Incas to Rise Again Via Gastronomy
The last of the Incans disappeared hundreds of years ago to the long-lost city of Machu Picchu. No one has any idea how they built the city atop the Andes without the detection of Cortez. The UFO set likes to think it was built by aliens thanks to its pitch-perfect architecture and mortar-free construction. But after getting to know Peruvian cuisine, it’s clear to see this culture has a long history of getting miraculous results with what they have at their disposal.
This time last year, I was stalking a little spot called El Pollon de OKC on SW 44th St. It was the dream of Peruvians Raul Ramos, Juan Castro and Niel Zambrano. What a great spot to eat, if not to cook.
One year later, El Pollon has closed but much to our benefit. Ramos just reopened a Peruvian restaurant in the same space El Pollon occupied, Castro helped William Chunga open a new Peruvian/Mexican Mamaveca restaurant in Edmond, and Zambrano opened Inca Trail on the city’s north side last month. Meanwhile, fellow Peruvian Jorge Zarate’s Latin American restaurant in Edmond continues to grow and thrive.
Not only does that mean the ceviche culture is growing, it also means great Peruvian dishes like Aji de Gallina, Lomo Saltado, Pollo a la Brasa, and Bistek a la Pobre are more available than ever before.
I haven’t yet been to Ramos’ new spot, but Zambrano’s Inca Trail, 10848-A N May Ave., has made my short list for dining after only three visits. The first time I made it over, my old amigo and renowned chickenhawk Jesse Olivarez joined me. We shared Papas a la Huancaina and were supposed to trade out on the Aji de Gallina I ordered and the half Pollo a la Brasa he ordered. The last part didn’t happen.
The creamy Papa a la Huancaina carried the requisite surprising zing, to cover simply prepared potatoes dressed with hard-boiled eggs and kalamata olives. As much as I enjoy Papas a la Huancaina, I now have it stuck in my head that it’s really a deconstruction of what promises to be the finest potato salad ever conceived. Thus, until Niel, Juan, Jorge or Raul prepare it that way one time, it’s going to be difficult for me to look past that potential. That said, this is a basic Peruvian dish that is an excellent entry point for those new to the cuisine. The aji amarillos (yellow chiles) that influence the sauce are just spicy enough to let you know they’re about, but they’re bridled by a combination of milk and feta cheese and help deliver a well-balanced result. The Aji de Gallina is chunks of chicken covered in the same sauce over white rice. A nice dish, but probably the wrong thing to order with Papas a la Huancaina if you’re looking for variety. I can’t remember how small the nibble of Pollo a la Brasa was because as I previously mentioned, Jesse is the type of chickenhawk that would’ve taken Foghorn Leghorn to the fryer before the old bird could’ve gotten to his third “I say.”
On my second visit, I tried the Tiradito ceviche with an order of green rice. Loved them both. Tiradito is a simple, authentic dish. Fish, citrus and aji amarillo puree. Again, this is a great entry to the Peruvian point of view. The fish is cut long and thin, influenced by the well-established Japanese culture in Peru. The green rice is heavily flavored with cilantro, and fans of that herb will love this take.
On my third trip to Inca Trail, I finally got a decent taste of the Pollo a la Brasa. I was there with a number of local food bloggers, so we ordered a good number of the entrees and ate family style.
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