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.
You may find it difficult to believe that we don't actually post on ALL the places we visit. Usually, if the Missus and I have an upscale dinner in San Diego, I usually don't take photos, unless it's happy hour or has some other interesting tie in. There usually are too many people around and I'm a pretty low-key person.....I don't like attention. And then there are those that just "don't make the cut"...it doesn't mean the place was terrible or anything, it could be that I just never got around to doing a post....of course, if it was a stellar meal, you know I'd have done a post.
So anyway, with a minimum of my blabbing, here's a trio that just never made it until I COMC'd (Cleared Out the Memory Card).
Inka Heritage - Madison Wisconsin:
To my disappointment, I got to Mad-town during restaurant week and Inka Heritage had what amounted to a prix fix menu, so I had to go with what they had.
Ceviche 3 Ajies (3 peppers):
Pescado Inka Heritage:
Sooo much cheese...but heck, this is Wisconsin, right? What should I have expected.
Inka Heritage 602 S Park St Madison, WI 53774
The Wok Restaurant - Chiang Mai, Thailand:
The dishes looked so lovely, but just didn't deliver.....very bland, somewhat dumbed down. These folks run a cooking school I was thinking of joining....kind of glad I didn't.
The Wok Restaurant 44 Rajmankha Rd, Chiang Mai 50200 Thailand
Ucyildiz - Antalya, Turkey:
So if MickeyD's, or say ChowKing came to Turkey, I'm thinking this is what the food would look like. Sorta artificial....funny, the photos in the menu looked so lovely.
We still chuckle when we see the photos....you can't win 'em all.
Anyway, thanks for dropping by and reading....or staring, or whatever it is that you do when it;s mostly just photos!
After my visit to Panca Peruvian Rotisserie, I made sure to hit up Nazca Grill for a comparison. After uploading my photos, I realized that I've got a bit of a backlog with regards to Nazca Grill, so a post has been a while in coming. I usually include Nazca in round-ups, like the Lomo Saltado comparison.
Over the years the dining furnishings have been upgraded, though the interior is still that dark red tone....
The same gentleman, I believe his name is Wilson, still runs the place. They've been around for over three years now, which is a great sign, though on most of my visits, the restaurant is nearly empty. The prices have gone up, as have most restaurants. My biggest problems with the food as Nazca Grill has been the random inconsistencies encountered.
So I started with something I've enjoyed in the past. The Causa Nazca. A causa is basically a mashed potato "cake/dumpling". Peru is home of the potato, if you ever have the chance to visit, you'll find it in so many shapes and forms, from the delicious and basic papa amarilla the yellow potato, to the chuño a freeze dried tuber that has an interesting texture. The version at Nazca Grill seems similar to the layered Causa Limeña, Lima style Causa. I usually will get the shrimp version.
The causa here used to look like it was cut from a baking pan, but is now presented in a much more attractive circle. It's not over-dressed with mayonnaise, though the aji rocoto sauce is on the bitter side. The shrimp also seemed mushy and watery. This was not quite as good as what I had on previous visits.
On another visit I ordered the Cebiche de Pescado ($12.95).
First off the camote, the sweet potato was really mushy, second the fish had been sitting too long in the "lece de tigre" ("tiger's milk"), the marinating liquid and was getting pretty tough. Third, man, they're using aji rocoto for this, pretty spicy stuff. the length of time marinating made this dish pretty darn spicy overall. I few minutes less "bath time" and this would have been pretty good. Needless to say, there was no drinking of the leche de tigre on this visit.
I did think that the anticuchos I had on a recent visit was every bit as good as the versions I've had at Latin Chef.
Nicely flavored, the beef heart retained a bit of "squeak", but was still tender enough to enjoy. Nice color, probably due to the use achiote and perhaps a few chilies. I wish they'd be a bit more creative with the varieties of potatoes.
I also had a glass of kool-aid, um, Chicha Morada, which I actually enjoyed. For some reason I enjoy the bubble-gum like flavor of Inka Cola, but have never enjoyed Chicha Morada, but maybe things are changing?
Of course the point of this post was the Pollo ala Brasa, the rotisserie chicken. KM at work was wondering how the chicken tasted, so one day I picked some up for us.
