Ricardo Zarate Does Vegan at Crossroads

The dearth of upscale vegan restaurants in LA should have been a reason for me to visit Crossroads earlier, but I got put off by the distance and price.  Since we mostly go to omnivore restaurants when we want cloth-napkin food and so far, they’ve been stellar (Providence, AOC, n/naka), I didn’t want to take the risk of paying a lot for a vegan meal that was less than satisfying.  It’s funny because we both really like Tal Ronnen’s Kite Hill cheese, but not enough to try his other cooking. When I read that Ricardo Zarate was going to do a Sunday Supper at Crossroads as a guest chef, I finally decided to give it a try. I loved Mo-Chica when it was in its original location and have always wanted Will to try it.

Eggplant ceviche. Zarate does vegan at #crossroads #sundaysupper. So delicious. Wish he'd put more vegan items on the regular Mo Chica menu.

They called the first course an eggplant ceviche.  The eggplant had a wonderful charred, smokey taste and the spicy, acidic dressing did make me think of traditional ceviche.

Then we had a plantain-based cake with sauce topped with what I think was a shiitake chip that tasted like bacon.  The plantain had a chewy,  dry texture that went really well with the slightly funky sauce.

Next were grilled vegetables on a plate of quinoa, which sounds boring but these were probably the best grilled vegetables I’d had in a long time. They were still firm and crisp, but had a wonderful charred taste. Will and I always make fun of quinoa because it’s so good for you, but tastes so boring, but Zarate’s quinoa was wonderful. It was fluffy, flavorful, and interesting thanks to the crispy quinoa sprinkled throughout.

Then came both my favorite and least favorite part of the meal. I think this was some sort of bulgur or barley stew that was so rich and creamy that I couldn’t believe it was vegan.  I could have a giant bowl of this topped with pickled onions and be happy. The bad part was the meatball topping. It clashed with the rest of the dish and tasted like an Ikea meatball or one of those soy meatballs I used to get at Trader Joe’s. I’m not one who thinks every meal should have something meaty or fake-meaty, so I would have been happy with some assertive tasting vegetable on top instead of the meatball.

Dessert were these fried pieces of dough which were satisfying and chewy. They were sauced with some sort of fig reduction which while good, was a little too sweet and cloying for me.  Will had no problem jumping at the opportunity to finish my dessert for me.

I’m so glad I went to Sunday Supper when Zarate was cooking.  It was nice to finally introduce Will to his type of cooking and flavors, but now it makes me sad that we won’t have a meal like this ever again. The tangy, spicy, assertive taste of Peruvian cooking is something that we both like, but it’s so hard to find Peruvian dishes that are also vegan.

Crossroads Kitchen
8284 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 782-9245

El Pollon

Sometimes, what you’re looking for is right in your backyard. In this case, what I was looking for was right in my parents’ backyard and had been for years.  Since the winter heat wave, I’ve been craving the refreshing acidity of good ceviche.  An internet search yielded El Pollon, a Peruvian shack a stone’s throw from where I grew up in Montebello.

I met up with my cousin and we coordinated about what to order from the menu. We both agreed that the ceviche and lomo saltado were musts.  She mentioned a seafood chowder she had when she went to Machu Picchu and we found something similar on the menu, so we ordered that as well.

Ceviche mixto from El Pollon hit the spot.

The ceviche mixto was a hearty serving of lime-cured fish, shrimp, squid, one mussel, and maybe some scallops.  This dish could stand alone as a meal. They even helpfully included cooked sweet potato for those who want some starch to round out a meal.  The seafood tasted fresh, the marinating liquid was tangy and salty, and the crunchy corn bits and sliced onion added a nice contrast to the dish. I loved it.

Lomo saltado from El Pollon. So savory and garlicky!

The lomo saltado is probably enough to feed two people.  It comes with a healthy mound of garlicky rice to go with the soy sauce and spiced strips of beef.  In case the rice doesn’t have enough carbs, there’s also a bed of once-crisp fries on the bottom of the beef to soak up the sauce from the stir fry.  I thought this dish was fine, but I’m no lomo saltado expert.

Seafood soup with coconut milk and a poached egg. El Pollon.

The chupe de camarones that came out really sealed to our gluttony. It was a soul-warming stew of shrimp, a poached egg, and rice.  The milk in the broth gave it a satisfying creaminess but wasn’t overly rich thanks to the spicing in it.  I could imagine downing a giant bowl of this in cold weather.

The star of the meal was definitely the ceviche, but the other dishes were tasty as well.  I’d come with a couple of friends though, because I said, the servings here tend to favor those with healthy appetites or people who are sharing.

El Pollon
5100 E Beverly Blvd
East Los Angeles, CA 90022
(323) 265-1500

Mo Chica (more please)

If I were to tell you the dish pictured below came from a restaurant in a food court, would you be surprised? I would be.

Mo Chica is a Peruvian restaurant located in the Mercada La Paloma building south of downtown, just a few miles from USC.  On the outside, the building looks like a large warehouse.  Inside, there are a handful of shops and restaurants all sharing numerous tables to eat at.

Since I was dining alone, I ordered two appetizers because I wanted to be able to try more than one dish. I’ve read many people’s rave reviews of Mo Chica’s ceviche, so I ordered that, as well as a the causa of the day: spicy crab.

Mo Chica

The causa ($4) came first and was perfectly plated and executed. A salad of spicy crab was plated on top of thinly sliced avocados and then topped with Mo Chica’s tasty potato salad. This isn’t just any potato salad. It could very well be the potato salad of the gods.  The potato was rich and creamy while the crab was sharp and spicy. Although they seemed to be on two ends of the flavor spectrum, they worked together perfectly. The precise drizzle of spicy green sauce on top delivered just the right amount of back-of-the-throat heat to each bite.  I could see this exact dish being served with half the flavor but at double the price at any of the numerous tapas restaurants all over LA. The fact that it was less than a Lincoln was just icing on the cake.

Mo Chica

The ceviche of the day ($5) featured scallop and sea bass.  After the heavenly causa, I worried that the ceviche would fall short, but it certainly didn’t.  This isn’t your Aunt Helen’s flavorless shrimp cocktail.  Mo Chica’s ceviche is a citrusy, spicy, slap in the face. The salty stinging in my mouth left me wondering why it took me so long to get down there. For those who can’t take the sharp heat of the ceviche, munch on the softly cooked yams included as a respite from the bold flavor of the ceviche. The sprinkling of individual pieces of hominy (or are they kernels of giant white corn?) was bland, but adds a thoughtful change in texture from the pieces of fish.  Unfortunately, the otherwise delicious dish was marred by a few scales and bones left on the pieces of fish.

The only bad thing I can say about my first meal at Mo Chica is that since I’ve found two dishes that I really like, it’ll be difficult for me to order anything different when I make my inevitable return.

Mo Chica
3655 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90007
(213) 747-2141