Leaving Trader Joe’s in Pacific Beach on Thursday, I noticed a tiny new restaurant called Latin Chef – featuring Peruvian cuisine. I stopped in, picked up a menu and was immediately impressed. The young woman who talked to me was friendly and enthusiastic, the aromas wafting from the kitchen were tempting and flavorful, and the menu with its grammar errors and the listing of a tripe dish, seemed authentic and focused.
Luckily, I was able to induce Dave and Michelle to drive all the way to PB from Jamul for a dinner there Friday night. We were all amazed and impressed. No beer and wine are available (but in PB no one needs to fret about the availability of alcohol before or after their meal), so we had a wonderful Peruvian beverage that looked a lot like jamaica with a rich reddish purple color, but had a distinctive sweet spice flavor. Before any dishes arrived, a small cup of roasted corn kernels that were salty and crunchy, but not rock hard like corn nuts, arrived. We wolfed those down and another small cup magically appeared on the table. Then the food arrived. First, we were greeted by papa a la huancaina, slices of firm potato covered with a slightly spicy yellow sauce that was so tasty that Michelle ended up scraping the last of it from the plate with a spoon. The cebiche mixto quickly followed and was a nice tangy and citrusy combo of fish, octopus chunks, and calamari slices topped with slices of red onion. Yum.
Our main courses were equally impressive. Michelle had tallarin verde con bisteck, a small thinly cut steak (much like carne asada) paired with green noodles in a parmesan, herb, and cream sauce. A good dish. Dave, adventurer that he is, opted for the cau-cau con arroz, tripe and potatoes cooked with a flavorful sauce of onions, cilantro, and other flavors I couldn’t identify. The textural contrast between the soft tripe and firm potato chunks was outstanding, and the dish overall a real winner. Nonetheless, as good as it was, my aji de gallina was (at least imho) even better. Imagine a cross between a rich chicken curry and a chicken green chile (except made with yellow chilies) and you might have a vague idea of what was placed before me. The tender chicken was highlighted by the creamy rich and uniquely spicy sauce. Although the menu said that the dish came with potatoes, in fact, the rice accompaniment was perfect, soaking up all the thick sauce.
For desert, I had the chocolate torta, Dave the strawberry torta, and Michelle the Peruvian lucuma ice cream. My chocolate cake was good, but not especially memorable, but the Peruvian ice cream, not overly sweet, had a distinct flavor of a fruit I had never tasted before. The strawberry torta was incredible with an intense strawberry flavor and a richness that suggested tres leches.
The restaurant is open 3-10 on Tues through Fri, 11 – 10 on Sat and Sun. Most entrees are $8.50. Our total bill was $58. The address is 1142 Garnet – phone 858-270-8810. In addition to what we ordered, there were two fish dishes (one a special), pato con arroz (another special), soups, lomo saltado, another noodle dish, another beef dish, and arroz chaufa, described on the menu as an Asian flavored rice dish. Our server was friendly, attentive, and competent. If I had been able to stay another day in San Diego, I would have been back for another dinner. Yes, folks, I think it is that good.