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A mid-sized, family run establishment, Peruvian Kitchen is located in an economic dead zone, sharing a tiny strip mall with the likes of a vacuum cleaner repair shop and a pan-martial arts dojo that has seen better days. Blink while you're driving by and you'll miss the shopping center entirely. If you're on the other side of the road, you won't even notice it. Either way, unless you know exactly where the restaurant is, you'll have a hell of a time finding it.
The decor is an oddly pleasing form of casual jungle kitsch, full of golden tones, light woods, and hanging rushes. Plastic fish, the odd fishing net, pictures of Peru, and a few native tchotchkes add a fanciful touch of whimsy to the experience. My favorites are the tiles with cute little fish outlines mounted above the bar and open kitchen. At night, the restaurant's muted lighting and candles make you feel like you're really dining in a small Peruvian village. ... Well, ok. Maybe more like you're dining in a classier rendition of Disney's Jungle Cruise. But, it's fun!
* Maracuya - A passion fruit juice of higher quality than is found in most grocery store juice aisles. Tasty, but familiar and not terribly exciting.
* Inca Kola - A Peruvian soft drink made from plantains that is practically the national beverage of Peru. It has a wonderfully mild taste, like the result of a sexy rendezvous between bananas and Coke. It's also a highly alarming shade of yellow.
* Chicha Morada - This sweet and darkly mysterious beverage is made by boiling Peruvian purple corn, then adding sugar, pineapple, and ice. Once the mixture has cooled, it's strained, chilled, and is usually served without ice, since the nuanced flavors shouldn't be diluted any further. I can't really describe what it tastes like. While you can certainly taste the constituent components, the whole is infinitely more wonderful.
Peruvian Kitchen focuses primarily on cuisine from Lima, Peru's capital and largest city, as well as on the cuisine of Peru's central coast, where Lima is located. The native food in this region is heavily influenced by the Chinese, Japanese, Italian, African, Spanish, Basque, and German immigrants who flooded into Peru during the 19th and early 20th centuries. As such, the dishes are both reassuringly familiar and intriguingly exotic.
* Ceviche de Snapper - Generous strips of raw snapper are marinated with thinly sliced red onions in a mouth-puckering ambrosia of lemon juice, lime juice, chili peppers, coriander, and garlic. It's served with Wedges of boiled sweet potato and large kernels of fresh hominy. Although the fish is undoubtedly very fresh, the pieces are too large, making them hard to chew. The marinade, which goes by the fanciful name of "leche de tigre" or "tiger's milk", is just slightly too strong.
* Tiradito al Aji - Thinner slices of fish are marinated in lime juice, pureed yellow Peruvian chili peppers, and ginger. Unlike the ceviche, onion and sweet potato are not served, although hominy is included. The thinner slices of fish translate to a finer texture, and the marinade for the tiradito is more subtle than the one used for the ceviche. It also works wonderfully as an entree, where it goes under the name Tiradito Mancora, and is served with white rice, fried yucca, and hominy.
* Anticuchos de Corazon - Thin slices of tender beef hearts are marinated in a spicy blend of vinegar, garlic, and chili peppers. The pieces are then threaded onto wooden skewers and grilled to perfection before being served with broiled potato. The flavor is very well controlled. The marinade is delicious, and only the faintest hint of the gaminess that characterizes all organ meats is left behind. The texture is very similar to beef filet, although more tender and crunchy. Peruvian Kitchen also offers anticuchos made with beef, chicken heart, or seafood.
* Yucca a la Huancaina - Yucca a la Huancaina originated in the Huancayo, the capital of the central highlands region of Junin. Before the Spanish moved their stronghold to Lima, Huancayo held the dubious honor of being Peru's provisional capital during Francisco Pizarro's occupation. Huancaina, the Huancayo-style of serving boiled starch with a sauce made from cream, mustard, chili peppers, garlic, flour, olives, eggs, cheese, and huacatay, is a meld of Spanish and Peruvian. In Yucca a la Huancaina, balls of mashed yucca are stuffed with cheese before being boiled and covered with the spicy cheese sauce. The texture of the yucca is similar to very dense potato, and the sauce is reminiscent of both nacho cheese sauce and Béchamel sauce, with an additional degree of refinement; delicious. For the less adventurous, Peruvian Kitchen also offers Papa a la Huancaina, or Huancayo-style potatoes, which are almost as good.
* Loma Saltado - One of the most interesting facets of Peruvian cuisine is the genre of fusion food called "Chifa". A derivation of the Mandarin Chinese words "chi fan", meaning "eat rice" or "mealtime", Chifa is the Peruvian term for both traditional Chinese food and the fusion between Chinese cuisine and Peruvian cuisine. The Loma Saltado, made by stir frying strips of tender beef, French fries, tomato, onion, vinegar, and chilies, is a popular member of the Chifa family. The starch on starch action between the lightly salted white rice and beef gravy coated fries blows me.
* Arroz con Pollo - Tender chunks of chicken are braised with rice, garlic, onion, chicken stock, peas, tomatoes, chili peppers, saffron, paprika, olives, red bell peppers, and enough chopped cilantro to choke a cow. Each bite of the delightfully moist and fluffy rice fills your mouth with chickeny goodness. In some ways, those large chunks of chicken on top are merely garnish, as their delicious flavor has already seeped in to every grain of rice.
* Tacu-Tacu - I have no idea how many cuisines contributed to this dish, but it's something else entirely. Remember how much I like starch on starch action? Here's a platter that's just disturbingly sexy in a drunken, one-night-stand-with-someone-you-know-is-never-going-to-call-you-back sort of way. At the base is a mound of refried beans and white rice, which have been stir-fried together. That's right. Together. In a sinfully hedonistic, crispy on the outside, creamy with al dente bits on the inside, patty of delectable, heart-clogging delight. On top of that, a perfectly seasoned and grilled county steak full of juicy and flavorful beefy goodness. To either side, two long halves of fried plantain with their rich, crunchy sweetness. Add one egg, sunny-side up, so that when your fork pieces the delicate yolk, the golden nectar within runs out and over the entire, sensually voluptuous experience.
Is it just me, or is it hot in here?
8610 Warner Ave.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708-3132