After a fairly busy couple of days on Easter Island, we decided to take a little break during our first day in Lima. We had a wonderful lunch at El Veridico de Fidel, managed to check into a pretty nice upgraded room.....freshened up, then took a nice nap. It was starting to get dark when we awoke.
So, it was time for dinner! We headed out, taking our time......
We passed this fountain looking thing on Tarata Street. It's called the Monument Paseo de la Solidaridad.
We ambled our way to our dinner destination. Right before walking to Maido the night before heading to Santiago, we stopped by a restaurant to make reservations for our first night back in Miraflores at Restaurant Panchita Sazón Criolla, part of the Gaston Acurio empire. Pachita celebrates Perivian Criollo (think Creole) cuisine; the multi-national influenced dishes that equates to comfort food to many in Peru. The Missus headed to Panchita with a bit of apprehension after our so-so meal at Gaston Acurio's celebrated cebicheria La Mar. Still, I was looking forward to some anticuchos. The Hostess had remembered us from the evening we dropped by and made reservations.
We were lead to our table, passing trays of skewered meat....various parts of different creatures.
The woodfired oven looked ready for action.
The customers were a mix of Peruvians and tourists. The service was decent....some bumps in the road but good overall.
I started with a Cusquena Dorada Golden Lager, slightly sweet, mild malts, very nondescript.
Of course the Missus got a Pisco Sour, requesting it not too sweet. This was good, but nowhere near as good as what we had at Maido.
We were asked about bread and had initially thought about skipping it. But decided on getting it after all. If I recall 7 S/ (about $2) per person. This wasn't very good...very much like typical heat and eat stuff.
The Missus was fascinated by the various braised dishes and is a fan of Seco, the traditional beer-cilantro sauce. so She ordered the El Ossobuco Entero (88 S/ - $26), which featured "seco gravy".
We actually had to send this back initially because it was below room temperature. When heated properly, this was quite nice. Rich, a complex, mild herbaceous-sweet-savoriness, and the Missus loved those beans. The ossobuco was very tender and mild in flavor. This is total comfort food. The rice was meh......
I first ordered the Sweetbread Anticuchos (36 S/$10.50).
The sweetbread were lovely, very creamy interior, smoky, rich. Very nice. The Missus loves the potatoes in Peru and this was no exception....and of course, She could never get enough Choclo, the crunchy, large kernel corn, of Peru which She plowed through in a matter of seconds. Starchy instead of sweet crunchy, Choclo differs from Hominy in that it is not dried and treated with lye.
Still, I needed my Anticuchos de Corazon (39 S/ $11.50), beef heart, one of my favorite Peruvian dishes.
This might be the best anticuchos I've had. It had obviously been grilled, but not to the point of getting too firm and chewy. The texture was very nice; firm to the bite, but also quite tender. The marinade was nice, as it wasn't too salty. The Missus wiped out the Choclo again; though I got the potatoes this time. I'm not sure what it is about potatoes in Peru; but they always seem to taste better than what we have here in the states.
While we were eating, this older couple sat at a table nearby. The Missus told me, "they look familiar.....you know, that painting?" Good lord, She was right; give the guy a pitchfork and they'd fit perfectly in a Grant Wood painting!
We really enjoyed our meal at Panchita and the Missus has the place on Her list for a return visit if/when we're back in Lima.
Restaurant Panchita Sazón Criolla Calle 2 de Mayo, Miraflores, Peru
We rolled back to the Courtyard bellies full. The night was getting a bit chilly. We'd had a great day. It was Friday, so the main streets of Miraflores were full of people and cars. But the area around the hotel were much less hectic. We'd have a nice night of sleep.
As much as I enjoyed Easter Island, I was thrilled to be back in Lima, as I really enjoy the food in this city. For the Missus it was all about Cebiche. For me, it was noticing the interesting way that the cuisine has changed here since we first visited back in 2007. Back then, it was places, which are still around like, Astrid y Gaston, Pescado Capitales, and El Fayke Piurano. On this trip, we'd already seen the evolution of "Nikkei" cuisine at Maido, but were on the fence about our meal at La Mar. The Missus wanted Her Cebiche....a good and pure cebiche, which for Her is the ultimate taste of Peru.
We landed at Jorge Chaevez airport ontime at a shade after 11am. Like before, our driver from Taxidatum was waiting for us as we cleared immigration. It was too early to check in at our hotel, we were staying at the rather new Courtyard Miraflores. So we dropped off our bags and headed out to find some lunch. I knew the Missus really wanted cebiche, so we headed off to one of the places on my list. A place named El Veridico de Fidel.
Located rather close to Maido, Calle Colon is fairly quiet, as was this place when we arrived.
No English menu, just one very sweet young lady who spoke English, I guess she gets any tourist who visits. It was our kind of place. An unfussy menu, which started off with some canchita.....which was decent, but not as good as what we had earlier at La Mar.
On the menu, it said....in Spanish of course, that the "Nuesto Plato Bandera" was Leche de Tigre.....leche de tigre? Now, I love the liquid used as the base for classic Peruvian cebiche....but a dish based around that? I had to try it. I saw "erizo" on one of the versions of this and had to get it, the "Leche de Tigre Super Especial" (28S/$8.50). In case you don't know what "erizo" is, the picture is worth a thousand words.
