Born on the beaches of South America, ceviche may very well be the ultimate summer food. The chilled seafood dish boasts the lightness of salad and the juiciness of a salsa.
While fish or shrimp usually is the centerpiece ingredient, it’s the citrus — typically lemon or lime — that’s essential, not only in defining the overall flavors but for "cooking" the protein (the seafood is soaked for an extended period prior to serving and becomes cured in the acidic liquid).
Summer marks the return of chef Octavio Olivas’ Ceviche Project. Olivas started the project as an informal house party featuring ceviche dishes, cocktails and vintage Latin music. But in recent years he’s taken the party to outside locales, creating pop-up dinners at various restaurants and clubs.
For 2015, he’s joined forces with the Mondrian Hotel and DeLeon Tequila (which will collaborate on cocktail pairings with Olivas’ creations) for monthly, five-course al fresco dinners at Skybar. The first is Thursday.
“People who come to the Ceviche Project will never have the same dish twice,” Olivas says. He seems to enjoy maintaining an element of surprise: “We never publish a menu beforehand, because depending on what I find at the fish market that’s amazing, I can change things at the last minute. For me, the most important component of ceviche is the freshness and quality of the fish.”
A lawyer by trade, Olivas also has worked in the restaurant and hospitality industry for several years in New York and London. He says he started the Ceviche Project after moving to L.A. with his wife, Shannon, who makes the desserts for each dinner.
“I’ve always been obsessed with ceviche,” Olivas says. “It all goes back to my childhood eating it on the shores of Mexico.”
Mexican ceviche, Peruvian ceviche and South American ceviche all have subtle differences, and Olivas experiments with different fish (he likes halibut, fluke and snapper) to create variations with traditional and nontraditional ingredients.
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“Ultimately, it’s about balance,” says Olivas, who also serves oysters and tiraditos — a Peruvian variation on ceviche with thin slices of marinated fish. “Ceviches can incorporate onion, tomato, cilantro and all different kinds of citrus fruit, but they all have a refreshing quality in common, which makes them perfect for summer."
Ceviche Project starts Thursday, June 25, at 8 p.m., continuing monthly on July 23, Aug. 20, Sept. 24 and Oct. 22; $125, tickets available here; Skybar at the Mondrian, 8440 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; (323) 848-6025.