Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

You say potato, we say buenisimo

New Peruvian restaurant elevates humble spud -- and more

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The tiki bar is still there, but there's no alcohol on its shelves (so no pisco sour, alas), and the sombreros and toros that adorned the scarlet walls when Desperados lived here have been replaced by posters of Peru.

The cuisine has moved south too, much farther south, to a country whose cuisine -- which is sometimes said to be the best in Latin America -- is the inspiration for one of today's hotter trends.

La Rica Vicky is the name of a Latin American telenovela and translates, I was told, to Rich Vicky; but Vicky (according to our server) is also short for Victoria, the Peruvian cook who has given us our first Peruvian restaurant.

She has an impressively light, sure touch, and although there aren't many choices on the menu, those that are listed were so good they left me wishing there had been dozens more to try.

For starters, the baked empa±adas are superb -- thin, delicate pastries with a moist filling of ground beef (chicken is an alternative) seasoned with onions, a few raisins, bits of hard-boiled egg and an olive. The crust is sprinkled with icing sugar (it works, honest) and they come with a wedge of lemon for adding a squirt of juice. They are listed on the menu at $7 each, including the sumptuous Peruvian hot chocolate, which is made with real chocolate, not powder.

The potato was born in Peru, so it's not surprising that it turns up often, whether as part of a dish, or in thick slices on the side. It's at its best in the causa rellena, which I fell totally in love with -- a cool appetizer of yellow-hued mashed potatoes infused with lime juice and layered with either chicken or tuna salad; its garnish of thinly shredded lettuce offers a crisp, green counterpoint to the richness of the potatoes.

Another great starter is the ceviche of basa with thin-sliced red onions, swimming in a lime juice marinade so addictive I'd have finished it off on its own, if I'd had a spoon. It is garnished with, among other things, roasted corn kernels, which have an intriguing nutty flavour. All it needed, at least for my taste, was a crusty bun for textural contrast.

Sweet-fleshed, flaky basa was also a special entree of the day, simply sautéed and topped with a mixture of onions, red peppers and tomatoes.

Aji de gallena -- another special -- was a savoury chicken stew in a creamy sauce that was yellow from the presence of puréed aji peppers and, like many of the dishes, garnished with sliced potatoes and a hard-boiled egg. Despite those aji peppers, the dish was relatively mild. In fact, apart from the little nips of heat that popped up every now and then, most of the dishes I tried were less spicy than I'd expected. On the other hand, the house-made mayonnaise that coated the sliced potatoes packed a real wallop.

A Chinese influence is evident in some dishes, the lomo saltado, for one -- a garlicky stir-fry of thinly sliced beef, onions, and tomatoes, with a hint of soy sauce, and possibly of vinegar, in the seasoning, but served in very un-Chinese fashion over house-made fries, which absorb the juices (and make a delicious combination).

Another example is chaufa -- Peruvian chicken fried rice, which isn't much different from its Chinese cousins but with more flavour (and more chicken) than most.

The only dish I didn't much care for was the tamale, which was steamed in a banana leaf -- the cornmeal masa was nice but the chicken filling was dry.

The sweet potato was also first cultivated in Peru, and thick slices of it are another frequent side, and although rice wasn't born there, it turns up often too, garnishing dishes that already have sides of both sweet and regular potatoes. It's actually nicely done but, given the other carbs on the plate, resistible.

Other possibilities on the menu include steak topped by a fried egg and fried bananas, fajitas with steak, and a few pasta dishes, also with steak -- apparently there are both Chinese and Italian influences on Peruvian cooking. There are also huevos rancheros and a few sandwiches for lunch.

Wonderfully refreshing

There is a Peruvian version of a drink -- Inka Cola, I think -- that tastes a lot like cream soda, and is made by Coca Cola for Peru -- nice, but the don't-miss beverage is the house-made chicha morada. A preparation of "boiled purple corn," may sound odd, but it's wonderfully refreshing, spiced with cinnamon and cloves and finished with a few cubes of pineapple. You'll probably want more than one glass.

Prices range from $4.75 to $7.75 for most appetizers, and from $9.95 to $17.75 for most entrees. Although the menu is always augmented by daily specials, if you come on Sunday you might find even more of them. Our sautéed chicken, for instance, which was juicy and ultra-flavourful, accompanied by a fabulous salad of beets and potatoes in mayonnaise.

If you come for lunch on Sunday, you can order from the regular menu, but I'd advise waiting until mid-afternoon, when more of the specials might be ready -- among them picarones, a doughnut-like dessert made of sweet potatoes and drizzled with syrup which, sad to say, I was too early for.

It's a family restaurant, run by a warm, friendly family. Service can be slow, and more information about the dishes would be helpful, but everything is made to order and the wait for almost anything you order will be worth it. Also, make a note of the hours; the restaurant is closed Friday evening and all day Saturday.

marion.warhaft@freepress.mb.ca

To see the location of this restaurant and others reviewed in the Free Press, please see the map below or click here.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 10, 2012 D3

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Updated on Friday, February 10, 2012 at 11:13 AM CST: adds map, adds fact box

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