I have such a strong memory of nibbling on charred octopus tentacles between sips of ouzo on a terrace overlooking the sea in Santorini. Much as I've tried, I haven't turned up that particular way of eating octopus in SoCal. The good news, though, is that lately the tasty cephalopod is showing up on more local menus — not only at Mediterranean restaurants but also at places with Mexican and Peruvian dishes. It's about time.
Picca Peruvian Cantina
At this exuberant Peruvian cantina, one of the standbys on the menu is chef-owner Ricardo Zarate's anticucho de pulpo — a small dish of boiled octopus marinated in lots of Peruvian chiles accented with oregano and cumin, then grilled over charcoal on the robata. It's served with baked and fried Kennebec potatoes and drizzled with a fiery rocoto rustico, a sauce of jalapeño and Peruvian black mint. Add in anticucho corazon (beef heart) with rocoto-walnut pesto and one of the three vibrant ceviches here, and you've got the beginnings of quite a feast.
9575 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 277-0133, http://www.piccaperu.com. Anticucho de pulpo, $16.
When I had brunch at Girasol in Studio City, I fell in love with chef C.J. Jacobson's grilled octopus gazpacho, a pretty mosaic of sliced octopus tentacles in a chunky broth of bright tomatillo, cucumber and creamy avocado and roasted chiles, with cilantro flowers and chickweed. What a terrific idea for a brunch dish. He also makes a lovely salad with octopus marinated in olive oil with parsley and lovage, then braised in its juices and grilled. The other components are velvety roasted eggplant, lightly grilled Little Gem lettuce and frisee accented with exotic rosemary ash oil (Jacobson spent time at Noma in Copenhagen) and toasted lovage. Still hungry? try hamachi with finger lime and sea beans or flat-iron steak grilled in pine needles.
11334 Moorpark St., Studio City, (818) 924-2323, girasolrestaurant.com. Octopus gazpacho, $11; octopus salad, $17.
Right now, Josef Centeno has not one but two octopus dishes on the menu at Bar Amá, his ode to his childhood's Tex-Mex cooking. Octopus verde is an appetizer of octopus with crunchy jicama, celery and cucumber in a complex green sauce of parsley, cilantro, oregano, serrano chiles and olive oil. The other is Catalan-inspired fideo with octopus and kielbasa. Sounds weird, but the flavors really work. Fideo are thin noodles toasted in olive oil and cooked slowly, bathed in broth, as you'd cook the rice for risotto. Centeno then adds the sliced grilled sausage, grilled octopus, a squeeze of lime and a scattering of toasted pepitas.
118 W. 4th St., Los Angeles, (213) 687-8002, http://www.bar-ama.com. Octopus verde, $15; fideo with octopus and kielbasa, $15.