As I’ve often suspected, a Queens Under $25 review don’t mean shit. Initially, I was concerned about crowds (and worried that I’d look a mindless follower—I swear I suggested this place the previous week) but when I arrived with a group of six a little after 9pm three days after Urubamba made the Times, (possibly the first instance of a food blogger in this slot) there were only a handful of tables occupied. Sripraphai appears to be the only restaurant in that borough that can draw a genuine crowd from all parts of the city.
Urubamba is the bizarro Kampuchea. You order eight dishes and show up with three six-packs (Budweiser, Negro Modelo and St. Pauli Girl, oddly each female counterpart knew exactly which brew was chosen by their significant other. I easily pegged James for the St Pauli Girl) and only leave $20 lighter. It’s extremely rare that I am shocked over a bill being so low.
This Jackson Heights excursion was to meet up with a former Spanish class taker who’d recently bought a co-op in the neighborhood, a current classmate who still lives in South Brooklyn, and both women’s husbands. I’d like to believe that our Peruvian group dinner wasn’t as dorky as a high school Spanish class field trip (not that I would know first hand—I took French and we never left the building).
The roast chicken was awesome, which shouldn’t have been surprising since I’ve never had bad Peruvian pollo a la brasa (I still don’t understand why the West Village Pardo’s morphed into a cevicheria). The salty (soy sauce is the not-so-secret ingredient) crispy skin and juicy meat never fail to win diners over. Don't forget the green sauce.
The chicken combo came with everyone’s (ok, my) favorite junk food mashup, salchipapas.
As well as a pitcher of chicha morada, a scarlet cinnamony beverage that gets its pretty color from purple corn. Or maybe just a powered mix, who knows? I was recently informed that in Spain chicha means love handles, though I suspect this isn’t true in the Andes.
Ceviche ties with rotisserie chicken for best Peruvian specialty. This is the mixto with shrimp and octopus. I like the crunch offered by the dried corn kernels. Sometimes the chunky sweet potato rounds are overwhelming. I’m neutral on the white potatoes.
Tiradito is more purist, fish-only. These crudo preparations were lime juice tart and not terribly spicy. Despite the use of aji amarillo and rocoto peppers, Peruvian cuisine isn’t known for hot flavors.
A yuca rellena stuffed with ground beef and hardboiled eggs (they really love their hardboiled eggs) didn’t go far split into sixths.
No one got too excited about the papas a la huancainas, classic as it may be. The cold dish of yellow-sauced potatoes reminded me of a mild curry. I had no idea that the creamy texture was a result of pureed cheese, evaporated milk and Saltines. Strange, but good strange.
Still hungry, we debated getting a whole fried fish, which seemed to be popular but by the time we asked they were sold out of snapper. When asked for ideas, our waitress suggested the chicken, which was kind of like the potatoes. It appears that you can huancaina-up anything.
Arroz con mariscos, a paella-ish dish in a heavy pot, was the crowning glory.
Sorry, lovebirds. I wasn’t trying to capture you on film; you just happened to be the only patrons left in the restaurant.
Pre-dinner drinks combined with meal-time beers caused us to lose track of time. Normally, I’m a freak about being the last one in a restaurant or arriving near to closing, but you know, I’m trying to cut loose in 2009. Overstaying your welcome will get lights turned off on you, though.
Urubamba * 86-20 37th Ave., Jackson Heights, NY