The only way to learn that Peruvian cuisine is not limited to ceviche—its most famous dish—and is in fact one of the top gastronomies of the world, is by going out and enjoying what it has to offer. After centuries of cultural influences from Europe, Africa and Asia, and a vast cornucopia of ingredients hailing from its own three coastal, mountainous and jungle regions, Perú has developed one of the most creative and delectable cuisines in the world; fusion being its defining characteristic.
The fact that not many New Yorkers know about this rich gastronomic universe is not surprising considering the poor quality and low profile of Peruvian restaurants in the city, probably due to the fact that none of the major Lima-based restaurateurs, headed by the iconic Peruvian master-chef turned impresario Gastón Acurio, have yet to set-up shop in New York. Sure, there might be signs of Peruvian cuisine in the exclusive Japanese-based Nobu and in the popular rotisserie chicken locale Pio Pio, but these venues offer neither the breadth nor the culinary expertise in Peruvian food that most criollo (read “traditional Peruvian”) restaurants deliver in Lima (Lima’s Jose Antonio is a perfect example of what to expect from a criollo restaurants when one visits Peru). With all of this in mind and after several disappointing experiences in some of New York’s “Peruvian” restaurants, I was a bit hesitant to explore Brooklyn’s own Peruvian eatery, Chimu.
I was, however, pleasantly surprised. The food comes close enough to the real deal in terms of selection and traditional preparation—which is bound to arrive in New York in the coming years, after Mr. Acurio has opened restaurants in Santiago, Buenos Aires, Bogota, Mexico, Panama and Quito—but Chimu is perhaps the best Peruvian restaurant in the city so far.
Curiously located in the middle of Williamsburg, with an elegant, low-lighting décor, composed of Andean muzak, pre-Columbia huacos, masks and other more ambiguous indigenous paraphernalia, Chimu provides a perfect place for conversation and intimacy, romantic or otherwise. Indeed the 20- to 40-something cosmopolitan crowd indicates that Chimu caters easily to Brooklyn’s diverse community.
Cocktails were very good, including their Sangría ($6.00) and Peru’s national cocktail, the Pisco Sour ($9.00), which although served more as a frozen margarita, was decently prepared. Pisco sour is prepared using Peruvian pisco, lime juice, sugar cane syrup and egg white. Peruvian pisco is very different from Chilean pisco and there is a long history tracing their differences in both preparation and use. The uniquely Peruvian sweet drink, Chicha Morada ($2.00)—made from purple corn, with cinnamon, lime, cloves and pineapple skin—was also particularly good.
The seafood classic Choros a la Chalaca with fried yucca ($7.95)—New Zealand mussels or choros marinated with chopped onions, red peppers, plum tomato, corn and garlic in a light cilantro lemon juice—was superbly prepared just like in Callao, the port district in Lima famous for its seafood restaurants; as was the Papa a la Huancaína ($10.95)—boiled potato with huancaína sauce (a quintessentially Peruvian sauce made of fresh white cheese, crushed saltines, vegetable oil, ají amarillo evaporated milk, garlic and salt, mixed in a blender) with its accompanying anticuchos–beef heart (that’s right beef heart or corazón de vaca, which is mostly made of muscle so it has the same texture as tenderloin) marinated in a spicy sauce served shish kabob-style. Both of these plates are highly recommended and generously served.
The two entrees however, were not as satisfying as the magnificent appetizers mentioned above (which would already constitute a perfectly sizeable meal). The traditional Ají de Gallina ($11.95)—chicken breast in a creamy sauce with ají amarillo and peanuts served over boiled potato with rice—was the better of the two entrees. The Tacu Tacu de Carne ($13.95)—rice and beans risotto topped with grilled steak and creole sauce—was extremely disappointing, the tacu tacu was tasteless and the dish was nowhere near its original form.
For dessert I highly recommend one of Peru’s most delicious sweets, Picarones ($7.95)—a sweet, ring-shaped fritter with a pumpkin base served with sweet molasses syrup—which under Chimu’s care, will certainly not disappoint! The Lúcuma Ice Cream ($3.95)—a subtropical fruit of Andean origin—however, is completely expendable. Lúcuma is a popular flavoring for ice cream, mousse, bavaroise, cake and sweet sauces and in Perú even exceeds the demand for more globally popular flavors such as strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla.
Still a way to go from providing the complete range of authentic Peruvian cuisine, Chimu should be proud of what it has accomplished thus far, providing New Yorkers with a peak preview of what is (inevitably) to arrive in the coming years as Peru’s cuisine becomes truly global.
Indeed, Chimu and its chef Santos Loo were recently featured in an episode of the Food Networks “Boy Meets Grill” where chef Bobby Flay was taught how to prepare some of the traditional Peruvian dishes reviewed above, including Chicha Morada and Papa a la Huancaína. As Chimu participates in the globalization of one of Peru’s most precious resources—its cuisine—it has also established itself as an excellent choice among Williamsburg’s increasingly cosmopolitan restaurant scene.
482 Union Ave (b/w Conseyela Street and Skillman Avenue) Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 349-1208 L at Lorimer St; G at Metropolitan Ave
Photos by Silvia Cassaro