The place to taste new-wave Peruvian food is Los Balcones, which has just opened in Studio City.
The menu is loaded with striking, creative and colorful dishes thanks to consulting chef Ricardo Zarate, who has promoted high-level Peruvian cuisine in Los Angeles since 2009, when he opened Mo-chica in the Mercado La Paloma.
That small place evolved into two Westside restaurants, Picca and Paiche, and a revamped Mo-chica in the heart of downtown L.A., all now closed. In 2017 Zarate opened Rosaliné in West Hollywood.
As partner and culinary director of the new Los Balcones, owned by longtime friend Jorge Rodriguez, he’s introducing exciting new dishes different from those at Los Balcones in Hollywood, where the approach is more traditional. The theme of the new restaurant is mestizo, meaning Peruvian combined with local ingredients.
The results are spectacular, like brilliant pink-red salmon tiradito. Thin slices of raw salmon, draped over red beets, sit in vibrant, beet-colored leche de tigre. Beet powder, made at the restaurant and sprinkled over the salmon, adds spiciness too, because it contains dehydrated gochujang. Other components are parsley oil, tiny flowers and strands of orange miso. The green fronds that garnish the plate are carrot tops.
The Peruvian grain quinoa appears in quinoa risotto, or quinotto, which has been a signature dish for Zarate from the start. At Los Balcones, he has elevated it to a new level, piling on shimeji, shiitake, maitake and trumpet royale mushrooms and adding a few drops of truffle oil. A blend of caramelized onion and mushroom stocks gives natural sweetness. Parsley oil forms a green frame around the edge of the dish.
Removing the thin slices of Pecorino cheese on top would make the quinotto vegan, the way it will appear on a vegan-vegetarian menu offering alternatives for most of the dishes on the regular menu. This should be ready by the end of January.
Pulpo a la parrilla (grilled octopus) is surrounded by grilled pickled fennel and cauliflower in three forms — pickled cauliflower chips, florets and puree. The pink-purple sauce dolloped onto the plate is made with botija olives from Peru. Anticucho BBQ is involved too, not the beef heart kebabs popular in Peru but only the sauce, a rich mixture of soy sauce, spices and chilies.
Slow-cooked short ribs and their accompaniments come in a golden box, the type of container sometimes used for Korean kimchi rice. This makes sense because there’s a strong Asian influence on Peruvian cuisine, although it's primarily Chinese and Japanese.
Also in the box are a sunny side up egg, caramelized banana, and tacu tacu, a lima bean and rice pancake. There are crunchy toasted corn kernels, too, and salsa criolla, which is Peruvian-style pico de gallo.
The desserts include a Peruvian take on arroz con leche, which substitutes quinoa for rice, and a pudding made with the Peruvian fruit lucuma.
Zarate is working on the menu with Los Balcones chef de cuisine Polit Castillo. Wine director Obren Milanovic has chosen everything from a Lebanese red blend to a 100 percent Cinsault from Chile. All wines by the glass are organic, and 40 percent of those on the list were made by women, Milanovic said.
Cocktails include a classic pisco sour. In Peru, this foamy drink is always topped with a dot of Angostura bitters. Los Balcones has expanded the dot into a pretty design, as if it were an alcoholic cappuccino.
The restaurant opened officially on Jan. 2 after a soft opening in December. It occupies the site of fine-dining restaurant Girasol, which closed last fall. Girasol’s contemporary interior is still in place, though, working equally well with fine dining Peruvian style.
Los Balcones, 11334 Moorpark St., Studio City. (818) 924-2323, losbalconesperu.com.