99 Essential Restaurants 2014

Picca

photo by Anne Fishbein

Of all chef Ricardo Zarate’s restaurants, and there are now quite a few, Picca might be the most honest. This seems counterintuitive, as Picca is all flash and sex. Relentlessly trendy and terribly loud, it’s the very definition of a hot spot. Yet it inhabits this space so well — and Zarate’s radiant Peruvian flavors, here mixed with both Japanese and Spanish ideas, fit the cocktail lounge vibe so perfectly — that the restaurant succeeds in every way. It’s an exceedingly fun place to eat. Where else in L.A. might you find a cocktail made with avocado, the viscosity and green of the fruit working gorgeously with its tangy citrus counterpoints? Most dishes are small, bright and carefully constructed. A dish of Japanese eggplant comes geometrically arranged and topped with violets, along with aji amarillo-honey. Melting black cod coated in miso comes bite-size on skewers, with crispy sweet potato chips. Locro de quinoa, a pumpkin quinoa stew topped with a fried egg, is one of the most creative and delicious uses of the grain around. Plenty of restaurants in town have a giddy party vibe — but at Picca, the food feels like a celebration as well.

-- Besha Rodell