Yes, it's uni...and a nice fresh and sweet scallop with roe, and nicely marinated lenguado, whitefish, in an interesting broth. Not quite as sour as chugging straight leche de tigre; but creamy, tempered, flavored with cilantro...this was so refreshing, I just loved it. The Missus poached the camote (simmered sweet potato) which She enjoyed. Man, this was good.
The Missus got the Ceviche Clasico (38S/$11.30 US).
The Missus loved the lenguado; She said it was perfectly prepared and flavored for Her taste. We told the nice young lady that we do enjoy "picante" so she brought us some aji limo, which were spicy, but quite sweet and floral. I gotta get my hands on some plants. The Missus of course enjoyed the camote (sweet potato) and the corn. She was less enamored with the concha negras, which were a bit too bitter for us. Still, She loved that ceviche.
I also wanted to try the Causa, so we ordered the Causa Langostinos.
Which we really didn't enjoy too much. The potato portion was a bit too dry for our taste and there was too much mayo.
On the funny end, I hadn't tried Chicha Morada in years! This "Kool-Aidish" style drink was quite sweet, but we still enjoyed this as it made us feel like we were really in Peru.
The place filled up fast. What we noticed was the customers in this faux patio were all limeños having lunch.
Simply put, this is the kind of place we enjoy. It's really no fuss, no muss, straight forward food. Quite good...the Missus loved the place. So we made reservations. We'd have our last meal in Lima here at El Veridico de Fidel.
El Veridico de Fidel Calle Colon 246 Lima 18, Peru
So....we managed to finally get into our room at the Courtyard rather late. And they did a nice thing and we got upgraded to a corner suite.
And in spite of not everything making sense in the room; for instance, the "espresso pod" machine was on a shelf that didn't pull out, so you had to actually unplug the machine, then put in on some table, then plug into run........it was quite a comfortable room.
And when it came down to location, this was great; a nice convenience store across the street, a nice view at night. Or even during the day......
We always try to plan at least one "special" meal during our trips. Lima, being one of my favorite food cities has some difficult choices, but Maido, without a doubt was the one place I just wanted to experience. The chef Maido Mitsuharu puts forward a "Nikkei" menu....inspired by Peruvian and Japanese cuisine. Mitsuharu has a pretty good resume, having attended Johnson & Wales and even trained for almost three years in a sushi restaurant in Osaka. You can read his bio here. Being a Sansei from Hawaii, where we have our own spin on Japanese cuisine, much of it based on the lack of many traditional Japanese ingredients, I've always been fascinated by Nikkei Cuisine. And was really excited about our dinner reservations at Maido.
Located on the corner of Calle Colon and Calle San Martin, Maido was quite easy to find. The building itself is quite distinctive. It was 10 minutes before opening and there were folks lining up. Considering all these folks had reservations, it seems that I wasn't the only one excited about eating here.
The interior of the restaurant is somewhat austere, with a sushi bar area and tables. The one really interesting feature are the ropes hanging from the ceiling.....kind of cool and yet kind of strange. I believe it also helps to absorb noise since most of the areas are quite hard.
We had ordered the "Nikkei Experience" when making reservations. This is a 15 course menu of dishes, none of which are revealed until you receive them. You don't even get a listing of the dishes until your meal is complete.
But first, some cocktails. The Missus, in a genius move, ordered the Pisco and Tonic, a wonderful balanced, grown up drink. It was my favorite cocktail of the trip. In fact, I ended up ordering another later on in the meal! At a loss for what to order, I went for the Sakura; a Pisco, Sake, Strawberry, and Camu Camu juice. It was light, clean, refreshing....but was more of a "chick drink".
Lucky for me, the Missus really liked this and we traded. She was especially taken with the flowers in the ice cubes.
Soon enough, dishes started arriving. Things were really paced well, our Server described the basic dish, and seemed pleased when I recognized tastes, flavors, and even knew some of the ingredients in the dish. Service was very professional with nice, friendly touches....."un-stuffy" and perfectly suited to our taste.
Things started off with an interesting "snack". The stuff in the cone was delicious pressed and fried chicken skin dusted with shichimi togarashi. It was so very nice and crisp, with that wonderful "unfowl" flavor of chicken skin.
The other part of the dish were sausages, which seemed like a cross between a bratwurst and chorizo, layered on plantain, senbei (no kidding - senbei) with a sachatomate (tamarillo) emulsion. Nice, but nothing to really get excited about.
What really got our attention was that sauce at the bottom of the photo above. We put some on the chicken skin and cracked up! Pachikay Sauce......it's scallion, ginger, soy.....this tasted like the dipping sauce for for Kwai Fei Chicken! Basically, the sauce for what we call "Cold Ginger Chicken" back home. This had a more complex flavor, the ginger seemed to have been blanched or cooked taking the edge off the flavor, some smokiness, it was also a bit on the salty side as well. Still, we really enjoyed the chicken skin.
