Restaurant Reviews

Pure Peru

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Plain is hardly the word to use for Super Rico's soups. When I noticed the $8.49 price for one of them, I was surprised, since everything else on the menu seemed such a bargain. But I discovered that the parihuela especial is no ordinary bowl of soup -- it's a meal unto itself, a soup that could sustain you on a trek up the Andes or down the Amazon. The parihuela is filled to the brim with seafood, this time floating in a rich, dark seafood stock that's enhanced by the addition of lots of white wine and cilantro. A plate of white rice is served on the side, and can be eaten as a side dish. But the Peruvian way is to dump it straight into the soup, which not only thickens the mixture but also adds texture. It's unfortunate that parihuela is only available on weekends; it's the sort of meal you could eat with pleasure two or three times a week.

Likewise offered as a weekend treat is the anticuchos, an off-the-menu special that may only appeal to adventurous eaters. Small slices of beef heart are marinated overnight in a dry rub consisting of garlic, black pepper, cumin, oregano, aji panca (a type of spicy red pepper at the heart of Peruvian fare, not unlike an ancho chili in shape and color) and a little vinegar. The meat is then grilled over charcoal. Four pieces are served on a skewer, with three skewers making a serving, along with a piece of corn and the ubiquitous boiled potato. For those not into organ meat, the same treatment can be given to standard beef -- although the beef was a little tougher, and less tasty, than the heart. Both dishes are served with Peru's version of an avocado-green picante sauce, which seems mild by Texas standards.

While I didn't care for the modonguito a la Italiana, it was a visually very appealing dish. Still, no matter how you cook it, tripe -- the modonguito -- has a strong flavor that's hard to hide. The tripe, which had been cut into small strips, had obviously been marinating for quite some time, since it was extremely tender. The visual appeal comes from its being mixed with French fries and carrots and then coated with Parmesan cheese; the different colors and shapes look very appetizing.

The picante de mariscos also looks good, and was more suited to my taste. A salute to the Spanish paella, it has a kick thanks to the aji pepper. Since the same basic assortment of fish is used in many of Super Rico's dishes, I wasn't surprised to find shrimp, calamari, scallops and mussels here, as well as peas and carrots, which add to the color spectrum. Instead of being a fairly dry dish like its paella cousin, the picante de mariscos is kept moist by a thick, spicy, mustard-yellow sauce. Served over white rice, this is another of those sustaining dishes that's served not on a plate but on a platter. The arroz frito de mariscos is the Peruvian equivalent of fried rice; it, too, contains the familiar fish ingredients, although it's drier than the picante and all of the ingredients are mixed together, turning the rice a bright, saffron yellow color.

In case you think that seafood is all that Super Rico serves, I'm happy to advise that one of the house specialties is the pollo a la brasa, i.e., charcoal chicken. Half of a juicy chicken that has been marinated, then slow roasted on the grill, is served with French fries and a salad. It's a fortifying meal, but one that lacks the vibrancy and originality of some of Super Rico's other offerings.

The mazamorra morada, a sort of purple-corn fruit compote with a very great affinity to the chicha morada drink, is a good way to top off your meal. It contains a lot more fruit than the chicha morada and is significantly thicker. Also made from purple corn, it's thickened with sweet potato flour until it has almost a gelatin-like consistency -- with all of the pineapple, prunes and other fruit that are crammed into it, eating it is like eating a fruit jam. The pionono, a slice of rolled-up sponge cake with a delicate, creamy interior, can quickly evoke childhood memories of similar jam-filled varieties.

You can sense the pride with which the Arianzens serve their native dishes, especially to non-natives, as if introducing North Americans to the pleasures of Peru is in some way a measure of their success. And maybe it is. They don't need fancy surroundings to serve memorable meals. Their regular customers already know this. Now it's up to the rest of us to find this out.

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Paul Galvani