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Posts from the ‘Peruvian’ Category

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Crickets, Chicken Combos, Salted Caramel

La popular quint

La Antojeria Popular We'll always have the
hole-in-the-wall taquerias (and despite what West Coasters argue, NYC has
plenty of Mexican food that doesn't suck) even as flashier entrants come in
waves. La Esquina to Hecho in Dumbo to Tacombi, and more recently El Toro
Blanco, Salvation Taco and La Antojeria Popular, the latter being the newest offering from the
owners of Taka Taka, the Mexican conveyor
belt sushi restaurant in Soho. As the name implies, the menu is made up of
antojitos, a.k.a. little snacks or "Mexican tapas," some more
traditional than others. Pictured is a sampling (gratis, in the name of full disclosure)
that includes the Guerrero (raw tuna cubes and mango tossed in serrano
mayonnaise on a jicama round), Michoacan (chicken in mole sauce with toasted
sesame seeds and crema on a corn tostada), Zacatecas (sirloin, salsa verde,
chihuahua cheese, also on a corn tostada) and Tamaulipas (steak, beans, chihuahua
cheese, pasilla mayonnaise–mayo is definitely a thing–in a pita sort of like
a taco arabe). For obvious reasons the Oaxaca topped with crickets–a little salty and chewy, not so
scary–and avocado on a blue corn tortilla, has gotten the most press. There is
also a small selection of ceviches and sides like the Distrito Federal (a mix
of shrimp, tilapia and beef) and Morelos, which are esquites (corn, mayonnaise,
chile, lime topped with a square of queso fresco). Desserts include a flan with
cajeta and increasingly omnipresent La Newyorkina paletas.

Pio pio matador comboPio Pio My favorite Peruvian chain. Ok, maybe NYC's
only Peruvian chain (I guess there's similarly named Pio Pio Riko too?). The
Matador Combo is $34 well spent, and minus the hot dog fries there's nothing terribly offbeat about Peruvian food, despite it winning the top "exotic" spot among US consumers surveyed about Latin American cuisine. Of course you get the chicken, burnished,
garlicky and salty (I think soy sauce is a not-so-secret ingredient) and no
matter how many birds they churn out (it will never not be crowded on a weekend night) still
moist, plus salchipapas, everyone's favorite french fry and wiener dish, avocado
salad, rice, beans, tostones, and the all-important green sauce (mayonnaise
being the not-at-all-secret ingredient). I like the metal bucket crammed full
of Heinz mustard and ketchup, even if I don't what the condiments are meant to go with.

Big gay ice cream salty pimpBig Gay Ice Cream Shop So, I've never been. Some
people think I don't like desserts, which isn't true at all. I just rarely go
to sweets-only shops and never patronize food trucks or street fairs or carnivals or whevever it is that sugar is sold in multiple formats. The Salty
Pimp with its chocolate-dipped vanilla ice cream and salted dulce de leche is
pretty perfect, and they even offer to put it in a dish for you, a flourish I
like because I'm fussy (yes, a fork-and-knife pizza-eater). Don't go after 11pm,
though, if you want something more elaborate like the Monday Sundae (similar
flavors to the Salty Pimp but in a bigger Nutella-lined waffle cone and
smothered in whipped cream) because they won't make it. And there was more of
that Fany Gerson and her La Newyorkina paletas–she gets around.

El Anzuelo Fino

Even though I feel like they (whoever they are) have been saying it years, Peruvian is supposed to be the hot new cuisine (I’m torn, because as much as I love Peruvian food, I was hoping for Filipino to take that honor). Maybe so. And I’ll be waiting to see how NYC responds to the big, modern version at La Mar Cebicheria opening this week.

Meanwhile, I went small. I’m such a slave to Pio Pio that I never give any of the other Peruvian options on Northern Boulevard a chance. How many matador combos can one person eat before branching out? El Anzuelo Fino needed trying (El Sol does too).

El anzuelo fino corn nuts

Gastón Acurio's curl-topped face was all over a travel/cooking show playing on the television in the front dining room. I wonder how much of a crossover audience will be shared between this small, Jackson Heights corner restaurant and La Mar Cebicheria?

