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Peruvian Kitchen -- OC/Fountain Valley -- VERY GOOD

JB | Feb 18, 200603:03 PM

Last night, I ate a unique find worth adding to your dining notebooks: Peruvian Kitchen in Fountain Valley.

Peruvian Kitchen is one of those unassuming strip mall sleepers where half the fun is discovering it exists. It is also a big "bang for your buck" place in terms of the food you get for your money...not just in quantity, which is very generous, but in quality as well.

Those who have a passion for dining, like most Chowhounders, will also enjoy Peruvian Kitchen’s propensity to enhance its platters with lots of appealing embellishments. You’ll look down at a plate and say to yourself, "Oooh, is that a sweet potato wedge next to this piece of fish?" and sure enough, it is. In other words, you get lots of little sample bites to enjoy with your appetizer and entrée.

We chose to skip alcohol and enjoy a pitcher of "Maracuya," i.e. passion fruit juice. It was sweet and relatively smooth (only mildly acidic), with subtle hints of peach and mango, fruits more commonly consumed in these parts. It was very refreshing, and aromatic, too.

For appetizers, we couldn’t pass up the ceviche ($10.75). It can be prepared with your choice from among several different fish, and we went with the fish of the day, red snapper. Presented 'volcano' style, with shredded cabbage and onions overflowing on top and swimming in the requisite lime juice vinaigrette lava, the fish underneath was extremely fresh and fork tender. The ceviche was accompanied by the aforementioned sweet potato wedges (which I later learned are a classic Peruvian accompaniment) and giant niblets of corn that I’ve never seen before. My only gripe about the ceviche is I thought it was served too chilled...the kind of temperature you associate with a supermarket cole slaw. Cool, good; chilly, less good.

Appetizer #2 was outstanding: fried calamari ($6.95). To me, fried calamari is one of those things everyone loves so much, they’ll tolerate it if it’s just average, which it usually is. Peruvian Kitchen’s was chewy and fresh, and was fried to a perfectly 'medium' crisp. The breading and seasoning were flavorful. It came with a tartar sauce, which was definitely homemade, but my preference was just to savor the calamari with a lime juice sprinkle.

For a main course I chose the halibut, sudado [steamed] ($16.95). According to the menu, the filet was poached in a "court bouillon," and my guess is lime was the primary ingredient in the bouillon broth. Like the red snapper, the halibut was fresh and tender, and the platter was dotted with herbs. White rice was provided to soak up the tomato-y sauce. My friend went with the Lomo Saltado ($10.95). He enjoyed it thoroughly (and would tell me if he didn’t), though I found the slices of beef, while lean and very nicely seasoned, to be dry. Could have been just a misfire, or maybe it was sitting under the heat lamps too long before reaching the table.

The menu, incidentally, is quite extensive, and would please anyone in your dining party who may not fancy anything too exotic. Plain ol’ New York Steak, chicken breast, chicken parmesan (!), and salmon are included. On the more authentic and tempting side, there is a Peruvian-style paella; arroz con pollo; and an appetizer of mashed potatoes stuffed with Dungeness crab meat, plus other things too numerous to list.

Also, a basket of garlic bread slices is offered. It was good, and a very appropriate complement to the sauce-concentrated dishes. Would have been better if warm, IMHO.

We chose to eat dessert elsewhere, but not because Peruvian Kitchen lacked anything interesting. Among other choices, there were two layer chocolate, one vanilla...and an angel cake enveloped in creamy Strawberry Jello, with a 'regular' gelatin Strawberry Jello frosting. Photos of slices of all three cakes looked good on the menu.

The dining room was about 2/3 full, with a diverse group of civil, unpretentious people, including a family or two. The décor is modern "Tiki-hut," but I just tried to imagine it would help put me in the mood for the oceanic and tropical treats I would be enjoying. There’s an open kitchen,’s a bit detached from the dining room, but close enough to see the cooks in action.

Service was very good. A young guy and a young gal, whose titles would more accurately be host and hostess, would leave the reception area to alternate as our waitrons. Neither seemed Peruvian or anything close...more Huntington Beach than anything...but nonetheless they were extremely polite and affable.

We left stuffed, and very satisfied to have sampled lots of different things...and one meal. As a bonus, Peruvian Kitchen utilizes large plates and presents its food aesthetically. You can pretend you’re enjoying fine dining on a pauper’s assets. The tab for 2 appetizers + 2 entrees + pitcher of Maracuya + tax was $56.00 -- and I think that alone would make this worth a visit.

Peruvian Kitchen
8610 Warner Avenue, Fountain Valley
(about 2 rapid minutes from the Magnolia Ave. exit of the 405 freeway)

Recommended for:

* a satisfying meal on a hot day (post-Huntington Beach, maybe?)
* super health-conscious diners who routinely dig steamed or flambéed seafood
* anyone who fancies Fried Calamari as your average woman does chocolate
* prototypical Chowhounders who value the opportunity to taste lots of things in one sitting
* Baja-cuisine fanatics who want something similarly as good, or better
* those who appreciate a low-key, unpretentious atmosphere where food is the priority

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