Back in 2010 when I did my big chicken comparison, I thought Nazca Grill was "getting better all the time". Flash-forward to fall of 2012 and all I can say is, "the chicken has regressed". This was salty and I'm not sure if they finish it with hardwood anymore. On the other hand, it was nice and moist, but just not anything special, especially for twelve bucks for a half chicken meal.
The Papa Rellena I had a couple of weeks later was pretty good.
The outside was nice and crisp, the potato below well flavored, as was the filling. The salza criolla added a pungent-tangy-acid component to the dish and helped to cut any saltiness or richness I'd have encountered.
I had tried the tiradito, the Nikkei influenced raw fish dish at Nazca Grill and not really enjoyed it. After all these years, I thought I'd check it out again. Meet the latest version of Nazca's tiradito ($11.95):
This was totally different from the tiradito I had previously had here, in presentation and taste. Loved the yuca frito....but when don't I love it? Half the plate was flavored with a aji amarilla based marinade, the other half aji rocoto. I preferred the aji amarilla, it was more creamy, and had seemed to work with the lime flavors a lot better.
The aji rocoto sauce seemed very harsh and bitter. I'm wondering if they use Dona Isabel paste for this, as I've found the aji rocoto paste to be rather bitter and harsh when I tried it out recently.
No complaints about the nice, thinly sliced fish. I ended up pouring what canchita (roasted corn kernels) into the aji amarilla side and eating up as much as I could.
Overall, a mixed bag. Not sure if I'll return anytime soon.....but then again, when it gets warmer and those cebiche pescado cravings return........
You didn't think that I'd drive up to see my buddy JohnL and just grab a poke bowl, right? I needed to make use of John's appetite and ability to pace himself for another stop. I'd heard about a Pollo a la Brasa joint up in Oceanside and wanted to try it out. Now in Lima, it seems you can't even walk a block without running into one of those places. The most popular chain is named Pardo's, which was good, but I happen to love the papas fritas made with papa amarilla, a yellow potato with a flavor similar to yukon gold. Along with the wonderful aji aioli it was good stuff.
Located next to a laundromat on Coast Highway, it's easy to pass the rather small sign for Panca. The design and decor is very much "fast-casual" looking, simple with colors and various paintings....love the photo of Aji Amarillo on one of the walls.
Having John here was a blessing; since in addition to the Pollo ala Brasa, we could try several of the interesting sounding sandwiches.
We started with the Lomito ($7.95), which is basically Lomo Saltado minus the papas fritas on a bun.
The meat is fairly chewy, but not unpleasantly so....this is based on lomo saltado after all. I'd have loved a bit more onions and more tangy tomatoes, but I'm sure the place wants to please the meat eaters. Nice soy flavors, this seemed to missing that wonderful anise-mint flavor delivered from Huacatay, but I'm sure that's hard to get. A bit too much bread for me, but it stood up well to whatever juices came out of the meat. I must say that the Aji sauce was pretty one-dimensional, a bit of heat and not much else.
The "fresh-cut" fries were actually quite nice....good potato flavor. And there was a ton of it.....
As you can see with the Chicharron Sandwich ($6.95) we ordered:
Geeez Louise....do you think that's enough fries??? Luckily, they have a decent potato flavor, even if they don't stay crisp for very long.
Now just the word Chicharron, in the context of Peruvian food makes my mouth water. It brings back memories of a street called Pampas de Castillo in Cusco. This was where all the Chicharronerias were located. During lunch, the restaurants would wheel out the fryers to the sidewalk and start cooking up pork and chicken, the fragrance of swine frying could be caught all the way down to Plaza de Armas!
This version was fairly mild, like a tame pulled pork.
The sweet potato chips at the bottom of the sandwich, I'm sure was there to add some sweetness (which it didn't) and a textural contrast, which it slightly did. I could have done with a bit more of the sarza criolla, the onion relish, which also could have used some aji amarilla for some umph. The pork flavor was decent, but this was a bit dry and the large amount of bread did it no favors. Still, I think this is worth the price........
And finallywe tried the Quarter Chicken ($6.95), which also came with a huge amount of fries.
Now there are a couple of things I need to say first; the chicken was on the small side, but I'm fine with that. In many cases these smaller birds (like they'll use in Peru) have more flavor. Second, from the flavor, I don't think these were roasted over wood, so you can't even compare with Peru, or even LA.
