Friday, August 19, 2011

Chimú -- Peruvian at the Grand Central Market

It's sort of ridiculous, but somehow the time that A. has been away in Greece has been filled with one exuberant food experience after another. I have to stop. I'm way too full.

At the beginning of the week, I was seeking a fun adventure for Mo., Fe. and myself. I wanted to accomplish at least one thing besides just thrilling the pants off of my son. The morning actually came together accidentally, though somewhat brilliantly all the same.

I needed my knives sharpened.

I tend to go to Ross Cutlery. They do a good job, although I'm not certain that they are the very best. If I were a better woman, I would sharpen my knives myself. I have too many knives and too little time, and in the end, the honest truth is that I am far too intimidated by whetstones to even try. If you know what you're doing and would be willing to teach me, please drop me a line!

Ross Cutlery is located in the Bradbury building in downtown Los Angeles. So this was easily the start of our exciting exploit. A gorgeous historical landmark for Mo. to photograph (thanks for sharing these gorgeous black and whites, Mo!), stairs for Fe. to climb and all this conveniently situated across from the Grand Central Market. Sites, smells, and tastes awaited us.

The Grand Central Market actually depresses me a little. There is so much potential for Los Angeles to have a great market like the Naschmarkt in Vienna, the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, or the Jean-Talon Market in Montreal, and all we can manage is a whole lot of empty stalls. The produce is not enticing. I'm wary of the butcher. Aside from some good Mexican food, there is nothing of top quality from what I can surmise. In all the discussion of the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles, the renaissance of the Grand Central Market should be at the top of the list. Great cities need great markets.

There is still lots to look at, especially from the eyes of a toddler, so our visit was not a waste. It just left me wishing for lots of money and more time, so that I could spearhead the movement to inject life into our historic, albeit humble marketplace.

One great thing about the Grand Central Market is that it now houses (using the term loosely here, because it's actually in the Market's outdoor courtyard) the new modern-Peruvian restaurant, Chimú. This is an order-at-the-counter, sit-in-the-courtyard or take-the-food-away kind of a place. The food is served in carryout containers with plastic forks, but holy Lima the food tastes like so much more. It's elevated Peruvian cuisine with a forward-thinking flair.

There were three of us (Fe. hardly counts as a whole person, but he's an awfully good excuse to order more food) so we ordered three dishes. Apparently the availability of dishes changes from day to day, so I wasn't able to order the ceviche. Boo. That's usually my favorite part, but we made do all the same. We selected the Pollo alla Brasa, Lomo Saltado, and Chancho. Two classics and then something utterly new.

The Pollo alla Brasa is solidly tasty. The salty brown skin demands immediate attention. It's a tempting cover of crispiness for very moist flesh. The cole slaw is just the way I like it -- not a drop of mayonnaise in sight -- and pleasingly fresh and acidic. I'll confess that I am dead-tired of French fries these days, so I may not be the best judge of the starchy golden blocks that accompanied this dish. We left most behind. The creamy yellow huancaina is a warming sauce comprised of onion, aji peppers, and cheese (probably feta). That along with the spicy herbaceous aji verde (or was it salsa nikkei?) kept us very busy alternating our dips.

Lomo Saltado is a generally winning dish. There is something deeply moving about the perfect mouthful of tomato oozing hot juice, slightly wilted yet crunchy onion, chewy beef and a French fry soggy with meat drippings (this is where I make the big French fry exception). I realize that's a big mouthful, but the magic comes when you've got it all going at once. Trust me.

Chimu's Lomo Saltado is particularly special (many times better than Mario's of which I am a big fan) because the quality of the beef is so fine, and it is cooked so well. There aren't any dry over-cooked morsels that leave your jaw aching from over-chewing. They are juicy and have big beef flavor.

For me the big star of the meal -- and the diet killer -- was the Chancho. It is rich beyond belief, but when is pork belly not? Can't you just imagine the amazing crackle of the skin between your teeth when you see that picture? You could hear it across the street on Angel's Flight!

The pork belly is nestled into a slow-cooked barley and tomato confit mixture that is festively dotted with tiny chunks of feta and giant kernels of corn and equally sizable peas. The belly is also slathered with a divine huacatay (Peruvian black mint) aioli. Do we need this added fat when pools of it are already evident in the barley? Perhaps not, but I certainly wasn't willing to turn it down. There is a satisfying kick to the Chancho, and even if Fe. had been in an eating mood, I wouldn't have offered it to him.

Since Mo. and I had been completely sated, we figured that we should pass a few delights on to Fe. Up Bunker Hill we went on Angel's Flight, and straight to the fountains we headed. It was one drenched little boy and a couple of very happy gals who headed home for a nap.

324 S. Hill Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013

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