It’s actually a homestyle Peruvian dish, believe it or not. The alpaca adobo stew above, I mean. Go into the mountains of Northern Peru and you won’t find any platings of the dish with edible flowers, balsamic gels and foie gras foams. The people of Piura would give you blank stares. Or laugh. Or both.
But the novelty of alpaca stew justified chef Martin Ore’s carrot, asparagus and sprout art on top of the rich stew at the only fine dining PEruvian restaurant in Montreal, Mochica (not to be confused with Mochico, the shoe store chain…). Would French fine dining restaurants in Montreal put a beef stew on the menu? Boeuf bourguignon is bistro fare, not haute restaurant fare, after all, and that’s essentially what this alpaca adobo is—swapping out the red wine for Peruvian chicha de jora (fermented corn beer). But, who am I to argue semantics when the lean meat is perfectly braised, the carrots are perfectly glazed, the tomatoes perfectly roasted, and there’s just the tiniest amount of aji chili pepper there to not scare off Montreal diners?
Soy turistica, claro—a tourist of Peruvian cuisine. But having spent a fair bit of time in Peru, I know my ceviche. And I’d eat the alpaca stew made with organic alpaca raised in Bolton, Quebec happily.
I’d also take that corvina again. Corvina is a Peruvian sea bass that’s not usually sustainable, depending on where you get it, who caught it, and how. (Not “And, how!” Rather, how it was caught…)
It’s the most expensive fish for ceviche in Peru as it’s the most traditional and most overfished, specifically because of its notoriety for ceviche. The fish doesn’t fall apart in the lime marinade, but it doesn’t turn to rubber either. Seared as a main at Mochica, it also held its own. It’s served with a dairy-free cod and cassava brandade that’s so rich and creamy I don’t know what heavy cream could do to make it better. The fiery rocoto chili pepper sauce doesn’t even overpower it. Catering to Quebec tastebuds again, I see. And the fish was perfectly cooked. Tender and just beginning to flake the whole way through.
The only dish that disappointed was the ceviche trio starter. It included a ceviche classico (lime marinade on fish), a tuna and strawberry version, and another that I think I’v chosen to forget. The problem was the lime. It was too strong. Peruvian limes have a less sour flavour, and though the leche de tigre (the marinating juice for the fish) had enough salt and wasn’t oily like a blended tiradito leche can be, it overpowered everything. Though I’m not a huge advocate of sugar, a little might have helped mellow the sauce. And tuna just doesn’t go with strawberries, especially in April in Montreal…
But the grilled octopus appetizer with black olive sauce, the other most popular entrée on every restaurant menu in Lima, Peru, was spectacular. Often you get excess fat and gristle on the seafood, but this was marinated and grilled to gently charred perfection. And the black olive sauce…You tasted olives but not in a way that would scare off even Greeks.
With no time or room for dessert (and an annoying intolerance to gluten and dairy), I didn’t get to try the dark chocolate cake with Pisco (Peruvian brandy), port, pecans and lucuma ice cream (lucuma is one of the best fruit in existence, and is only available whole in Peru. The whole fruit can’t be exported. But its powdered form can).
I also talked the waiter out of talking me into a Pisco sour. Had enough of those sugar and alcohol bombs, thanks (Pisco sour = too much Peruvian fire brandy with too much sugar, a little lime and an egg white, all blended to creamy, sour, sweet perfection. NEVER drink a second one. You will not remember what you did after that point. This has never happened to me, clearly…).
I did take a glass of Argentinian white wine. The wine by the glass selection is small but affordable and well-chosen. The white was fresh, and while nothing can pair with ceviche (except maybe a lime-heavy Pisco sour), it stood up to the chili in the grilled octopus and fish. An Argentinian Malbec worked with the alpaca, though chicha would have too.
So, Mochica, thanks for the alpaca, the octopus, and all the fish. I loved my server dearly, and the cute Peruvian hand-made keychain as a parting gift was sweet. If only more restaurants did such homely things while serving haute bistro fare, I’d feel like a better person, social justice-wise at least.
Mochica Peruvian Restaurant
Hours: Tues-Thurs 5pm to 10pm; Fri-Sun 5pm to 11pm; closed Monday
How much: $55 including tax and tip (without a Pisco sour or glass of wine)