The chicken was very moist, perhaps a bit heavy on the sodium, but with a decent overall flavor. I'm thinking perhaps a bit better than what Nazca Grill serves, who finishes their chicken over wood (or so I've been told), but I've got to get back there again to refresh my tastebuds. It's not something I'd go out of my way for, but I'm glad I tried it.
The service was good, they've got my favorite Peruvian Beer, Cristal, and I'd drop in every once in a while if I lived in the neighborhood. In terms of value, I'd say that it depends on what you order.
Panca Peruvian Rotisserie 1902 South Coast Hwy Oceanside, CA 92054
Hours: Tues - Thurs 11am - 9pm Fri - Sat 11am - 10pm Sunday 11am - 9pm Closed on Mondays
We started with the Pork Intestines with Preserved Vegetable.
This was better than what I'd had before at Spicy House, the flavor of the intestine was a nice funky-musty without overwhelming the dish. The preserved vegetable was cut into manageable pieces this time around and helped to heighten the mild heat as well as cut the offal flavor.
We also ordered the Shui Zhu Yu - the water boiled fish.
The flavor decent, nice heat, but lacking in Sichuan Peppercorn and Doubian Jian - bean paste. I like a nice layer of oil, but this was a bit too much. The amount of fish was generous, the pieces large, though very thin. I thought the fish was prepared decently, but when I brought the rest of it home, the Missus thought it to be one the mealy side.
Overall, this was pretty good....I guess I'm missing Chinese food.....
Spicy House 3860 Convoy Street #105 San Diego, CA 92111
There was a time when we'd be at Latin Chef just about every week. But over the years things seemed to have changed and when I visited twice last year, the food was especially salty. Another thing seemed to be missing on my visits to Latin Chef, the owner, Freddy. Whenever he's there, the food and service is much better.
Anyway, we had a bunch of days where it was almost like summer recently, so I thought I'd drive on down to PB and see what was up with Latin Chef. It was lunchtime and the place was deserted. No Freddy either....I hope he's doing well. I asked the served and she just shrugged and told me, "he was here yesterday......" As she dropped off the chanchita....which was stale.
I was pretty hungry and started things out with the Cebiche Pescado.
Which was nice, the leche de tigre (the cebiche marinade) was bracing and refreshing. The fish seemed to need a few more minutes bathing in the leche de tigre, but this was nice overall.
The pescado frito was another story.
While the fish was wonderfully thin and crisp, there was way too much salt on this....so much that it edged on being bitter.
This is how my meals have been recently at Latin Chef....kind of a mixed bag. Perhaps the place is getting a bit stale. I know that since the original chef left a couple of years, taking the recipe for tiradito with him, things just haven't been the same. I'm hoping my next visit will be better.
Latin Chef 1142 Garnet Ave San Diego, CA 92109
And here are a couple just for the heck of it......
The classic and for many ubiquitous Peruvian dish Lomo Saltado has a special place in my heart. It was the first "Peruvian" (the reason for the parenthesis later) dish that really drew my attention at El Rocoto Restaurant in Gardena. It made enough of an impression, that I headed off to the library (the internet really wasn't such a large part of our lives in '97) to try to find out what Peruvian cuisine was all about. There were many aspects of the dish that really resonated with me; the familiar flavors like soy sauce, cooking style, at heart the dish is a stir fry (saltado = to leap) , and yes, the carbs. Coming from Hawaii, many of my friends still say, "it ain't lunch unless it has at least two carbs!" So I found the combination of rice and papas fritas (french fries) enchanting...... Over the years I'd come to appreciate the history of the dish, a fusion of the cooking of the Chinese that settled in great numbers in Peru (Lima has the largest Chinatown in South America) Spanish (onions, garlic) and ethnic Peruvian (potatoes). Though most every version nowadays has french fries in it, I've read that the dish originally used boiled potatoes.... I've got to say that I'd probably prefer fried to boiled.
Anyway, a post comparing the lomo saltado available in San Diego has been a long time coming, so here it is:
Latin Chef ($11):
After a rather lengthy respite, I've been going back to Latin Chef quite a bit recently. So of course I was bound to have the lomo saltado again.....
Latin Chef used to have a prominent spot on our rotation, but for some reason we just kinda stopped going.
On my recent visits, it seems like the food had slipped a bit (I'll go into detail in the future post). The lomo saltado here is still my favorite in San Diego. The meat is the most tender, you can make out the soy, there's a slight tangy flavor, and the rice had always been cooked well. They seem to be depending a bit much on salt and the mild anise-mint flavor of Huacatay is missing. The papas fritas still have crunch which is a plus, as is the amount of sauce. There just seems to be something missing from this dish recently.
