When Mo-Chica first burst onto the scene, I remember the buzz on our old board about this new place that was delivering a modern take on Peruvian cuisine by a chef named Ricardo Zarate. I liked the early days of Mo-Chica, and there were a few dishes that we had back then that really were interesting and tasty.
Towards the end of Mo-Chica, it didn't feel as inspired when we went again. Our one visit to Picca, the 2nd restaurant opened up by Chef Ricardo Zarate, felt like an OK experience, but nothing amazing. Later on we would find out through various news reports that Chef Zarate wasn't present at any of his restaurants, and that he hadn't been there for a while. He was ousted and all of his restaurants at the time were eventually shuttered.
It seems Chef Zarate is back (after a few years hiatus) with a new restaurant, Rosaline. Reading the reports about Rosaline, he's been saying he's inspired / reinvigorated, and the restaurant is even named after his mother. We were excited and curious to see if this would be like the more inspired cooking in Mo-Chica's early days, or something like Picca, or something else entirely.
Opened along the trendy stretch of Melrose formerly occupied by Comme Ca (across from Luques), there was a sizable crowd (especially around the bar area) as we arrived. This looked like the expected Melrose crowd, and we could hear the shouting and laughter from the street before we entered.
The interior has been completely redone: Nothing inside reminded us of Comme Ca at all, with the main dining room's ceiling removed and a skylight added.
While it may look beautiful, it also means there's no sound dampening as the roof is all glass. And sure enough, we had to scream at each other to even have a conversation throughout dinner. This is one of the loudest dining rooms we've been in around L.A.
Jab to the Jaw (Cactus Pear & Strawberry Brandy, Lemon, Orgeat, Chinese Five Spice, Fermented Fruit):
This was OK. It tasted like an alcoholic Fruit Punch. I couldn't taste any Chinese Five Spice. At $15 (+ tax & tip) for this Cocktail, it's definitely one of the pricier ones around town.
Chilcano (Acholado Pisco, Ginger Kombucha, Peruvian Aperitif, Lime, Bitters):
This was better. I enjoyed the Ginger Kombucha, but this really tasted like an alcoholic Kombucha drink more than anything, the Pisco was there, but Kombucha's flavors are so distinct (that funky fermented carbonation) that it's what dominated the flavors.
Tiradito de Concha con Erizo (Live Scallops, Sea Urchin, Uni Leche de Tigre, Crispy Garlic):
The description sounded fantastic. The execution and taste? Not so much. The Live "Scallops" (plural) from the menu description was more generous than what we got, which was 2 tiny slivers of Scallop (which felt more like 1 Scallop cut in half), topped with mediocre Uni. Inconsistent Uni strikes again! @J_L @PorkyBelly and all.
And at $22 for this tiny little dish (it was seriously like 2 small bites for both of us), it felt even more disappointing.
35 minutes later, our 2nd dish appears.
Aceitunas (Marinated Spicy Peruvian Olives, Eggplant Puree, Cancha Corn, Turmeric Flat Bread):
This was delicious! Marinated Olives, some Eggplant Puree were all nicely seasoned, and there was the crunch of the Fried Corn Kernels. When added to some of the Turmeric Flat Bread, and it made for a great starter.
However, we asked ourselves, "Is this really Peruvian?" It tasted more like a Middle Eastern Meze, something inbetween a Hummus and Babaghanoush, but either way, this was the highlight of the evening.
Solterito (Lima Beans Salad, Avocado, Blistered Cabernet Tomatoes, Pickled Onions, Feta, Botija Olive, Choclo Corn):
This Salad was merely OK: The Lima Beans tasted mustier than usual, a dank earthiness, which the Avocado (just creaminess) didn't really help. The Tomatoes did add a little bit of acidic pop, but they don't taste like the best Tomatoes of the season yet (still overly tart), and then you have heavy, funky Feta Cheese and more piquant flavors with the Pickled Onions.
45 minutes later, our next course finally shows up (and this after we asked our server to check on the entrees).
Arroz Con Mariscos (Sea Urchin, Diver Scallops, Tiger Prawns, Manila Clams, Seafood Rice):
This tasted like a really wet, soggy "Seafood Rice Stew / Gumbo" more than anything. The Scallops and Clams tasted fresh, but the Sea Urchin had some of that bad ocean funk (not fresh), and the whole dish didn't really taste like anything more than a failed Paella (they also had Paella on the menu, but @J_L and others who like socarrat - that crispy rice bottom that sticks to the pan - should skip that. We saw close up from all our neighboring tables that it had no socarrat (it looked really wet / soupy) and they scraped to the bottom of the pan with nothing to see (no socarrat).
One hour later... (and after a few polite inquiries to our server), we canceled the rest of our meal and asked for the check, it was almost 3 HOURS total and we got tired of waiting.
We've seen so many restaurants open up in L.A., and it's understandable. Things get backed up; the kitchen or entire operation just isn't prepared, and stuff like this happens. But it was a total mess. Our partial dinner was nearly 3 hours long, filled with long waiting periods, and it was worse by the blaring music and zero sound dampening / reflective surfaces, so every table was yelling, making everything even louder.
Not only did we not get our dishes, but 2 other tables near us were waiting on forgotten dishes as well (we could overhear them complaining and looking bored / upset waiting).
It's too early to tell how Rosaline will do, but based on the initial dishes we tried, there wasn't a single dish that was as interesting as what we had at Mo-Chica during its early days. The dishes ranged from OK to mediocre, and we would've tried more dishes if the kitchen didn't forget about the rest of our order (and many others' as well).
As we left, we saw Chef Zarate just standing there, not really busy, and seemingly oblivious to how backed up the tables were. There was also zero turnover in our almost 3 hours, with the food being so slow, none of the tables turned over to a new seating because things were taking so long. It's not the utter disaster that is Verlaine, but @CiaoBob and others might want to wait a few weeks in the hopes he figures things out and smooths out the operations, as well as improve the flavors on the menu.
8479 Melrose Avenue
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Tel: (323) 297-9500