The next dish was simply called "Churos"....no not churros, but churos, an Amazonian land snail. The snail had been simmered in a soy based broth, with perhaps some sake and mirin. It was enrobed with a very tasty foam made of dale dale root, which I believe is a type of arrowroot and garnished with "chalaca", a basic topping made of corn, tomato, and onion.
The snail was so tender and full of flavor and the foam really tempered any strong flavors and refreshed the palate.
Next up, one of my favorite items of the evening; simply called Lapas Cebiche. Lapas are "limpets". So, the folks from Hawaii will understand; this is opihi! Really good opihi, served on what was described to me as aji-cilantro-lime juice frozen by liquid nitrogen.
Good lord, this was leche de tigre sorbet! I love leche de tigre.....when our Server heard me exclaim that, he came over, smiled, and said, "yes, it is frozen leche de tigre". Amazing flavors and textures.
Next up was the Paiche Sandwich. Paiche is the legendary Arapaima from the Amazon. It has a nice texture, delicate, yet slightly firm.
The bun, like a mantou was hard, crumbly, and not up to the task. The lulo criolla, strangely didn't register much flavor.
My friends know how much I love cuy (guinea pig)...but cuy gyoza? Well, that's a new one. The wrapper was decent, crisp, not gummy. The filling was interesting, like the filling for a croquette, very soft and mushy....give me this and tell me it's pork and I'd believe you. The sauce was delish.....soy sauce, probably rice vinegar...combined with the onions and chilies, this really tasted Chinese.....as did the Pachikay Sauce. It seems the strong Chinese influence on Peruvian cuisine was in play as well.
Next up, well Sushi de Mar......An ika and hotate nigiri. Now, of course I'd never expect anything say...the level of Sushi Iwa or Urasawa....
But for me, the rice did this dish in. The gohan was hard, dry, and very cold. It really detracted from any enjoyment of the very nicely prepared seafood.
While the color of the dish screamed "bland" the "Amazonic Cebiche" was much better.
I loved the "Nikkei leche de tigre", which had some soy sauce in it. It tasted like revved up ponzu. I'm also a big fan of the shaved hearts of palm, which looked like noodles in this dish. That topping, which I was told was made of yucca flour was delish. I believe there was some garlic in here somewhere. There was also some very mild heat from aji charapita.
The next dish was also very good; Cancho con Yuca. This looked like compressed cubes of pork belly and yucca, wrapped up in some kind of dough based wrapper and topped with fried pork skin.
It was served with a "ramen reduction" which was quite salty.
Next up was another dish which just blew me away; Sacha Soba.
The noodles were made from sachapapa an Amazonian tuber. Flavor and color was added via the use of various chilies, and no, this wasn't spicy. But the texture of the soba was perfect; nice pull, that slight smokiness and mild spice from the chilies, balanced by the sweetness of the crab. My goodness, this was so delici-yoso!!!
We just had to have some drinks to celebrate! I got another Pisco and Tonic and the Missus gave in and had a Pisco Sour, which I thought was the most balanced, in terms of booze to sweetness to sour of what I had during the entire trip.
Next up were the Sushi Tierra (Earth). These fared much better than the seafood; possibly because the fat tempered the textures for me.
The A lo Pobre, a wonderfully beefy piece of meat torched, then topped with a quail egg. As a bonus, the quail egg had been injected with ponzu sauce, which added the nice salty-acid component which meant all the difference to this piece of nigiri. The mollejas (beef sweetbread) was nice and fatty which aided the texture, but this was a bit too tame in flavor compared to other piece.
The Missus really enjoyed the "Regional Beans", which had some nice flavor components, the quinoa crisps were very nutty and the Missus, who loves beans, also enjoyed them when mixed with the avocado cream.
So, the Missus has always preferred my misoyaki to everything She's ever had....even to pointing out the failings of what was served at Nobu's and Matsuhisa (!). Until tonight. On this evening, She proclaimed the Gindara to be the best She's ever had. Now I take a back seat.
I have to say, the flavor of the miso sauce/glaze was perfectly balanced; not too strong. the nuts; which I believe were cashews and bahuaja (Brazil nuts if I recall) just placed another layer of texture and flavor. I thought the potato cream was much too salty to enjoy.
The flavor and texture of the Wagyu Shortrib, which they said was cooked for 50 hours.....I'm pretty sure via sousvide, was amazingly tender and the flavor was a nice balance of salty to sweet.....and the egg yolk just added more richness (as if it were needed) to the dish. We both found the Cecina (cured pork) fried rice wrapped up like a spring roll to be kind of odd as it was on the mild side in regards to flavor.
The Missus really enjoyed both desserts. The Cacao; 70% pure, with yuzu and all the nuts.....
And I even enjoyed the "Maduro", which had the odd combination of an ice cream made with plantain and shoyu!
All that really nice tapioca balls, water jelly, and rice milk.....along with some Amazonian fruits like camu camu really made for a nice way to end the meal.