Latin Chef 1142 Garnet Ave San Diego, CA 92109
Nazca Grill ($10.95):
As the food at Latin Chef seems to be slipping, Nazca Grill seems to be slowly getting better:
The beef here is tougher than Latin Chef's and the main herb for flavoring seems to be cilantro. Not enough salt and lacking any tangy flavor this version still falls short for me.
Nazca Grill 4310 Genesee Ave San Diego, CA 92117
Tropical Star ($8.50):
Over the years I've come to think of Tropical Star as sort of a Latin American mom-and-pop equivalent of those diners that try to make everything. The menu is vast and not everything is really worth a try. Still, in spite of all my visits to Tropical Star, I've always stopped short of ordering the lomo saltado.... there was an inner voice that told me not to "go there". But you know that I couldn't go all these years without trying it out. So recently, I finally ordered the lomo saltado, which was the cheapest of the three..... and holy-moley, it was also the largest portion.... of grayish looking meat.....
Really tough meat, full gristle, perhaps chuck.... it gives new meaning to "2 buck chuck (steak)". My feet also started swelling up pretty quickly as I ate this. I stared at the shelves looking for some kind of packaged lomo saltado mix, since there was a powderiness to the dish as well. Funny, as I walked out, I noticed several jars of Aji-no-moto (MSG) right next to the Aji Panca on one of the shelves..... There are several items that Troplical Star does reasonably welland the prices are just as reasonable. I'd pass on the lomo saltado though.....
Tropical Star 6163 Balboa Ave San Diego, CA 92111
Typing out this post makes me think we'll need to be heading back to Peru one of these days......
"Ooo and it's alright and it's comin' 'long We got to get right back to where we started from"......
Right Back Where we Started From - Maxine Nightingale.
Other then showing my age, what does this golden oldie from the seventies have to do with El Rocoto?.... well maybe not much..... perhaps.
Though I had always been interested in food, most of it was based on what I ate back home in Hawaii. The Hekka, Portuguese Bean Soup, plate lunches, etc........ When I moved to the mainland, a whole new world of eating opened up. Working in Georgia and Arkansas exposed me the "real" food of the South, but it was the diverse cuisines offered in Los Angeles that got my attention. And while Rachel Laudan's The Food of Paradise really covered the food that I was surrounded by most of my life, suddenly there was so much more.......
When talking to folks, I can easily identify those moments that got me going; the first whiff of all the smells permeating the air at Chung King Restaurant in Monterey Park, the huge scallion bread, and lamb hot pots at Tung Lai Shun and VIP Restaurant.... and then there's El Rocoto. By the time we first ate at El Rocoto back in '97, we'd already eaten at El Pollo Inka across the street, but it was just Pollo ala Brassa. I distinctly recall the dishes at that first meal at El Rocoto, especially the Lomo Saltado.... what the heck were french fries doing in this dish... and why did it have so many Asian flavors... and why is part of the menu Chinese? Instead of making fun of the inclusion of papas fritas, like a fairly well known "foodie" in San Diego did(of my Lomo Saltado photos), I went directly to the library to find out why. I've already covered much of this in posts on Latin Chef, and much more ground was covered on our trip to Peru. But what about El Rocoto, that restaurant that helped to stoke my interest in Peruvian food? Thinking that perhaps much had changed since our last visit over twelve years ago, I just seemed to avoid revisiting El Rocoto all these years later. But yesterday, instead of going to the SGV, and hitting Gardena on the way back, we went straight to Gardena..... the weather also seemed perfect for some Cebiche......
The front of the restaurant looked basically the same.
And the menu still has a section for all the "Chifa" dishes, a long one and half pages of items from "Wantan Frito" (deep fried wontons) to Tallarin (Chow Mein) to Chaufa (Fried Rice).
The interior though, had been significantly changed. El Rocoto has taken over the space next door, and looks much more stylish that we both recalled.
First to arrive were some rolls and two sauces....
A spicy Aji Rocoto, and a somewhat refreshing and sweeter Aji Jalapeno.
The Aji also went well on our dishes.
