Criollo Peruvian cuisine

(3.0 / 5)

$$

review date: 1/2/2015

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+51 1 4478272

Calle 2 de Mayo 298, Miraflores District, Lima

My husband's sweet cousin Mili brought me, my husband, daughter, and mother-in-law to Panchita for lunch. Panchita is one of renowned chef / restauranteur Gastón Acurio's casual dining restaurants, located in the Miraflores district of Lima. It has a fun vibe, with traditional ceramics and posters of Peruvian expressions throughout. The first thing you see when you walk in is the refrigerated case of marinating meats and fish, giving the impression that Acurio means to showcase the traditional criollio Peruvian food from the outset.

Our courteous server greeted the five of us immediately, and we while we perused the large menu, we ordered drinks: passionfruit and regular pisco sours, and a pitcher of chicha morada. The sours were good, with just the right amount of pisco and egg white froth. The chicha was very subtly spiced, and not too sweet; I don’t care for it personally, but my husband and daughter really liked it.

As we had walked to our table, we’d passed the huge bread oven, a red-mosaic monstrosity with a concrete wall around it. It glared with heat and promise. We were told that all the restaurant’s breads were baked in this oven, and I could not wait to try them. We were quickly served a variety of breads and condiments on a wooden tray: a large, fluffy loaf of potato bread; two round, crusty white rolls;  an unleavened bread made of beans; and another bread made of corn.

What a disappointment.  The potato bread was sweet and cottony-soft, but nearly flavorless, and reminded me distinctly of store-bought potato bread. The other breads had a nice chewy texture, but also lacked flavor, with barely a trace of the earthy stone-hearth aroma I would have expected from that oven. Even more, I was shocked to discover (after the fact) that we had been charged $7 soles per person for the one tray of bread we’d all shared, which was never even refilled! That makes $35 soles for four rolls and one four-serving loaf of bread. That’s outrageous. Though the price is on the menu, many people (especially Americans, including myself) would just assume bread was free, especially when it’s simply plunked down on your table without a comment. (Note 7/2016: apparently this “bread tax” is a common practice in restaurants; so you may wish to check the menu or ask the server at each restaurant you visit in Peru.)

We decided to share an assortment of appetizers. We began with Piqueo Doña Pancha, a sampler plate of appetizers: anticuchos de corazón; causa; chicharrón; tamal verde; choclo a la huancaína; and a papita rellena, accompanied by salsa criolla and fried sweet potato. We all agreed that each appetizer was exceptionally good. The tamal verde – moist and delicate, full of fresh cilantro flavor – was one of the best I’ve had. The anticuchos de corazón – marinated, skewered, and grilled beef hearts – stole the show: so tender, with a taste like a cross between a ribeye steak and a mild liver, and just a slight hint of game in the aftertaste. Add hot pepper paste, spices, and smoky char from the grill… simply amazing. Try them. You won’t be sorry.

Next came Jarana Criolla, or an assortment of stewed dishes which were largely created by Peruvian African slaves: olluquito (a stew made with olluco, a root vegetable that tastes to me like a cross between white potato and cabbage); ají de gallina; carapulcra (dried potato and beef jerky stew); cau cau (tripe); sangrecita (fried beef blood); patita con maní (pig’s feet with peanut); chanfainita (an organ meat stew); and frijoles con jugo y arroz (black beans with rice). All were very good, but the star was the pig’s feet – the meat was rich and sweet, and the peanut was a perfect accompaniment. However, a few of these were extremely salty, especially the beans.

We also ordered a plate of anticuchos de paiche, with tostones. Paiche is a massive South American river fish that is white and sweet, much like cod (indeed, it’s sometimes called the “cod of the Amazon”); but has a bit of chewy bite to it, making it strong enough to withstand the grill. It was marinated in lime juice, pepper paste, and spices, and cooked absolutely perfectly, plucked off the grill just at the point when it was cooked through. It was juicy, bursting with flavor, yet still delicate. This was one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever eaten, bar none – and I don’t say that lightly.

My daughter ordered a plate of pesto pasta for herself; she said it was good. I tasted it and thought it was decent. (This might work for a vegetarian, as well as the breads / condiments, and possibly the bean stews – but ask which dishes are made with meat stock; I bet most are.)

For dessert, we all shared a plate of picarones, deep-fried beignets/doughnuts made of pumpkin, sweet potato, and sweet spices like cinnamon and clove. They were fresh and light, with most of its sweetness lent by the generous pouring of miel (molasses syrup). It was a perfect end to our lunch.

The service was excellent: friendly, knowledgeable, prompt, and unobtrusive. They cheerfully obliged our every request, even when I (very annoyingly) asked to take pictures of everyone and everything. They even took pictures on each of our phones.

Overall I found Panchita provided a very good meal for a reasonable price (with the exception of the bread). The entire meal for 5 people, including drinks, came to just over $400 soles – about $130 American dollars. Now that is a bargain, even with a steep “bread tax.”

Keep in mind this is more casual fare. It’s a good place for a fun lunch or happy hour with friends. We’ll definitely give it another try next time we’re in Lima, and sample some of the main dishes. I would recommend it.