Tasty Peruvian fare, spotty service at Mochica 

click to enlarge For a nice example of a Peruvian classic, try the fresh, tart cebiche pescado at Mochica. - GABRIELLE LURIE SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • For a nice example of a Peruvian classic, try the fresh, tart cebiche pescado at Mochica.
My first and second impressions of the recently relocated Mochica were that the service was a friendly mess, so much so that it merits a detailed mention before we discuss the actual food.

On a busy, but not packed, weeknight, we sat unattended for 15 minutes. Though I counted eight employees buzzing about on the floor, no one seemed to be assigned to our table. When our server did finally make it over, she profusely apologized, citing a malfunctioning computer system as reason for the delay.

We ordered and our appetizers came out lightning-fast, but drinks, one a simple draft beer, were nowhere to be seen. Our server returned, politely apologized again and let us know that the drinks would be on the house, a nice gesture. Five minutes later, they finally arrived but they were the wrong drinks. Our entrees were brought out a long, long while after that.

During a second visit, things went a tad more smoothly but the bar was still having issues. We ordered a bottle of wine for the table while we perused our menus but by the time our first courses showed up, the wine hadn’t. Our server, again really nice, informed us that the bartender was having trouble finding the bottle and was now searching for it in another room. It finally came and we proactively ordered a different bottle to enjoy with our main courses.

As our entrees were served, the wine was nowhere in sight. Sheepishly, our poor server approached the table to let us know that they were out of this bottle altogether. Our replacement was uncorked just as we were finishing our meal.

To be clear, never did I feel like our servers were at fault. Rather, it seemed that Mochica’s systems, whether digital or human, were way out of whack. That’s a shame because many dishes coming out of Carlos Altamirano’s sparkling open kitchen were solid.

If you want to check out the Peruvian classics, start with the cebiche pescado, gleaming fresh fish on the tart, citrusy side and traditionally garnished with sweet potato and corn. Less exhilarating but equally well prepared were chicken chicharrones, fried pieces of breast meat that managed to stay juicy. The batter had the slightest hint of heat that, along with a dip in the accompanying aioli, made these things addictive like popcorn.

Hefty chunks of tenderloin in the lomo saltado were cooked to a perfect pink and liberally doused with soy and vinegar, though the tough fries on top should have been yanked from the fryer a minute earlier.

The chancho de abodado featured a hunk of tender pork shoulder smothered in a smoky sauce featuring aji panca peppers, which are common in Peru. It was described as being “mole like” – which was dead accurate.

A turn on the grill rendered a generous portion of beef tongue delightfully charred and earthy. Though listed as a starter, it would suffice as dinner on its own. We also enjoyed a mild chorizo-stuffed calamari in which the play of the textures off of one another made the ingredients, not the somewhat overwhelming spices, shine.

If management can get the level of service to even near the level of the food and the sexily refurbished decor, I’d unabashedly recommend Mochica. Until then, proceed with caution.


Location: 1469 18th St., (at Connecticut Street), S.F.

Contact: (415) 278-0480, www.mochicasf.com

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday for brunch; 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 5:30 to 11 p.m. Fiday-Saturday for dinner

Price range: $8 to $28

Recommended dishes: Beef tongue ($12), calamari relleno ($13), cebiche pescado ($14), lomo saltado ($19), chancho de abodado ($18), churros ($9)

Credit cards: All major

Reservations: Accepted

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Alex Hochman

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