We really enjoyed our meal at Maido. In fact, the Missus told me that this is easily one of the most enjoyable meals of Her life. Me? Well, I can easily say that my favorite dining experience is Suzunari, which we actually returned to on our last visit to Tokyo (I know...I'm really behind). But this was an amazing experience in terms of food and flavors. And while certainly not on the level of Azurmendi, there was one thing they had in common. While not every dish worked to our enjoyment, the "highs" were extremely high. We could relate to the flavors....the combinations of which weren't frivolous.....the cuisine and thus the customer was respected....you could detect the "soul" of the cuisine here, it wasn't some meaningless mash-up. And while I wasn't able to wrangle a reservation at Central; we were both very happy to have the chance to dine at Maido.
Maido 399 Calle San Martin Lima, Peru
This was a wonderful meal. We'd have to get up at 430 the next morning and get our ride to the airport. Next up....Santiago, Chile...even if it was just for a single night we were looking forward to it!
Man, time sure does fly, doesn't it? Would you believe it's been almost 9 years since we were in Lima? It was time for the Missus's annual "'birthday trip". This year, I really didn't have much time. Plus, I've got a couple of big projects coming up and probably won't be able to take extended time off for a while. And so, like I mentioned in my previous post, we decided on knocking a couple items off the Missus's bucket list. Since this was going to be a short one, with many early mornings and late nights....almost like a giant lay-over at times; we decided to go for the gusto on several legs. Starting with our round trip to Lima, in which we flew Delta One. This meant that we'd actually manage to catch a short nap (I really have a hard time sleeping sitting up) and be able to use the lounges, both in San Diego and Atlanta.
Our flight got into Lima at 11pm, so basically our entire day was spent travelling. Taxis and such in Lima can be hit or miss and I really didn't want to have to deal with all that stuff, so I used a wonderful transfer service named Taxidatum. These guys were awesome; just $20 from/to the airport, the drivers were always on time, things were such a breeze. During our previous stay in Miraflores, the Missus loved the JW Marriott. Great service, comfy bed, all rooms had an ocean view, so this we were we stayed inbound to Lima.
We'd noticed that Lima had changed slightly since our last visit almost a decade ago. But one thing had gotten worse, the traffic......man, I thought it was bad before!
Though there were new things that captured our attention. Like when did Paddington Bear get here?
According to Atlas Obscura, this was a gift from the UK. I guess Paddington was returning to his roots; though Miraflores is far from "Darkest Peru".
The grey and hazy skies were quite familiar and in a way comforting. We'd later learn, from our driver "Benjamin" that they call the skies in Lima, Panza de Burro, because the grey reminds them of a "donkey's belly". Such a perfect description.
We decided to walk along the 10 kilometer path along the cliffs overlooking the Pacific called "El Malecón", taking our time to enjoy the sights.
Near the Villena Bridge, which also has a path to the beach below, you'll come across two of Lima's most well known sculptures, the "Intihuatana" (The Sun Anchor) on one side and Parque del Amor (no translation needed, right?) with the sculpture known as El Beso (The Kiss) on the other side. I was told that on Saturdays, at around 7pm, you'll see many folks taking wedding photos under this iconic piece of public art.
For some reason, I've always been fascinated by the feet of this sculpture....well, TMI perhaps?
If the rest of the park looks familiar to you, I heard that it was inspired by Gaudi's Park Guell in Barcelona. Though it doesn't have the same "Tim Burtonesque - Walt Disneyfied - Dr Seussificated" (what I call Park Guell), fairytale feel to the place, it's still a nice area to stroll or even take a break.
Maybe you'll notice that dogs are loved in Peru, just as they are here in the states.
Or maybe you'll stop and watch some ambitious soul trying to ride his motorized unicycle thingy....
Or maybe not, as this guy drew about a half-dozen onlookers, but after about 5 failed attempts everyone pretty much lost interest.....
Still, there's a lot to see. By this point we had reached Avenida Santa Cruz and after taking our lives into our hands at several intersections, we arrived at our destination on Avenida La Mar.
During our previous time in Lima, we had a short list of cebicherias, with a final two being Gaston Acurio's La Mar, now a world wide institution, or Pescados Capitales. In the end, because we had eaten at Acurio's Astrid & Gaston the night before, we chose Pescados Capitales. So we considered a visit to La Mar to be unfinished business, which we decided to quickly address when we got to Miraflores.
When we arrived, shortly before opening, there was already a line forming. And a few minutes after being seated, the place had totally filled up. The crowd looked to be about 50-50 tourists to locals.
The crew here is very efficient and professional. One guy basically works your table, another gets drinks, and yet another goes from table to table taking orders. The plantain and sweet potato chips, crisp and light arrived quickly, along with three sauces. We enjoyed the aji rocoto the best as it had a nice "zing". We found that folks in Miraflores were really cautious about giving tourists anything spicy.
Then the wonderfully warm roasted corn kernals, cancha arrived. Oh my, how I've missed this stuff!
The Missus couldn't wait to get Her mitts on a Pisco Sour (24s/$8). This one was really boozy, quite strong, so I ended up having most of it.
As for the ordering.....well, we had things in mind, but our waiter had a problem with what we wanted as most of it seemed a bit the same. I finally acquiesced and went with some of his recommendations. The Missus was not amused. But at least we started off with what She really wanted; the Cebiche Classico - Cabrilla 59s/$20).
