Ricardo Zarate has made quite a name for himself in the Los Angeles food scene. He was the chef/owner of hot spots Mo Chica, Picca and Paiche. Was. He has three James Beard awards to his name, was Food & Wine's Best New Chef in 2011 and has had huge success with his LA restaurants. Had. There was some backroom scuffling with investors and splitting from his former partner, which all led to his removal and the closing of the previously mentioned restaurants. Zarate is too talented to stay out of the game for long, so he's been keeping his knives sharp cooking at the quirky Lincoln Boulevard restaurant Santinos under the name Once.
That's "on-seh," as in eleven. Zarate was the 11th child in his family and there are 11 items on the rotating menu that is served Thursday - Saturday for just one more weekend. You can see the influence of his past restaurants in several of the dishes at Once.
The ceviche lenguado will take you back to Paiche with its lightly acidic leche de tigre tossed with the cubed white fish, further enhanced with an avocado relish. And when can you ever go wrong with corn nuts in a dish? It leant a nice crunch to the ceviche.
Lomo Saltado is one of Peru's signature dishes and it doesn't disappoint at Once. Perfectly cooked, buttery filet mignon is mixed with whole roasted slices of tomatoes, potatoes, braised cipollini onions and doused with a soy - tomato coulis. The sunny side up egg is the cherry on top.
The other can't miss dish is the seafood paella. It comes out in a piping hot cast iron skillet, layered with fried Peruvian rice with just the right amount of chew. It's topped with a who's who of the seafood world - sea urchin, clams, tiger prawns, and scallops. The shellfish was all well cooked. I've had far too many paella dishes with overdone seafood. Zarate hits all the notes here.
Ricardo pulls out a unique sweet potato beignet for dessert with some sweet dipping sauces to end.
We know this isn't the end for Zarate, even though he's getting ready to close up shop at Once. He has several projects in the works and we'll be hearing and eating more from him soon.