Of course we started with the Cebiche de Pescado ($12.95). The fish "cooked" in citrus was piled high on the plate. The cancha, the fried corn kernals were excellent, light and crunchy.... possibly the best I've had outside of Peru.
The Leche de Tigre ("Tiger's Milk"), the marinade that supposedly has restorative properties was a bit too salty, with a touch too much lime for us. The fish was cut into pretty large chunks, some of which were a bit too fibrous. It wasn't bad by any means, but I prefer the version at Mario's, or even Latin Chef on a good day.
The camote, the stewed sweet potato lacked the tenderness of the version, at say, PescadosCapitales, but the flavor, with just a hint of cinnamon was right on the mark. The yucca was dry and fibrous, and we got regular yellow corn instead of chocolo.
The Missus got the Pescado a lo Macho ($15.95):
Holy smokes, I don't remember the portions being this big! All of the seafood, from the squid to the shrimp (7 of them!), to the lightly breaded fish fillet were cooked to perfection. The Missus even ate the pieces of octopus, something She usually won't. I believe the scallops were among Her favorites, as I never got a shot at them.
The sauce, built on a seafood base, fortified with butter, was too rich for the Missus.... but I loved it. And the leftover were most welcomed.
I went with the Lomo Saltado ($11.45):
Another very large portion. The beef was thickly sliced rib eye, with just the right amount of chew. The dish had a smokiness to it, and the onions added a good amount of light pungent flavor, the tomatoes a tangy note. I could have done with more papas fritas, but hey, I love my carbs. The sauce had a decent amount of salt, but lacked that little zip of herbaceous flavor..... perhaps they don't use Huacatay?
Still it was quite delicious......
We found the service to be very.... "Peruvian", laid back. The ingredients were of good quality, and the dishes done quite well. We'll probably be back a bit sooner than twelve years next time.
Whew, this post has taken me almost five months to get together.... talk about a flocking long time. A while back I thought it would be fun doing a post on some of the different variations of grilled and roasted chicken in San Diego. So here goes..... oh, and why did it take me so long? The answer is at the end.
Pollo Asado from Internacional 2000 Taco Shop - Bargain City:
On one of my previous posts on Internacional 2000, I mentioned the plumes of smoke rising in the air from the chicken being grilled over mesquite in the parking lot. I also noticed that the chicken was mostly precooked, and moved from the taco shop to the grill for reheating. That just didn't sound promising. But once, while doing part of my South Bay taco crawl, MrQ decided to purchase the Pollo Asado, since it was just $8.50, for a whole chicken a fixins'. The chicken was better than I thought it would be, so on a later visit, I decided to get it.
So for $8.50, you get a whole grilled chicken, beans, rice, salsa, condiments, and tortillas. Man ,what a deal!
I had thought the chicken would be dry and tough as heck, but it wasn't. Also, because the chicken didn't have much of a salt flavor, I'm thinking that salt use was minimized to ensure that the bird wouldn't dry out. The chicken did have a wonderful smoky mesquite flavor. The tortillas, once warmed a bit was decent, the rice was quite dry.
But the beans......
Were quite good, rich, beany, and creamy....just don't look at 'em after you refrigerate the stuff..... you WILL know why they taste good. Sometimes, it's better not to know.......
We did use a sprinkling of Tajin Classic Seasoning.... the stuff we call, "This is not a candy" seasoning:
I'm wondering how many complaints the company got from folks who tried to eat this thinking it WAS candy, causing them to label the product thusly?
The verdict? Not the most fantastic pollo asado I've ever had, but pretty good, and for $8.50? Bargain city!!! Just as a reality check, to the right is about seven bucks worth of food from the local "Crazy Chicken" joint.... which includes some of the worst tortillas I've ever experienced. In all honesty, I don't mind the chicken......
Internacional 2000 Taco Shop (Window in the parking lot of Mercado Internacional 2000) 1415 3rd Ave Chula Vista, CA 91911
Pollo Asado from Casa de Pepe - No thank you:
On one of my "Sunday Stuffs" posts back in January of 2008, I mentioned seeing Pollo Asado being grilled in the parking lot of a taco shop on Imperial Avenue. This bright, colorful, and possibly luminous restaurant is called, Restaurant Casa de Pepe:
If the bones of this place look familiar; it because this used to be the location of El Comal, before they went "uptown".
Almost every weekend, I've seen the guy in the parking lot grilling chicken.