The camote (sweet potato) was on the dry side, but decently flavored. The fish was tender, with a slight chew, though we'd have better later on, this was a solid #3 on the cebiche list for Peru. I enjoyed the lech de tigre, though the Missus prefers something with a bit more citrus oomph. The Missus hasn't met many versions of choclo She doesn't like and this was no exception. This was on the mild side with regards to heat and we'd soon learn to ask for aji limo, chopped spicy red chilies on the side to add some zip.
We'd been talked into the Cebiche Nikei (56s/$18.75).
The Missus has come to detest overly sweet, fusion, tuna based dishes with heavy handed flavors. So this didn't make it past "go" for Her. And while I thought this was nothing special, at least they didn't just mar everything in confusing flavors like the tuna cebiche dish we had at Pescados Capitales. It wasn't too sweet, but had a bunch of flavors going on that was a bit too much for me.
We'd also been talked into the Chucuito (39s/$13). Basically a scallop based cebiche/tiradito type dish.
The scallops were very plump and sweet, but the flavors were marred with too much mayo. You really couldn't make much else out. We ended up scraping a good portion of the mayo off, so we could enjoy the flavors of the tomato, onion, and the creamy texture of the avocado, along with the scallops.
The one item I did insist on was the causa, this version is called the Miraflorina (26s/$8.75) and has shrimp and crab with an aji amarilla mayonnaise.
For me, this was the best causa I encountered during our trip. The potatoes where nice and light, the flavor of the crab came through nicely, and while this could have used a tad of acid, the tomato helped things along. A very nice causa.
Overall, we found our visit to La Mar to be a bit of a mixed bag. This ended up being our most expensive cebiche type meal (other than in Hanga Roa) and we'd have much better later on. I found that the Missus gravitated to more traditional flavoring and really didn't care for sweet flavors, other than what is provided by the seafood in Her cebiche and tiradito. And overly fusionized, somewhat unfocused versions were not appreciated. And while we'd have what I'd call one of the most fusion meals for dinner, the flavors would be focused, and the intent of the dishes were quite clear.
La Mar Cebicheria Avenida La Mar 770 Lima, Peru
After lunch we decided to walk back to the JW Marriott (this IS the Missus, right?). The Missus had getting some Lucuma Ice Cream on Her agenda. I also wanted a nice Inka Cola. For some reason, Inka Cola tastes much better in Peru! So we stopped at the nearby Metro Express, which had the ice cream booth and I grabbed an Inka Cola while the Missus stood in line for some Lucuma Ice Cream. While I was waiting to pay for my Inka Cola, I noticed the Missus came around front sans ice cream. She told me that the folks in the booth took all the orders for the locals in line, even those behind Her and totally ignored Her, so She decided "screw them". Very sad, though this was the one and only time we were treated this way during our time in Peru.
A few blocks down the street we found this place.
And the Missus got Her Lucuma Ice Cream. In case you weren't reading all those years ago and don't know what the heck lucuma is; it is also known as "egg fruit" and is quite gritty and powdery in raw form. But made into ice ream, the custardy-sweet potato flavors come through perfectly.
Blueberry Cafe Calle Schell 285 Lima, Peru
The Missus and I found a bench and enjoyed our ice cream chased with Inka Cola. It was so nice to be back in Lima!
There was one more place I wanted to check out on the way back to our hotel. Right along the intersection of Larco and Oscar R Benavides in Parque Kennedy. Yes, it is named after John F Kennedy, due to, from what I understand is the aid he provided Latin America during his presidency. It is a nice, relaxed green space, but there's one interesting feature of Parque Kennedy. It is home to either 80 or 100 stray cats, depending on which post/article you read.
These are not your typical stray/feral cats. They seem clean, well fed, and healthy. And also quite friendly, though the Missus is not fond of our feline friends.
According to this post, no one knows how all the cats ended up here. I had several cats as pets growing up, so I'm somewhat fond of them. There is a group of people who monitor the cats, making sure the park is clean and pet safe disinfectant is used twice a day. The cats also receive vet care and are all neutered, so who's going to complain about these, right?
And there are those somewhat eccentric characters we saw.....
And some that were so adorable.....
I think this sculpture in the park should be replaced with one of a cat, right?
We got turned around a bit and ended up walking in the wrong direction for a few blocks after Parque Kennedy, finally righting ourselves. Getting lost is half the fun anyway...so long you don't end up with trouble on your hands, which is hard to do in Miraflores....lovely Miraflores, literally to "watch flowers".
Getting back to the hotel, we showered and took a short afternoon nap. We were looking forward to dinner. It would be quite the adventure....
In case you've noticed I've been gone for a couple of days. Only had a short time for a trip this time around. So, I thought we'd knock some items off the Missus' "bucket list". Which conveniently meant heading back to one of my favorite cities when it comes to food.
And we weren't disappointed in the least.
If anything, things have gotten even better!
Our other stops were fairly good as well.
And then there were the places. One photo tells it all.
Just a beautiful place, where every photo becomes a postcard.
And where I learned that it's ok to go down some tight, dark hole.....
