Forget all the trendy Peruvian restaurants popping up all over L.A…if you want the real thing, without all the fluff, you need to head over to El Rocoto, named after the Peruvian chile pepper. The original Gardena location has been re-modeled with beautiful, modern décor, while maintaining its authentic Peruvian cuisine, now at the hands of the very talented Peruvian native Danny Kou. Formerly at Hollywood’s Osaka restaurant, Danny has moved to El Rocoto to bring his authentic Peruvian delights, along with his fusions incorporating the diverse cultures of Peru, especially Asian, to the menu. Born in Peru, of Chinese descent, Danny draws from his diverse upbringing to deliver the most delicious Peruvian cuisine.
Starting with a ceviche sampler, my taste buds were already rejoicing! If I had to choose, I would have to say the Ceviche Chifa (a name commonly used in Peru to refer to a Chinese style of cooking) was my favorite with its fresh halibut, aji limo, green onions, sesame seeds, wonton strips, in a mouth-watering ginger lime sauce…so full of delicious flavor, I couldn’t put the fork down! I had to give the others a fair shot too though and was delighted with each. My second favorite, if not tied for first, is the Ceviche Crocante, which also has halibut with traditional leche de tigre, a traditional Peruvian dressing made with aji amarillo, the South American hot yellow chile pepper and lime juice, to add a zesty pucker to any dish. It is absolutely divine! Add fried calamari and glazed sweet potato, and this crunchy ceviche is just ridiculous (in a good way, of course). ;) I also loved the Pulpo al Olivo, another traditional Peruvian ceviche, bursting with flavor, prepared with a rich, olive oil sauce, that even my friend who doesn’t like olive oil loved. They also have a ceviche made with fresh tuna and crispy quinoa, which is fantastic, and of course you can always go for the traditional Peruvian ceviche, made with fresh whitefish and lots of lemon, giving it an even stronger citrus punch than your Mexican ceviche. What also sets is apart is it’s prepared with large white corn, very Peruvian, as well. The Passion Tiradito is also delicious, with strips of fresh halibut, layered with crispy quinoa, aji limo, cilantro and passion fruit sauce, with a small slice of red chili on top to give it a little kick and perfectly balance spicy with the sweetness of the passion fruit sauce. Whichever you choose, it’s the perfect appetizer to whet your appetite and start off your meal.
Rice dishes are also very popular in Peruvian cuisine, drawing again from their Asian influence, as well as their Spanish, with the Arroz con Mariscos, much like a Spanish paella, with rice flavored in a saffron wine sauce with fresh squid, mussels, shrimp, octopus and scallops, one of their most popular dishes. For a different twist, you could try the Green Seafood Paella, made in a cilantro beer sauce, topped with grated parmesan cheese, a new, exciting treat for your taste buds, which I really enjoyed!
If you’re in the mood for a fish entrée, you’ve come to the right place, as the ceviche proves El Rocoto specializes in seafood. The Pescado a lo Macho is a fabulous choice, a hearty fish dish that will definitely satisfy your appetite, not leaving you hungry as some fish entrées could do. This is a generous fillet, but not only that…you also get shrimp, squid, mussel, scallop and octopus along with it, all served in an exquisite creamy aji amarillo sauce with rice. You can’t go wrong with this one!
If you want some red meat, Danny makes the popular Peruvian dish, Lomo Saltado, to perfection. Made in the classic fashion with stir fry beef, onions, tomatoes, and fried potatoes on a bed of rice, you can’t ask for more. You can make it tenderloin for just 4 bucks more…either way, it’s outstanding!
Hopefully you’ve saved room for dessert, because they have unique Peruvian desserts you can’t find at just any restaurant. They offer a Mousse de Maracuya (passion fruit), which is refreshingly delicious, a Crocante de Manjar Blanco, with layers of a creamy mousse made from lucuma, a subtropical fruit native to the Andean valleys with a unique and rich flavor that is not too sweet, interwoven with chocolate cake to add more sweetness for a perfect combination, and a Dulce de Tres Leches, a heavenly caramel treat for something sweeter. I loved all of them, but my favorite of all are the housemade Alfajores, exquisite flaky cookies with housemade dulce de leche (caramel) in the middle. They’re to die for! They’re so delicious, some people come into the restaurant to take them to go.
Another must have to accompany your meal or to start or end it, is the Pisco Sour, Peru’s traditional cocktail, made with pisco (Peruvian grape brandy), lime or lemon juice, syrup, ice, bitters, and egg whites to give it a pleasantly creamy, frothy texture. El Rocoto’s is absolutely perfect! Even my Peruvian friend said there’s is the best she’s ever had. Be careful though…they’re very easy to drink and pack quite a punch, so they they could sneak up on you. You could also enjoy Peruvian wine with your meal, which is also very good.
If you’re a food lover and appreciate good, quality cuisine that is authentic, you have to go to El Rocoto. You will not be disappointed! There are two locations. One is at 1356 West Artesia Boulevard in Gardena, and the other is at 11433 South Street in Cerritos. For more information on the Gardena location or to make reservations, call (310) 768-8768 and for Cerritos call (562) 924-1919. You can also visit their website at www.elrocoto.com or like them on facebook. Buen provecho!