El anzuelo fino ceviche mixto

Ceviche mixto is always an accurate benchmark. Here, cubes of raw firm fish, likely corvina, shrimp, octopus rings and a single green-lipped mussel were the mix. This is the only restaurant where I’ve been asked about spice level and given a dish with a genuinely hot kick in addition to the lime’s tartness, which by itself can be one-note.

El anzuelo fino corvina rellena con mariscos

With fish hook in the name and a fish waiter logo, napkin draped over one fin and a plate of food on the other, nearly as cute as Pio Pio’s chick in clogs, seafood was in order. Red snapper seemed like too much for one, and my concession, one of the many corvina dishes, was not exactly light. The filet is fried and comes sculpted around a center of shrimp, mussels, and octopus (cooked ceviche mixto, essentially) in a creamy, lightly spicy sauce (that’s even better with a few squirts of the hot green sauce in a squeeze bottle that thankfully you don’t have to ask for). Surrounded by logs of yuca (and served with default white rice) this golden mound is not dainty, but the inevitable leftovers hold up well. Sure, I’ll eat a ball of seafood for breakfast.

El anzuelo fino churrasco a lo pobre

Or you can order a sirloin steak, typically thin and well-done (ask for it rarer). Bistek a lo pobre with maduros, rice, fries and a runny-yolked egg is like breakfast for dinner.

El anzuelo fino sangria

My original plan was a nightcap at Amaru, the newish pisco bar from Pio Pio (and in their old space) but after stiff two-for-one cocktails at The Astor Room and half of a pitcher of sangria, I wasn’t feeling the need for a Rocoto Sour—at least not with the two bouncers out front and thumping bass trying to escape the closed doors. Maybe on a weeknight.

El Anzuelo Fino * 86-01 Northern Blvd., Jackson Heights, NY

Tu Casa

I’ve been posting these little what I ate missives for a decade now, and it took until August 2010 before Kew Gardens needed to be added as a category (I have been to Max & Mina but did not blog about it). Perhaps I should start focusing on the other lesser-knowns that I pass through, but never stop to eat: Homecrest, Marine Park, Maspeth and the like.

Unsung neighborhood dining usually goes hand in hand with another activity. The impetus for this excursion was finding a modern multiplex to watch a summer blockbuster without having to go to New Jersey to beat the crowds. An 11:45pm showing of Inception at Glendale's The Shops at Atlas Park would  hopefully do the trick.

But I also really wanted to eat Peruvian food and to branch out from the Jackson Heights usuals. I would hardly say the chowhoundy stretch of Roosevelt Avenue is overrun with foodie interlopers (Sriphrapahi being the exception); the area is always rich with unhyped possibilities. Sometimes, though, it’s fun to explore less concentrated patches of the boroughs even if they’re not particularly known for their cuisine.

I had my doubts about Tu Casa (do Latinos even live in Kew Gardens?) and they were not assuaged by the lackluster one-block strip of businesses amidst the brick co-ops, just beyond the Jackie Robinson Parkway offramp. (My low expectations were also why I brought my new point-and-shoot that I still haven’t mastered instead of the dSLR.) The outdoor seating (neither this tail end of Metropolitan Avenue nor its origin in Williamsburg feel ideally suited to alfresco dining) was completely filled, though. The two indoor rooms were also bustling. A good sign.

We settled into a two-seater (my only beef with the restaurant was that they were very strict about twosomes being put at small square tables. We always order for four, though, and it creates havoc. Just as I predicted, they ended up not being able to fit all the plates, bottles, glasses and pitcher on our table) just as band began setting up in the front window. I had not been expecting Stevie Wonder covers in Spanish.

Tu casa ceviche mixto

I bummed James out by requesting the ceviche mixto when he really wanted the salchipapas. The octopus, shrimp and fish dressed in lime juice (I always want to add fish sauce and more spice to make it Thai-esque) was my attempt at creating a mildly healthier meal.