Because the payoff can be amazing.
Sort of like the sunsets.
And the places are the stuff of legend.
Even the dogs (though not the cats) are chill.
It all makes for a good story over a cold one.
We were even able to take care of a second bucket list item as well.
Overall, until today, it seems like one big layover......early mornings, with so much time spent in airports, or long drives. But tonight, I have time to regroup. With a cold one and the view from our room.
We've got one more day. And hopefully a couple good meals left before heading home. So I'll be back soon.
Well, there was a little placard on the table that says Latin Chef now serves a buffet lunch. And looking through the shelves, I did indeed see a buffet set-up....they also put in a sink, a toaster oven, and a microwave.....in plain view of the customers. The seating has been cut back too.
The dish I had been wondering about was the lomo saltado; once my favorite version in San Diego was served at Latin Chef, it had the right amount of soy sauce, the tomatoes were firm, but just breaking down, the sauce not too salty, but full of flavor, and the meat, toothsome, like it should be, but not tough. So I decided to get the Lomo Saltado ($13.50) which made me want to cry......
The sauce, what little there was, just had no flavor; the tomatoes weren't cooked enough, look at the meat, it barely has any color, was tough, and had that mild metallic flavor of something starting to go south. Two of the papas fritas were not cooked fully. Even the quality of the rice was terrible.
It really made me sad. Once upon a time, this was the typical Lomo Saltado at Latin Chef.
Man was it hot last week! I don't ever remember temps like this in March.......high 80's and low 90's. I'm not looking forward to the summer.
On the other hand, this gave me a chance to have some of my favorite "warm weather" dishes. So here goes....
At the end of my post on Szechuan Taste in December I wrote, "When things warm up, I'll come back for the Sichuan Liang Mian and the Ko Shui Ji and I'm hoping for maybe some nice surprises." Little did I know that I'd be getting some surprises alright. Anyway, it was without a doubt warm and I do try to keep my word when possible. So here I was......
The young lady who waited on me was very nice and sweet. I ordered those two favorite hot weather dishes....actually other liang cai like Fu Qi Fei Pian are also among my favorites during hot weather, but man, the version here was really bad.
First up, the Ko Shui Ji - "Mouthwatering (saliva) Chicken".
The sauce looked watery and when I pulled the bowl over I found that it was almost hot! I've never had Ko Shui Ji served to me at an insipidly warm temperature. The sauce was actually a broth; below the slick of already watered down chili oil was liquid that resembled chicken noodle soup. The chicken was boneless, skin on thigh that looked carelessly poached. As for flavor, well there was a decent amount of Sichuan Peppercorn, but everything else tasted watered down, not spicy, no salt, no vinegar tones, no sweet....like eating a piece of cardboard with a hint of Sichuan Peppercorn. ick......
As for my Sichuan Liang Mian, well it was a rollercoaster ride. It really didn't look like much when it arrived.
And yet, things look promising when I found the motherlode of sauce on the bottom and mixed everything together. I then took a bite and actually swore out loud....like wash your mouth out with soup loud. In retrospect chewing on a bar of Ivory Soap might have been better than this. Good god, this was eating a mouthful of MSG....it was so salty to the point of bitterness. Also, what's the deal with serving raw noodles that haven't even had the flour rinsed off? I've even had that happen to me at Fu An Garden.
So this is what happened. I felt really bad for the sweet young lady, so I took everything to go. She didn't make the food..... And I proceeded to pitch it. I hate waste, but I just couldn't bring myself to eat this. I felt bad, but eating this stuff made me feel worse. I think I'm done here..... So yes, in the end I did get a "surprise", but it wasn't a good one.
Szechuan Taste 8199 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92111
One of my favorite cuisines is that of Peru. The variety can be stunning, from the traditional dishes like Cuy, to the "Chifa" dishes like Lomo Saltado, it seems that all who came ashore in Peru and stayed have made their mark on the nation. It was love at first bite when I first had Peruvian food after moving to LA. Peru also hold a special place in my heart, it was the first country the Missus and I visited together way back when. In San Diego County, pricy Q'ero probably does Peruvian the best, but it very pricy and a long drive. For lunch, even Latin Chef in PB was a bit too far. Plus, I was looking for that "Nikkei" influenced dish, tiradito.
The place look quite the same since my last visit. Man, it was hot, so I started with the Causa, in the of Nazca Grill, it's like what I would call a Causa Limeña, a layered potato "cake" of sorts. I went with the shrimp version.
The shrimp was kind of watery and a bit on the fishy side. The sauce seemed more like a thousand island dressing than the aji rocoto based sauce I'd had in the past. The presentation sure has gotten better, though I'm not sure the dish as a whole has been improved. I preferred the original version I had in 2009.
The tiradito was passable. In contrast to cebiche pescado, the fish in tiradito (I was told snapper) is not "cooked" in citrus. It's basically sashimi in a sauce. Today it was a mild aji amarilla sauce.
There's was a decent amount of fish in this. There used to be a touch of lime in the tiradito here, but today, it was muted. I did love the yucca frita and the choclo (as I always love). This was fine, if nothing special. It was a bit too mild for my taste.....
