"Ooo and it's alright and it's comin' 'long
We got to get right back to where we started from"......
Right Back Where we Started From - Maxine Nightingale.
Other then showing my age, what does this golden oldie from the seventies have to do with El Rocoto?.... well maybe not much..... perhaps.
Though I had always been interested in food, most of it was based on what I ate back home in Hawaii. The Hekka, Portuguese Bean Soup, plate lunches, etc........ When I moved to the mainland, a whole new world of eating opened up. Working in Georgia and Arkansas exposed me the "real" food of the South, but it was the diverse cuisines offered in Los Angeles that got my attention. And while Rachel Laudan's The Food of Paradise really covered the food that I was surrounded by most of my life, suddenly there was so much more.......
When talking to folks, I can easily identify those moments that got me going; the first whiff of all the smells permeating the air at Chung King Restaurant in Monterey Park, the huge scallion bread, and lamb hot pots at Tung Lai Shun and VIP Restaurant.... and then there's El Rocoto. By the time we first ate at El Rocoto back in '97, we'd already eaten at El Pollo Inka across the street, but it was just Pollo ala Brassa. I distinctly recall the dishes at that first meal at El Rocoto, especially the Lomo Saltado.... what the heck were french fries doing in this dish... and why did it have so many Asian flavors... and why is part of the menu Chinese? Instead of making fun of the inclusion of papas fritas, like a fairly well known "foodie" in San Diego did(of my Lomo Saltado photos), I went directly to the library to find out why. I've already covered much of this in posts on Latin Chef, and much more ground was covered on our trip to Peru. But what about El Rocoto, that restaurant that helped to stoke my interest in Peruvian food? Thinking that perhaps much had changed since our last visit over twelve years ago, I just seemed to avoid revisiting El Rocoto all these years later. But yesterday, instead of going to the SGV, and hitting Gardena on the way back, we went straight to Gardena..... the weather also seemed perfect for some Cebiche......
And the menu still has a section for all the "Chifa" dishes, a long one and half pages of items from "Wantan Frito" (deep fried wontons) to Tallarin (Chow Mein) to Chaufa (Fried Rice).
The interior though, had been significantly changed. El Rocoto has taken over the space next door, and looks much more stylish that we both recalled.
First to arrive were some rolls and two sauces....
A spicy Aji Rocoto, and a somewhat refreshing and sweeter Aji Jalapeno.
Of course we started with the Cebiche de Pescado ($12.95). The fish "cooked" in citrus was piled high on the plate. The cancha, the fried corn kernals were excellent, light and crunchy.... possibly the best I've had outside of Peru.
The Leche de Tigre ("Tiger's Milk"), the marinade that supposedly has restorative properties was a bit too salty, with a touch too much lime for us. The fish was cut into pretty large chunks, some of which were a bit too fibrous. It wasn't bad by any means, but I prefer the version at Mario's, or even Latin Chef on a good day.
The camote, the stewed sweet potato lacked the tenderness of the version, at say, PescadosCapitales, but the flavor, with just a hint of cinnamon was right on the mark. The yucca was dry and fibrous, and we got regular yellow corn instead of chocolo.
The Missus got the Pescado a lo Macho ($15.95):
Holy smokes, I don't remember the portions being this big! All of the seafood, from the squid to the shrimp (7 of them!), to the lightly breaded fish fillet were cooked to perfection. The Missus even ate the pieces of octopus, something She usually won't. I believe the scallops were among Her favorites, as I never got a shot at them.
The sauce, built on a seafood base, fortified with butter, was too rich for the Missus.... but I loved it. And the leftover were most welcomed.
I went with the Lomo Saltado ($11.45):
Another very large portion. The beef was thickly sliced rib eye, with just the right amount of chew. The dish had a smokiness to it, and the onions added a good amount of light pungent flavor, the tomatoes a tangy note. I could have done with more papas fritas, but hey, I love my carbs. The sauce had a decent amount of salt, but lacked that little zip of herbaceous flavor..... perhaps they don't use Huacatay?
1356 W Artesia Blvd
Gardena, CA 90248