Normally I would never suggest trying a new restaurant on a first-date.
What brought us to El Rocoto Peruvian Restaurant was the very positive recommendation from a friend. Of course having grown up on Peruvian cuisine, I find it really difficult to pass up on such a recommendation. So throwing caution to the wind, I made reservations for two.
“It’ll be an adventure!” say I with child-like enthusiasm.
It’s a small place with a fairly humble curb-appeal nestled right between Meza Mediterranean, and Kabuki Japanese restaurants. Sort of an ethnic row of gastro-indulgence. There were far too many tables for the space but it was clear why… the place was packed to capacity. Nevertheless, the rather bland curb-appeal left me questioning my choice.
“It’ll be an adventure!” say I to myself (less enthusiasm).
Since my date has never enjoyed Peruvian cooking, I took the liberty of ordering the appetizers. Which gave me a brief moment to show off my Spanish (chicks dig that shit!).
Ceveche de Pescado There are bazillions of recipes available for this wonderfully light starter. But the basics are light fish, a citrus juice blended with all sorts of cool spices, garlic, onion, and cilantro (a staple in Peruvian cooking). Here it was garnished with Peruvian sweet corn and even corn nuts (which my date really liked). My only complaint was they used way too much lime. But, on my date’s suggestion I added a bit of the Aji Verde sauce thus cutting through a lot of that acidic citrus flavor and really brought out the flavor of the Pacific Cod. Nice but not as good as mine (I boasted).
Papas al la Huancaina A boiled and sliced potato topped with a sauce of Aji Amarillo, a feta cheese sauce, olives, and garnished with a boiled egg (no one ever eats the egg). Typically this starter is served cold but in this case it was warm and likely the best I’ve had. Yeah… it was that good.
Antiuccho If you’re one who gets all queasy about certain organs of the cow, you may want to skip past this. You’ve been warned… Traditional Anticucho is made with beef heart marinated in Huacatay sauce for a day or two. Then skewered, grilled and served with a crispy potato and more of that Peruvian corn.
“I don’t know if I like the idea of eating heart,” she declares.
My response; “A true test of authentic Peruvian cooking is in how the Anticucho tastes.” If done well, the one consuming it will never know it’s made with heart. Here… it was nothing short of delicious. Though I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest it’s better than mom’s, it was really good. I most definitely and quite highly recommend it. I’m just sayin…
So far so good. The appetizers pass with my arbitrary muster with a score of 8 (out of a possible 10). It would have been a ten if it weren’t for the heavy use of citrus in the Ceveche. But now it’s on to the rest of the meal.
So… here’s where I sort of got lost in the food. For me, Lomo Saltado is a staple of Peruvian cuisine and if you can’t make that well, you may as well hang it up and close your doors. I’m happy to report that while it isn’t as good as mine, it was REALLY good. Want to see how that’s made? Check out my recipe for Lomo Saltado here. Yes, that was a shameless plug.
For desert… Alfajores. This is a sort of short-bread cookie with caramelized condensed milk, topped with powdered sugar. It’s something my grandmother made for us when we were little and every time I have one, I’m filled with memories of home. On this particular evening it was a wonderfully decadent and rich desert that made both my date and me do what I call the “happy-food-dance.” Which is really just a bunch of squirming around in your chair while expressing child-like exuberance about the food. It’s a thing.
My overall impression I will be adding this place to my list of favorite eateries. It’s a good date-spot since it’s quiet enough to chat (in spite of it being packed), offers excellent service with a knowledgeable staff, and provides authentic and rather tasty Peruvian food. And you know it was good if your date wants to take some of it home. Yup, El Rocoto is a must visit place for anyone visiting the Los Angeles area.
Oh… and my date went very well too, with promises from us both for a second. Of course now I have to decide where to go and what to do for that. You never know…