Mochica, Montreal: a call to llamas
We ate there on our previous trip; that was my first encounter with Peruvian culture, and were I less well-educated, I'd have come away with the impression that the Peruvian diet consisted largely of llama and pisco.
Oh, and, at least according to the (non-work-safe) statuary in the restroom, that Peruvian men are extraordinarily talented.
It turned out we were lucky to get a table on this occasion; they were expecting a party of 21, a graduation celebration, which would occupy half the restaurant. This is their table, but really it's just an excuse to show you the cool wall work:
The waitstaff were lovely all night, beginning with the point at which our waiter, referring to the imminent arrival of the large group, said, "You might want to order now, if you can; I'd hate for your order to get lost in the crush."
We started with the rellenos de papa de llama:
Rellenos de papa are a Puerto Rican favorite: fist-sized balls of mashed potato, stuffed with meat and deep-fried (here's a recipe; check out this vid of chef Wilo Benet's easy instructions for putting them together).
At Mochica, they're loaded with llama and olives; the potato is light and fluffy, with the lightest crunch on the outside.
Our other app, ceviche de pescado, is also popular in Puerto Rico. The difference at Mochica is that rather than serving the fish in bite-sized chunks, they slice it paper-thin—almost translucent—so it melts on the tongue with a bright bite of lime.
(By this point, the large party had arrived and spent an hour taking turns in giving speeches, from which I am forced to conclude that Peruvian dinnertime is traditionally a long and overly formal occasion.)
Then to our mains; sadly (as may be evident from the above images) the light in the restaurant wasn't quite bright enough for photos, so you'll just have to take my word for it that everything was lovely. The Boy's dad had llama a la parilla, a generous grilled llama steak with rosemary; The Boy went for goat stew, which came tender and warmly spicy and (for a nice change) had very few bones.
I had llama a la Cuzqueña, a spicy, complex llama stew. On the menu it noted that the llama was "from Compton," which I assume means this Compton, rather than this Compton.
Only The Boy's mom wasn't completely happy, in part because the food was spicier than she liked, and also because it wasn't quite what she expected. She'd been hoping for something closer to the simple, hearty, home-cooked meals of her childhood (which sounded fabulous) rather than this light, modern take. But otherwise, the evening was lovely.
And a final example of Mochica's customer service: The Boy's dad couldn't find his gold chain, and thought he might have lost it in the restaurant. I called Mochica the next morning and left a message, explaining we were leaving for Boston so needed a rapid response. The co-owner quickly got back to me to say they'd searched the place but couldn't find the chain, and he hoped that hadn't spoiled our experience, and wished us a safe trip home.
(We found the chain in the car later that day; it had fallen off and slipped down the passenger-side seat. D'oh!)
Montreal, like New York, is so generously stuffed with restaurants that it would be easy to eat at a different place every night. But along with Au Pied de Cochon, I think of Mochica as becoming one of our defaults: a restaurant we could easily visit on every trip and try something new and interesting.
(But more importantly: are all the guys like that??)