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.
4354 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90029-3543