During a recent dinner with Ed from Yuma, just before our panchan arrived, Ed brought out a nicely folded sheet of paper from his pocket. What he had was a menu from a new restaurant in Pacific Beach called Latin Chef. When I read the menu, I almost fell off my seat. The menu was predominantly Peruvian, with a few Brazilian dishes. One of the things I miss about living in Los Angeles are the Peruvian Restaurants. There must be over 2 dozen Peruvian Restaurants that I know about....I say at least, because if you have 5 Peruvian Newspapers, as LA does, you must have a rather large Peruvian population. Our luck with Peruvian food in San Diego had not been very positive, so needless to say I was excited.
So of course there I was the next afternoon, at about 4pm for a early dinner.
I managed to find parking on Garnet avenue, no easy task! I was greeted by a smile and hello by the very friendly young lady, and told to have a seat anywhere I wanted in this tiny restaurant.
A one page menu, similar to the one that Ed had shown me was handed to me. A though I did look over the menu, one of the dishes I had read the previous night stuck in my head. You see, one of the reasons I think we enjoy Peruvian food so much, are the almost Asian flavors and cooking techniques that are used. I had always wondered about the use of soy sauce in Peruvian food, until I saw one of the episodes of Cheuk Kwan's wonderful documentary series, Chinese Restaurants that tells the story of the Chinese diaspora through the Chinese restaurant. During a screening of the episode called Latin Passions at the San Diego Asian Film Festival, I finally had a few answers, and also some motivation when I got home, to try and find some information for myself. If you have a chance, don't miss screenings of this wonderful series. I've seen two episodes so far, and will probably purchase the whole set this year. Anyone who has read my post on Asian Noodles, and my fascination with Ma Mon Luk, or even my posts on Al Pastor and the "Trompo", understands my fascination with this subject. So, some interesting data....Chinese first arrived in Peru during the middle of the 1800's til the mid-1870's. These immigrants arrived to work on the sugar plantations, and to work on the guano mines. Another wave of immigrants arrived after the establishment of Communist rule in China in 1949. And though many Chinese fled Peru during the rule of Juan Velasco Alvarado, there is still an estimated 4 million Peruvians of Chinese Ancestry in Peru.
Each meal at Latin Chef starts with some Canchita.
The young lady was fairly surprised when I exclaimed "aaah canchita..." Canchita is a very popular appetizer/snack(beer food), that is corn kernals that are roasted or fried until just before popping. This version was nicely salted, crunchy and addictive.
With the influence of the Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, and Inca people, I find the eclectic cuisine of Peru to be full of fascinating flavors. Getting back to the Chinese influence in Peru. The word used for Chinese food in Peru is "Chifa", I've read that it is based on the Mandarin phrase to eat, "Chi Fan". Chinese restaurants in Peru are called "El Chifa", and one of the two oldest Chinatowns in Latin America is located in Lima, "Barrio Chino de Lima". I've read that there are over half a million Peruvians of Chinese Ancestry currently living in Lima. One of my favorite Peruvian creole dishes is Lomo Saltado, and without fail, it is usually the first item I'll try at any Peruvian restaurant, Latin Chef was no different.
The version of Lomo Saltado at Latin Chef($8.50), was quite good. Don't let the "papas fritas"(french fries) scare you as it did a few on Chowhound. Papas Fritas are an integral part of Lomo Saltado. Though these large crinkle cut fries are a bit distracting. I'm used to having the potatoes fried with the rest of the ingredients, and later on asked the proprietor, Freddie about them. He told me that they will do it either way, so I'll make sure to ask for them to be fries with the Carne, and the rest of the ingredients next time. I found the beef to be pretty good, as with most versions of Lomo Saltado, I found the lean beef to be on the tough side, though in this case the slices of beef were very moist. Where this Lomo Saltado separated itself from very pedestrian versions is the very flavorful sauce, both a bit salty, slightly sweet, and tangy, this was a nice rendition.
The tomatoes were sweet and tangy, and the onions added a nice flavor to the dish. I enjoy a bit of heat, so without fail I'll always request some "Aji"(red chili sauce) with anything I order. This version added some nice heat.
This was a very nice, and reasonably priced meal. And I knew that I'd be bringing the Missus along for the next one....
Now I realize I've been very wordy so I'll stop here for now.....part 2 is coming up!
If you want to grab a meal in the meantime:
1142 Garnet Ave
San Diego, CA 92109
Closed on Mondays...the hours are a bit strange. The menu says Tues-Fri 3pm-10pm, Sat-Sun 11am-10pm. But they really don't open until 1230pm. So I'm not quite sure.
Those that live in San Diego, and the PB area will get this joke....someone asked where this restaurant was located on Garnet, and I replied it's right before the 7th sushi bar on Garnet after Ingraham.....sheesh! I guess there's a local ordinance that says 1 coffee shop on every corner, and one purveyor of California Roll on every block!
Part 2 coming up!