I crossed the street and took a look at the chicken, which looked pretty good. So I told the guy that I'd be going into the restaurant to pay, when the guy held up a pot full of kinda gross barbecue sauce, and told me; "you want BBQ on chicken, right?" I should have taken this as a bad omen and high-tailed it out of there, but instead I just said "no thanks" and went into the restaurant and paid my $7.95.
Hmmm, they forgot my tortillas. I loved the variety of salsas provided, as well as the cebolla. The chicken was terrible, terribly bland and dry.
The rice was decently flavored, but the beans were very bland, and too soupy for my tastes.
Maybe I shoulda gotten that barbecue sauce, huh?
Restaurant Casa de Pepe 2822 Imperial Ave San Diego, CA 92102
Pollo ala Brassa from Nazca Grill - getting better all the time:
In my previous post on Nazca Grill, back when they first opened, I indicated that though the chicken was moist, here was something left to be desired with regards to flavor. I'm glad to say that the last time I ordered it, the chicken was very good. Still moist, and more balanced in flavor. You could tell that even though it wasn't cooked over hardwood, it had been finished with it.
For $11.95 you get the half chicken meal, which comes with papas fritas (french fries) which usually ends up pretty soggy by the time you get home, and good sized salad.
I do wish they'd just sell the chicken ala carte. Anyway, a picture is worth a few paragraphs......
I still think the Aji Amarilla (yellow chili sauce) is too mild, and needs some zip. But compare that chicken to my previous post......
Nazca Grill 4310 Genesee Ave San Diego, CA 92117
Rotisserie Chicken from Saffron Thai Grilled Chicken - I could never figure out why.....
This place is so popular. When I first ate the chicken from here back in 1998, the first thing that went through my mind was "huh"? To me the chicken here isn't "Thai Rotisserie Chicken", it ain't even close to Kai Yaang. Those were my thoughts back in 2006 when I did my last post on Saffron.
And after eating Kai Yaang in Thailand twice, this ain't even close. The chicken from Pok Pok might as well be in another universe. Another sad thing is, I really enjoy Su-Mei Yu's book, Cracking the Coconut. There's even a Kai Yaang recipe in the book, which features her "Big Four Paste" (coriander seeds, garlic, cilantro stems and roots, white peppercorns), minced ginger, cumin, tumeric, and caraway(strange, no lemongrass). Not even a whiff to be found on this chicken.
I didn't think you'd be happy with this, a two leg plate ($4.99):
So I went ahead and had a half chicken plate ($7.86):
Instead of my usual Sriracha ($1.29 a bottel at 99 Ranch Market, BTW), I went with the red pepper sauce, which was too sweet, like simple syrup, and the peanut sauce, which was too much coconut and sugar, and not enough peanut.
The best piece was the thigh which was passably moist. The leg however, had been sliced, possibly to check "doneness" and was, as a good FOY once described the chicken here as "petrified". The breast was worse.
The skin was tough and too chewy. To be honest, that two leg plate I had earlier was better. I'm thinking the earlier in the day you go, the better your luck may be. Someone once told me it's the sauce that makes this "Thai", so I asked this person, being of Italian heritage, if I got a supermarket rotisserie chicken, and gave you a teensy container of marinara sauce, if I could call that "Italian Chicken"? And to add insult to injury, I once bought an entire bird from Saffron and a rotisserie chicken from Costco, and provided a bottle of Sriracha. I asked some friends which bird they enjoyed better..... guess which? Well, enough of that. I was told that the chicken here back in the late 80's and early 90's was great, but something happened.
I do still enjoy the "Cambodian" salad:
I believe the success of Sab E Lee displays that San Diego does want "real" flavors. So maybe someday........
Saffron Thai Grilled Chicken 3731 India St. San Diego, CA 92103
Not amazing, but solid. Since the chicken hadn't been sliced into parts and held on trays it was very moist. Nice salty, mild garlic and lemongrass flavors. The sauces, one tamarind and palm sugar based, and the other a nam prik (fish sauce and chilies) were serviceable.
I need to go back and take better photos.
Sab E Lee 2 9159 Mission Gorge Road Santee, CA 92071
So why did this post take months? Well, back in November, the Missus saw this commercial and was traumatized.
So now the Missus won't eat chicken or turkey.... but will eat duck!
I guess I'll just have to:
"keep on dreamin' The thoughts that are in my brain You just keep on being The lady I can't explain "