I'm afraid we'll have to head back to Peru one of these days....I did promise the Missus that we'll get to Easter Island, so perhaps a Chile - Peru two-fer. Especially since we did miss the Nazca Lines the last time.
Time will tell. Anything can happen. But like I mentioned earlier.....I do try to keep my promises.
I was going to do a post on Pho, but with the temps hitting the 80's, that just seemed wrong, so I decided to go with something else instead. Recently, I found myself up in the Oceanside area again around lunch time. I'd made a short list of places to visit which came down to Bull Taco, or revisits to Guahan or Panca. I decided on Panca, because the weather just seemed to tell me Peruvian. Plus, I'd heard that Panca had expanded beyond the Pollo a la Brassa and Lomo Saltado and is now incorporating other Peruvian dishes.
I hold a special place in my heart for Peruvian Food, I still recall the first meal I had ages ago at El Rocoto in Gardena, which we revisited a couple of years ago and the flavors and fragrances of Peru are indelibly stored in my head.
So Panca, which is now Panca Peruvian Cuisine AND Rotisserie it was......
Not only has the menu here changed, but the entire look of the interior is different. The bright colors replaced by darker woods. What was interesting for me was the use of wood pallets as window dressing and paneling....it looks like someone here watches those restaurant "rescue" shows, huh?
I really had a hard time selecting my dishes while quaffing down a refreshing, yet bubble-gummy, Inka Cola. Man....I really did miss this stuff!
The menu now had a gauntlet of my favorite dishes; ceviche, tiradito, anticuchos (on weekends), and causa.....
Every version of the Nikkei influenced tiradito has been different. It's always an adventure, a roll of the dice, and gives one an interesting insight into the cook. This one ($12.95) look like many I've had, but was still distinctive.
The fish on this day was red snapper, a nice firm fish. I prefer long thin slices of fish for my tiradito that have been slightly flattened by a knife, this were slices that were a bit too thick for my taste, making the fish really crunchy, rather than having a nice, pleasant chew. The sauce, though on the thin side had decent flavor, but in my opinion could have used a bit more aji amarillo paste and perhaps something, maybe some ginger, to balance out the lime juice and give it a signature finish. It wasn't bad by any means, but for everyday tiradito, I really miss the stuff the original cook at Latin Chef used to make.
My inner glutton said to try the Causa, but the voice of the Missus whispering in my ear from 30 miles away, told me to get the Quinoa Cakes ($6), which being a tamed and docile husband of 15+ years, is what I got.
And I'm glad I did. While the cheese sauces, one much like huacaina really didn't do much for the dish, I really enjoyed the Ocopa, a thick, mildly cheesy sauce that is usually made with peanuts, onion, aji paste, huacatay (I believe this was in paste form as the herbaceous basil-ish flavor was there, but not crazy strong), and thickened with evaporated milk, cookies, saltines, or in this case animal cookies! I gotta have this the traditional way next time, over potatoes. I really enjoyed the texture of the quinoa cakes more than the flavor which I thought was rather mild. The nice light crunch gave way to a fairly light filling which almost melted away in your mouth.
The upbeat, friendly, and very pregnant front person was a great ambassador for the place, making sure the customers were well taken care of. I'm sure I'll be back, I have to try the anticuchos and causa, right?
Panca Peruvian Cuisine and Rotisserie 1902 South Coast Hwy Oceanside, CA 92054
I've been trying to restore my "restaurant mojo" since returning from vacation. After some not very good meals, I wondered how those places that used to be on our rotation was doing these days. So about two weeks ago, I decided to revisit a few that I haven't been to in a while. And so "It's been a while week" is born.
Latin Chef used to be a favorite of the Missus and I, we'd often visit several times a week. I could easily have credited the place with fueling the fire to visit Peru in 2007. It held a prominent place in our rotation at one time. But our enthusiasm eventually waned when the original chef moved back to Peru. And though I've visited a couple of times in 2011 and once early last year, the food on those visits was quite uneven. Part of what was missing for me was the presence of Freddy, the owner, a friendly, gracious, gentleman, who always had time to chat a bit. I'm sure he was around, but never on our visits, and the food seemed to suffer.
Still, the recent warm weather made it seem just right for some cebiche so I headed on over to Latin Chef.
And lo' and behold, who was waving at me from the window but Freddy! I hadn't seen him in at least four years. I had a seat and we caught up on things while I placed my order. While waiting for my food, Freddy sat down and we had a chat. Over the years, the menu had expanded to include Brazilian dishes, which I'd never had. Some folks attribute the uneven food to the addition of that side of the menu. When I asked Freddy about those dishes, he told me that without te Brazilian menu, they would not have survived the last three years. Enough with business....we chatted about how Peru has changed over the couple of years. It seems that everyone there now wants to be a chef! Maybe it's time to start planning another visit, eh? Though I was also told that prices have soared as well.
As Freddy served me my Anticuchos, he had to take leave to head out and shop.
I've always enjoyed the marinated beef heart at Latin Chef and I enjoyed this. Well prepared, with a nice chew but not too tough and rubbery, flavored with a mildly spicy chili-annatto marinade with a hint of acid I thought these were nice.
