[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]alther Adrianzen squeezes behind the small counter at Lonzo’s in Culver City, arranging a fan of delicate yellowtail shards across a violent yellow splatter of aji amarillo sauce and the spilled guts of passion fruit.
He dots the fish’s bright pink center with tiny black pearls of caviar before tweezing colorful nasturtium flowers onto the periphery.
The entire improvised arrangement stretches across a weighty, chipped platter resembling a black pumice arrowhead forged in magma.
In 2013, the late critic Jonathan Gold dubbed Adrianzen’s Peruvian cooking at Lonzo’s, “unusually good” in the L.A. Times. Today, it is unquestionably still among the most beautiful.
Lonzo’s was opened as a modest bakery in 2007 by his uncle, Jose Ramirez, who over the years has been gradually pushed towards the back to make room for Adrianzen's daily lunch rush.
After leaving El Huarique, the traditional restaurant Adrianzen helped to open in 2013 on the Venice boardwalk, he joined his family here at Lonzo’s, transforming it into a full dining destination for Peruvian food buffs.
He proceeded to rock a whole lot of worlds before moving on to open CVCHE, his now-closed Peruvian seafood spot in Montebello followed by a short stint at Barranco in North Hollywood. Lonzo’s, meanwhile, remains consistently packed to this day.
Now the 32-year-old chef is back to make a clean break with convention.
“As a young chef I still had things to learn,” he says of his previous menu at Lonzo’s. “Through the years I’ve passed through so many restaurants and learned many more techniques. My presentation has become more modern. Now I have my own style.”
His first shot in this personal upsurge is a new, revamped dinner menu of modern seafood specialties with Japanese and Chinese influences served on strange, mesmeric plates that the chef made in his garage, having studied ceramics at Santa Monica High School, which he attended after coming to L.A. from Peru as a teen.
These stirring dishes come across like some sort of inverse of the bleak extraterrestrial avant-garde at Vespertine; beguiling, unique presentations that elicit wonder and joy, with a supreme product at their center and bright colors on their margins.
There are imported Peruvian scallops buried beneath crumb-covered coagulation of Parmesan cheese and aji Amarillo butter, stacked around a centerpiece of blossoming branches. Small dabs of ponzu and yuzu provide jolts of acidity.
Honey Bay oysters are loaded with ikura and dollops of passion fruit seed, balanced on a crescent of ceramic stone in an arroyo of rock salt and shiso leaf.
A heavy piece of clay driftwood might land next on your table, its incredible bulk bearing a symmetrical pair of Peruvian prawns butterflied and served simply with a split lime and chimichurri.
His most colorful creation is probably a plate of Andean potatoes; their dark purple cores bared through a clean diagonal knife strike and contrasted with a bright pool of aji amarillo sauce, thin rings of hard-boiled quail egg that look up like irises and tan splotches of huacatay herb and a green olive sauce.
There are tender tendrils of Spanish octopus with more vibrant dabs: green chimichurri and sauces of yellow choclo and red criollo.
A crab-and-potato-stuffed fritter riffs on customary causa, cradled in a bony, upended arc that resembles some kind of warped demon horn.
Other intriguing choices include salmon tiradito with fried fish skin; leche de tigre-cured lobster and shrimp ceviche; shiitake quinotto; lamb rack anticuchada with shishito peppers; and hen ramen with poached egg, yellow potato and ginger pickle.
While Adrianzen may be bucking tradition on the plate, your meal will still be paired with chicha morada, Inca Kola or passion fruit nectar.
Lonzo’s lunch menu will continue to offer superior standards like lomo saltado (with ribeye or filet mignon), jalea mixta and catch-of-the-day tiraditos. The place is too popular at these hours to veer wildly off-script.
“I’m taking a risk,” he admits. “We’re packed all the time. People are used to big plates of certain recipes. But now I’m upgrading everything: better-quality of fish and meat. I’m bringing in ingredients like maca and Peruvian fish, you know, [instead of] using branzino instead of tilapia.”
Adrianzen’s goal is to make enough of a splash with his arresting plates to progress to his own place.
“If I need to shine, I can just be in a hole-in-the-wall,” he says. “But why not come back to the place where I started?”
Beyond this, he feels a responsibility to his family. His goal of having a bigger stage for his skills would need to include a place for Jose and his wife, Miriam, who together own Lonzo’s.
That sentiment also extends to his father, who helped to start Lonzo’s and carried on executing the young chef’s menu once he’d departed not long after J. Gold’s shout-out saw them slammed.
He passed away in the spring of 2017, tendering the torch back to his son to cultivate the cause of stellar, progressive Peruvian cuisine behind that small counter at Lonzo’s.
“Everything I do is to honor my dad,” he says. “He left me his throne.”
Lonzo’s ~ 10804 Washington Blvd., Culver City ~ (310) 842-7876
The enticing dishes at the reservation-only pop-up at a food court in DTLA's Historic Core neighborhood include a whole, two-pound rock cod fried until a chicharrón-like crispness, basking in an addictively savory tamarind garlic sauce, curried crab, oysters, and more.
Parents gathered outside of Saticoy Elementary School in North Hollywood this morning in protest of a Pride assembly at the school that includes the reading of a book called "The Great Big Book of Families."