One of the places on my distilled list of interesting looking places from the Reader's recent "Puerto Rican Plus" list, La Pena (4200 something north Milwaukee) is a place that I've been meaning to try since it first got mentioned in the Reader, I think, some months back-- I was on my way there once but got distracted by Ixcapuzalco. Well, that was probably a better choice anyway, but La Pena was pretty good, and seems to offer a little wider variety than many South American places with their choice of grilled meat or empanadas, period.
I had grilled lamb which was excellent and carbon-y, accompanied by a very odd thing calling itself a potato pancake in peanut sauce-- the reality was more like mashed sweet potatoes with a thin Thai peanut sauce on it, minus the coconut milk. Rather bland next to the lamb. My co-conspirator had a chicken stew on french fries which suggested some of the dishes at Iberico, and seemed pretty tasty if not as succulent as my freshly carbonized meat. We also ordered, for the hell of it, a reasonably tasty tamale which was quite gooey and had cheese in the center, and we were served a complimentary bowl of plantain chips and some kind of salsa (what were the little orange bits in it, anyone know? Do they really put carrots in their salsa in Ecuador?) My first reaction was that plantain chips and salsa were not meant for each other, but the quickly emptied bowl would argue otherwise.
This is another cuisine where I have no idea how authentic, representative, imaginative, good on a scale of 1 to 10 a particular restaurant is, but it tasted good to me and would be worth popping into again. On my way there I saw another Ecuadoran place from my list, Mi Ciudad, so maybe I can find an opportunity to compare-- although I should note that Mi Ciudad is not open for daytime lunch.
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