*BLOG / FOOD / Latin American food

Adios Chimu, Hello Local

Do you remember El Pollo Inka in West LA on Pico Blvd?  From the outside, the place was just another strip mall joint surrounded by boring businesses selling stamps and luggage.  But inside, the restaurant felt magical. Scenes of the Andes were painted on walls in bright neon, illuminated by black light.  Musicians would play on pan pipes and drums. And the food – I remember yellow rice and oh-so tender chicken with aromatic spices.

Long before I became fascinated with LA’s ethnic cultures, I relished the opportunity to visit a different world in an unlikely spot just a few miles from my Santa Monica home.  Sadly, El Pollo Inka closed when I was still a kid in the single-digit years.

So that may be why I’ve always had a particular fondness for Peruvian food – which hasn’t been nearly as prominent in LA as other ethnic fare such as Mexican, Thai, and Indian – all represented in abundance on the westside where I grew up.(A 2009 LA Times article on Peruvian food wrote: “The Peruvian community in Los Angeles is large but scattered, and Peruvian restaurants are mostly solitary creatures, with none of the visible concentration of Koreatown or Thai Town. Most of them are hidden too: in the back corners of strip malls, behind 7-Elevens and Radio Shacks, on anonymous stretches of streets in the outer reaches of the San Fernando Valley.” )

But recently, Peruvian cuisine has hit its stride, finding popularity among mainstream, non-immigrant audiences at take-out counters and restaurants alike.

One of its most recent iterations has been Chimu, a take-out spot at downtown’s Grand Central Market.  Chef Mario Alberto, while not Peruvian, had worked at L.A. Peruvian eatery Mo-Chica, traveled in Peru, and was energetic about infusing the traditional cooking style with new techniques and flavors.

But it was not meant to be — Chimu closed last week, as I reported for the LA Weekly.  I am encouraged, however, to hear that Alberto eventually would like to return to Peruvian cooking.  See my full post to read Alberto and critic Jonathan Gold’s comments on the cuisine.

Local Express, an eatery that emphasizes organic, locally-grown foods and sustainable practices, will move into the Chimu space on Monday. Jason Michaud told me about his hopes for the new venture in a post for the Weekly.

Chimu, Mario Alberto’s Peruvian Eatery, Closes

By Daina Beth Solomon Tue., Nov. 1 2011 at 11:01 AM
Chimu.jpg
Chimú blackboard, drawn by Nicholas Knudson. / D. Solomon
A chalkboard drawing of a wild-eyed creature pedaling away on a bicycle greeted Chimú visitors on Sunday, along with the word “FAREWELL.”

Chimú has closed its doors, or rather, its take-out windows, which served up steaming plates of chancho, lomo saltado, pollo a la brasa and seco de cordero.

On Saturday, Chimú’s last day, chef Mario Alberto was telling customers, “It’s time to move on,” accented with a good-natured shrug. “I wish we could have stayed open longer, seen it grow, but I also look at it as moving forward,” he tells us.

Read the full article here.

Jason Michaud’s Local Express to Replace Chimu; Red Hill to Open Dec. 1

By Daina Beth Solomon Thu., Nov. 3 2011 at 9:11 AM

chimuyard.jpg

Diners at chimu / Guzzle & Nosh

Downtowners who had flocked to Peruvian eatery Chimú to sit on the sun-splattered patio and dine on pollo a la brasa were saddened to learn of Chimú’s closing last weekend. Beginning Monday, the space next to the Grand Central Market will once again serve lunch, says Chimú co-owner Jason Michaud. He will re-open the eatery as Local Express, a scaled-down version of Local, his Silver Lake restaurant that emphasizes organic and locally-grown foods.

The take-out spot will be “user-friendly” with short wait times and “food that can be eaten on-the-go,” he tells us via email. The menu will include lower-priced versions of favorites from Local as well some new items.

Michaud is saddened to lose Chimú, a collaboration with Alberto. “We had a dream of growing it into something that would turn the market into the heart of downtown. We tried to do something special, and…reached our mark. However we did not fit into the market and could not sustain the quality of Mario’s food without more support.”

Read the full article here.

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