Big Fish

Ricardo Zarate expands his Peruvian repertoire at Paiche

Oh, how time flies.

Three years after debuting the original food court location of Mo-Chica, Ricardo Zarate has netted himself a Food & Wine Best New Chef award and opened three popular restaurants.

But he isn't one to rest on his laurels.

His newest project in Marina Del Rey, Paiche, is described by the staff as "a Peruvian izakaya"; it is also his most ambitious and creative venture yet. Compared to his past cooking, the lengthy menu of small-plates is more evolutionary than revolutionary, but it's a definite step forward for the godfather of Peruvian cuisine.

From phyllo-wrapped shrimp swimming in jalapeño ponzu ($12) to buttery uni toast drizzled with rocoto-laced honey ($14), Paiche weaves together traditional Japanese dishes with an encyclopedic array of South American flavors.

The restaurant's namesake fish, a monstrous Amazonian river-dweller, shows up as a thinly sliced tiradito marinated with ají amarillo and tamari ($10), a massive rack of grilled fish ribs (Piranha, actually) basted with lime miso ($12), or as a dense stew enriched with spiced lima beans ($14).

The best dish of the night, though, was the chaufa de langosta ($12), a bowl of sizzling fried rice flecked with smoky lobster meat and offset with curls of pickled radish.

It's what fusion is meant to be: clever, creative and unabashedly fun.