My cebiche pescado wasn't quite as good. First, no chanchita? That's almost a deal breaker for me as I love those toasted kernels of corn.
As much as I enjoy the bracing flavor of a good cebiche pescado, this was way too sour for me. I wouldn't be slurping up this leche de tigre (the cebiche marinade). The fish was under marinated for my taste, a bit too tough, as if the acid in the leche de tigre didn't have enough time. As for potatoes, it was a plain camote or sweet potato. Sadly, this was a far cry from the "vintage cebiche pescado" of Latin Chef's past:
Perhaps it was an off day. I'll probably be back to (finally) try some of the Brazilian dishes on the menu and maybe the cebiche pescado again. Hopefully, it'll be back to classic form.
Lately I've been noticing that "firsts/appetizers" on menus are often times more interesting than main courses. Like the Blind Burro, I found that to be true at Cafe Secret as well. Cafe Secret is named quite well, though located on Camino del Mar, it's really easy to miss, especially at night.
I hadn't seen my good friends Howie and Jenne in a while and Candice suggested we get together. I believe it was Jenne who picked Cafe Secret. I hadn't had good Peruvian Food in a while, so this was a good choice.
The tiny dining area could be described as either cozy or cramped depending on the foot traffic on the sidewalk that the dining area straddles and the customers.
The staff here was nice enough, though there were forgotten place settings, glasses, and an appetizer that arrived after all the entrees had almost been finished. Still, one can't complain when a dish of canchita (roasted corn kernels), something that I really enjoy.
The night started with drinks; I got a Cristal, and the girls Pisco Sours. Which took me back to the musty bar of a hotel in Lima Centro. It was a nice way to start a meal.
I decided on ordering three appetizers, while the rest of the group went with a cebiche and mains. It would turn out to be a good amount of food for us all.
The first item to appear was the Cebiche Mixto ($17). I believe this was the best dish of the night.
I really enjoyed the balance of the leche de tigre, the "marinade" or sauce if you will that is used to flavor the dish. It had a nice balance of sour and briney goodness. It's been a while since I've had cebiche this good. I only wish there was more of it, along with some spoons for scooping up the leche de tigre and canchitas. The lenguado, white fish, was marinated perfectly, too long and it get mushy, too short and it's tough. The calamari also was very tender. I'd gladly have this again.
The Tiradito ($15) was a different story.
There's always a sense of adventure in ordering tiradito, a dish often credited to the Nikkei Perujin, the Japanese who had immigrated or were born in Peru. Every version I've had was different; from the fantastic, full flavored, and wonderful Tiradito en Crema de Rocoto I had at El Fayke Piurano in Central Lima, to the garlic and lemon tones of the Tiradito Alfresco at Alfresco in Miraflores, it can be an interesting ride. This fish in this version was cut thick, almost like a tweener, the thickness of hirazukuri, but at an angle like usuzukuri. I've found that my favorite versions of tiradito are when fish is cut in thin strips, or thin like carpaccio. This was a bit too thick for me. The sauce was almost a weird tropical-asian incarnation, mildly fruity, but with ginger-sesame tones. This isn't my favorite preparation of tiradito, as the flavor just didn't keep me interested.
I also ordered the Shrimp Causa, which seemed a bit over-priced at $15 for what is basically mashed potato.
I will say that I liked the presentation, the shrimp was cooked to perfection, and this was nicely flavored. Rich, but not over-the-top, with a little kick. This was good.
Candice ordered the Chupe; basically a seafood based chowder. Think of it as being a richer version of Mexican Caldo de Mares, but with less of a acidic-oregano kick. The broth had a nice ocean flavor, tough I would have appreciated a bit more acid and salt. I'm not sure about the rest, but Candice seemed to enjoy it.
Howie ordered the classic Peruvian dish Lomo Saltado ($18).
Made with tenderloin, this was very tender. It just seemed to fall short in flavor. There seemed to be components missing with regards to flavor. It was missing salt, an herbaceous tone, huacatay is often used in Peru, and perhaps some alcohol or vinegar for zing. Overall, very flat in flavor.
Jenne ordered the very unmacho, Macho ($22), basically Pescado a lo Macho.
What I tasted of this dish was pretty bland.
The entrees were almost done and I wondered what happened to the Papas and Yucuitas a la Huacaina($10), so I asked. Without blinking an eye, they told me it was being prepped. Now, this is an appetizer, basically fried potatos and yuca with a cheese sauce.......they could have told me they forgot, but what the heck.
I've had versions of this that were made with a ton of parmesan...making it super salty. This was all the way on the other end of the spectrum, being quite bland. The sauce was a bit too thick and seemed to be getting thicker by the moment. Of course I love yuca in all forms, so I wasn't complaining.
We ended our meal sharing a very well made alfajores ($3):
It was great hanging out, we actually hadn't had a meal together in over a year! There was a ton of catching up to do and I don't think that was fully accomplished, so I think we'll have to di this again soon!
As for Cafe Secret, next time it'll be cebiche, cebiche, cebiche......that's probably worth a revisit on its own.