Tu casa pollo a la brasa

We ordered the Lo Grande de Tu Casa, equivalent to the matador combo at Pio Pio, and the food turned out to be very similar to that rotisserie chicken chain, right down to the creamy green sauce that you can’t help but slather on everything. Here, you also get a plastic squirt bottle of a citrusy-garlic mojo sauce. It was the perfect condiment for my usual side of choice, yuca fries.

Tu casa yuca fries

I happen to love salty, savory pollo a la brasa, no matter which country it originates from. It was my benchmark, and Tu Casa excelled. Unlike at Pio Pio, though, you’re not relegated to this specialty. They also offer a variety of “Spanish” food including grilled steaks, stewed chicken and pernil, as well as Chinese-y Peruvian dishes like fried rice and the infamous French fry-laden salchipapas and lomo saltado. There’s always a next time, though it might be 2020 before I dine in Kew Gardens again. When we left at 10:45, the outdoor tables were still packed, a non-sleepy anomaly.

* * *

We arrived at the Atlas Park mall in time to grab at beer at Manor Oktoberfest, kitty corner from the theater. The only people up and out in Glendale after 11pm appeared to be under 30. Smoking and drinking at outdoors mall picnic tables feels odd, but you have to take your subway-less Queens entertainment where you can find it.

TheaterfeetI hate to be the crotchety old lady bemoaning the declining manners of today’s youth, but when did it become acceptable to take off your shoes in movie theaters and put your sock feet and dirty flip flops up on the chair in front of you?

Tu Casa * 119-05 Metropolitan Ave., Kew Gardens, NY


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).

Urubamba pollo a la brasa

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.

Urubamba salchipapas

The chicken combo came with everyone’s (ok, my) favorite junk food mashup, salchipapas.

Urubamba chicha morada

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.

Urubamba ceviche mixto

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.

Urubamba tiradito de pescado

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.

Urubamba yuca rellena

A yuca rellena stuffed with ground beef and hardboiled eggs (they really love their hardboiled eggs) didn’t go far split into sixths.

Urubamba papas a la huacaina

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.

Urubamba aji de gallina

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.

Urubamba arroz con mariscos

Arroz con mariscos, a paella-ish dish in a heavy pot, was the crowning glory.

Urubamba interior

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

La Casa del Pollo Peruano

1/2  Not too long ago I was craving South American pollo a la brasa of any type. I ended up at one of the numerous Marios because it was on the later side and they were open. But slightly preferring Peruvian over Colombian, my original intention was nearby La Casa del Pollo. Now, I’ve had a chance to try both.

Awkward looking yet delicious half chicken

What I didn’t know was that this bustling restaurant was nearly half-Chinese. Sure, rotisserie chicken meals with rice and beans sit at the top of the oversized paper menu, but if you look at the combo options pork fried rice appears. Then, as you skim downward, chop suey, lo mein and sweet and sour pork appear too.


At least I was able to finally try lomo saltado, a true fusion dish of stir-fried beef, onions and tomatoes that I’m pretty sure contains soy sauce. It’s the neither Peruvian nor Chinese addition of french fries that’s kind of strange and compelling (I’m fascinated by non-American recipes, or heck American ones too, that call for fries. Maltese Bacon has a Vietnamese rendition that actually sounds edible).


Cheap and simple, Casa del Pollo is totally the kind of thing lacking in my immediate neighborhood. As much as people think Smith St. is the shit (culinarily speaking), that’s not really true and doesn’t help those in the hinterlands. I would gladly take roast chicken and soy sauced french fries over bad Chinese and mediocre pizza.

Read my review.

La Casa del Pollo * Roosevelt Ave., Jackson Heights, NY


1/2 *I didn’t realize that chains could just go changing their raison d’etre willy-nilly but it appears that Pardo’s has switched from pollo a la brasa to ceviche and changed its name to Panca. (6/08)

I'm crazy for foreign chains but Pardo’s didn’t arrive with the fanfare of Beard Papa, Uniqlo or even Kyotofu. Perhaps the Japanese are just masters of drumming up enthusiasm (though I’m not sure that Gyu-Kaku has been a sweeping success). It’s a likable enough place so I’m hoping it doesn’t go the way of Brooklyn’s Pollo Campero.

