: Chicha Raspadilla ($9) looked the most intriguing from the menu -the lack of description added to its mystique.  It turned out to be like a shaved ice topped with blue corn juice (delicious, I loved the drink version at Picca as well - like a much less sugary, less dense grape juice), accompanied by cubes of pineapple and apple, topped by a citrus sorbet.  Loved the shaved ice but wish they had used more exotic fruits.
All in all, a great experience especially for Marina del Rey (though a bit pricey relative maybe not to the area, but to small plates spots in other areas of LA).  Paiche really shone with the dishes that had the most unique ingredient - featuring the namesake fish.  Was sad that I didn't realize until the time of this post that Paiche offers a happy hour with 20% off daily (see deal alert below) - so definitely need to go back soon!

[Deal alert: Happy Hour Monday - Sundays  (20% OFF) 2:30pm to 5pm]

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites  
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience -  5.5 stars
Service - 5.5 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 90% 


13488 Maxella Ave., Marina Del Rey, CA 90292

Parking: free in structure attached to restaurant

Twitter: @paichela

OpenTable: Look for reservations and points:

Paiche on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. Try the calamari relleno, the paiche tiraditos next time, and the blood clam risotto. Probably my three favorite dishes there!



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...