Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rincon Chileno: A satisfying walk into a new comfort zone

“I’m not in Kansas any more,” I think as I slide out of my car and scurry down the somewhat downtrodden street toward the restaurant. I’ve been in the Wilshire Center neighborhood before for ice cream fixes at Scoops, so I’m not necessarily intimidated by its somewhat scruffy appearance, but I am slightly intimidated about my dining destination for the evening.

Rincon Chileno, one of a handful of Chilean restaurants in Los Angeles, is not the type of place I usually find myself on a Thursday evening – or any evening for that matter. Usually, I stay close to home (or work) on week nights – preferring to gorge myself on familiar comforts. Those places – the Mozzas, Angeli Caffe, Nook Bistro, Nakkara – are my security blankets. They are sure things, and in comparison, the humbly dressed Rincon Chileno seems to be more of a wild card.

But I trust Bill from Street Gourmet LA. He’s selected the restaurant for our post-K&L wine tasting dinner with two representatives from Face to Face Imports, LLC, and I know he knows Latin American cuisine like I know chocolate and quinoa. I’d follow him through any block in Los Angeles or any block south of the border in the pursuit of good food – even if I did feel slightly hesitant to take that first step.

Tonight, my hesitant steps toward Rincon Chileno will be greatly rewarded. As soon as I tear into the dense biscuit-like rolls that are made with the same dough used to make the restaurant and deli’s empanadas, I know everything is going to be okay. I smear the spongy flesh with the vibrant Serrano chile salsa (pebre) and sit back and relax, my tongue already tingling with pleasure.

We start with an order of Ceviche ($10.95) – a bright plate of greens, potatoes, corn and white fish that is bathed in an intense citrus-infused broth. The citrus is assertive on the palate, but the accompanying potatoes and greens balance out the bold flavor. While the plate looks a bit unrefined in presentation, the dish itself is very well-executed.

Bill and follow the light appetizer with an order of two empanadas – one with chicken, the other with spinach and mozzarella cheese ($3.95/each). While I enjoy the tender, flaky dough that pockets each empanada filling, I far prefer the spinach version that oozes a lush river of cheese. I find myself craving more heat or spice in the chicken empanada – there isn’t anything particularly distinct or noteworthy about it.

We continue our carbo-load with two corn dishes for the table – the Humitas con Ensalada ($10.95) and the Pastel de Choclo ($11.95). The former is essentially a Chilean tamale made with real corn instead of corn meal and is usually prepared with butter or lard. Rincon’s version is dense and sticky and sweet – almost like a bowl of oatmeal in texture. It’s an intense bite, but the acidity from the accompanying tomato and onion salad is a nice contrast. After tasting the Pastel de Choclo, however, I find it difficult to go back to the Humitas.

The Pastel de Choclo is akin to a shepard’s pie made with tender tangles of chicken, hard boiled eggs, raisins, and black olives that are covered in a dense caramelized corn mash topping. I can’t get enough of the savory sweet combination and keep digging my spoon back into the communal pie pan for another hit of the well-mingled mess of ingredients. I love it.

I am less enthusiastic about our final savory courses – a cazuela beef stew and the lomo pobre ($14.95), a rib eye steak with two fried eggs, French fries and caramelized onions. The beef used in both is a touch too tough for my tastes, but I do appreciate the palate-cleansing lightness of the broth in the soup, and I can’t get enough of the slick onions served on top of the steak. I could certainly see myself adoring the dish with a more knife-friendly cut of beef – especially when the yolk from the runny egg spills into the crevices of the steak.

At this juncture in the evening, dessert seems far too taxing for my carb-filled stomach, but Bill still orders a multi-layered pastry and a mote de huesillo, a sweet beverage made with peach and barley. Neither dessert tickles my palate the same way a cup of ice cream from Scoops across the street would, but I do enjoy ending the night with one more sweet note.

As Bill walks me back to my car, our stomachs both secure with Chilean comforts, I think again, “Yes, I’d still follow you anywhere.” Next time, I’m sure my step will be far less hesitant to do so.

Rincon Chileno
4354 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90029-3543
(323) 666-6075


Gastronomer said...

Now that Bill's shown you the ropes, will you introduce me to Chilean food? Por favor?

weezermonkey said...

I loooooooooooove pastel de choclo!

I had it for the first time in Chile. :)

Fritos and Foie Gras said...

love, love, love tamales of any sort! i am both jealous and so glad you got to have it!!

Esi said...

Ooh, the spinach and cheese empanada sounds great (what is with my empanada obsession lately?!) I know you didn't love that steak and egg dish at the end, but it sounds like I would.

Ashley said...

Now you've got me missing the Julia's Empanadas shop that was around the corner from my apartment in DC.

stuffycheaks said...

the Pastel de Choclo looks delicious, except for the olives of course. I def have to try this, its close to my work

bagnatic said...

omg, i should not be reading this post while i'm waiting for my dinner to be delivered. that looks sooooo good. i would like an introduction to chilean food as welllllllll....hongry.

Anna A. said...

I'm very proud!!!!