Pardos_cocktailsPardo’s is a Peruvian chain specializing in rotisserie-grilled chicken. This is their first U.S. location and I’d be curious how closely the two menus resemble each other. They didn’t eliminate the anticuchos, beef heart skewers, which I imagine skeeve out more than few West Villagers. I don’t imagine there’s a Piscopolitan cocktail on the Lima menu, though. It’s pretty safe to guess that more than half of the clientele on a very busy Friday night were South American.

Pardos_chickenThe small, brightly lit room can barely contain the amount of diners and potential diners. I couldn’t relax the entire meal, even after a well-made pisco sour (that's a pisco libre to the left of the martini glass). The tables are so tight and precariously placed that I was constantly waiting for someone to knock something over on me. I will say that the waitresses (they’re all young females) are some of the most friendly, upbeat service workers I’ve encountered in a restaurant that’s one step up from fast food. Maybe they imported them because the leisurely pace that tables got turned over and bills were brought out was very un-NYC in lack of urgency.

Pardos_yuquitasWe tried half a chicken brasa and half parrillero, the brasa being rotisserie style and parrillero a grilled boneless fillet. Who knows what the advertised 14 secret ingredients were, but salt is definitely one of them (to be fair, I’m a notorious under-salter. I have to consciously add what seems like extra when cooking for others. It’s strange that I have high blood pressure since I’m practically on an unintentional low-sodium diet). I preferred the classic spit-roasted version, both styles were juicy throughout, no cottony white meat.

Pardos_tacu_tacuThere are quite a few sides to choose from, we got yuquitas, commonly called yucca fries, which are rapidly becoming one of my favorite fried starches, and tacu tacu, which are croquettes of beans and rice mashed together into fat little logs. Mayonnaise and a creamy aji sauce using yellow South American chiles come on the side. Despite the cute name, tacu tacu was kind of dull, I would’ve expected more pizzazz from a fritter. I might try canario beans instead if I went again.

Even though our spot was being eyed by anxious couples, we decided to have a slice of tres leches cake anyway. We couldn’t disappoint our waitress who highly recommended it and checked back to make sure we were enjoying it. Only a monster would hate tres leches cake.

Pardo's * 92 Seventh Ave. S., New York, NY


Not counting vacations (because I force myself to wake up earlier) I probably only eat breakfast or brunch out like three times a year. But I hadn’t/haven’t gone grocery shopping in over two weeks so the food situation had become dire (sort of, there are two freezers full of things like chicken breasts, pork dumplings, lime and curry leaves, duck fat, Italian sausage, morcilla [I ate that last night with chickpeas, dried cranberries, pinenuts, garlic, parsley and lots of olive oil—so good I’ll eat some more tonight] two whole chickens and short ribs, and a shelf brimming with forgotten dry goods like cherry jam, Jacques Torres Wicked Hot Chocolate, Indonesian krupuk, lentils, black beans, kidney beans, Moose Munch, Iams cat food, four varieties of wild rice, weirdo South American grains and dried corn that never ever get used, rendang in a box, low fat coconut milk, canned turnip greens, decaf Starbucks coffee and way way more) enough to warrant dressing before noon and fighting the Sunday brunching brigade.

I tried to come up with nearby options that might be unpopular yet still tasty. Irish breakfast at the recently revamped Ceol came to mind (as evidenced by my morcilla bender, I’m all about blood sausage). This was the original plan but on our detour to Rite Aid for cold medicine we passed Mancora and were intrigued by the sandwich board advertising a $8.95 brunch with beverage. Peruvian for breakfast seemed about as safe from crowds as Irish, so we gave it a go.
The place was practically empty, save for the Hispanic dudes getting an early start on New Year’s Eve at the bar. Eventually, your classic white guy with his Asian gal came in (all restaurants in gentrified Brooklyn neighborhoods must have at least one such couple) so we didn’t feel so lonely.

Where a Mexican place would give out pre-meal chips and salsa, here you get fried plantain chips with a creamy, lightly spiced orange and green dip. We both ordered egg dishes that came with lukewarm, sweet purple rice studded with plantain chunks. It wasn’t bad and I’m a sucker for food in unusual colors (I can see it grossing out people though. I was recently so dismayed to see all these freaks bothered by this emerald green macaroon that I left a pro-green cookie comment and I rarely get involved in these petty matters, and now it looks like all comments have been deleted). I don’t think the rice is naturally purple, despite the fact that purple potatoes and corn do grow in Peru. Maybe it was made with chica morada? I once made purple rice using grape juice, so who knows.

James had a steak and egg thing that came atop English muffins but wasn’t eggs benedict. Mine was more benedict-like but instead of muffins I received eggs sitting on silver dollar sized quesadillas filled with spinach and cheese and drizzled with a chile hollandaise. It was actually kind of creative, more than I’d previously given Mancora credit for.

The food reminded me of the type of fare a chef would come up with (not so much Gordon Ramsey on his Kitchen Nightmares, which appears to be casting in NYC this very second) on Restaurant Makeover to shake up an eatery in a rut and attract new clientele. With a so-so but strong bloody mary (or mimosa or sangria) included in the price, the brunch is a pretty good deal. (12/31/06)

Bottled chicha morada photo from Slashfood.

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1/2 Funny, there was a story in todays NY Times about WWF (I know its WWE now, but it just doesnt look right) style wrestling Cholitas in Bolivia. Cholita, one of Cobble Hills Peruvian restaurants, wasn't as amusing, I'm afraid.

On a sickeningly steamy Saturday I decided try either Mancora or Cholita since I'd never been to either and Peruvian sounded like a random good idea. We opted for the latter, primarily because it was less crowded. In fact, the entire dining room was empty. I would normally take that as a bad sign if it werent for the full-to-capacity back patio, which we wanted nothing to do with. Maybe were freaks for sitting alone in air conditioned comfort, but humidity combined with a slew of strollers and the new mommies accompanying them, is the antithesis of a an enjoyable evening.

Even being the only diners in the room (at least temporarily), we still had trouble with our scatterbrained bed-headed waiter. They were out of Jamess original choice, something involving lamb, so he went for a basic hanger steak with chimichurri, medium rare. It ended up rarer than rare. I went for the paella, which I'm not the biggest fan of in the first place, it was a spur of the moment urge. But their bizarro addition of a frozen vegetable combo (lima beans, green beans and corn–isnt that succotash? I have a severe hatred of those mixed vegetable packs. The only time I tolerated them was way back in 91 when I got my first apt. and the only place that did Chinese delivery [which wasn't even in my S.E. Portland neighborhood, but downtown] had this sweet greasy pork stir fry that was full of frozen corn, machine cubed carrots and green beans that I'd frequently order even though I was well aware that it was so not Chinese) in the rice and seafood fray certainly didnt help change my opinion of the dish. Do they even eat paella in Peru?

It wasn't a heinous experience by any means. The Pisco sours were nice, the fried pork appetizer wasn't half bad, but I'm in no hurry to return. It's not like I'm in an early '90s Oregonian culinary wasteland; now choices abound. I think Cholitas back garden is the draw, much the same way nearby Pacificos open air seating trumps their cuisine. For me, al fresco atmosphere doesnt hold enough sway.

Cholita * 139 Smith St., Brooklyn, NY

Coco Roco

I used to occasionally order a really amazing chicken salad from them at
lunch. And now that I think about it, it'd take an awfully long time to show
up. Maybe they're good, but it was hard to tell, what with waiting an hour
for my entree. The pisco sour I started with was very nice, the mixed
seafood ceviche with the little corn nuts wasn't bad…and then the waiting
began. I can't even remember what I ordered. A snapper with fried yucca, I
think. Who cared at that point. With so many restaurants in the
neighborhood, and Peruvian being such a hot item recently, I doubt I'll be
back soon.

CocoRoco * 392 Fifth Ave., Brooklyn, NY