Amuse-bouche A review of Sabor Peruano, plus a preview of Santa Fe Restaurant Week
Sabor Peruano, the most recent restaurant installation in the DeVargas Center, was opened by Peruvian sisters Adriana Brawley and Susana Hamilton last fall. The café — which now shares the area with a cheerful retail shop featuring traditional Peruvian textiles, ponchos, pillows, boots, blankets, clothing, toys, and more — has 10 tables, five inside the shop and five in the mall corridor, where the colorful handcrafted goods and bright tablecloths brighten the industrial landscape.
You won’t find ceviche, perhaps Peru’s most famous culinary export, here — posbecause sibly very fresh sushi-grade raw fish could break the budget of a small landlocked café. What Sabor Peruano does offer is a range of well-prepared dishes that showthe cases four of country’s most popular (and abundant) ingrepotatoes, dients: corn, quinoa, and ají amarillo peppers.
Ají — what Peruvians call their native chiles — have been grown in Peru for thousands of years; the amarillo variety — a fruity yellow-orange chile that’s been described as tasting like “liquid sunshine,” is arguably one of the most important ingredients in Peruvian cooking. Corn and potatoes, which originated in Central and South America, were considered sacred foods by the country’s indigenous Moche and Inca civilizations. And quinoa, the region’s highprotein “mother grain,” shares the peppers’ long history of cultivation in the high Andes. Over generations, these indigenous staples mingled with foods brought to Peru by Spanish conquistadors, African slaves, and Italian, Chinese, and Japanese immigrants to create a unique fusion of flavors and cultures.
Three of the four appetizers on the regular menu are built on a base of yellow potatoes. The papas a la
Huancaína — a traditional cold dish of sliced boiled potatoes napped with a creamy ají amarillo sauce and garnished with hard-boiled eggs and black olives — was somewhat bland, with no sign of the medium heat the golden peppers usually bring.
The causa rellena limeña — a terrine by any other name — on the other hand, was a summer picnic on a plate. For this dish, potatoes are mashed, kneaded, and mixed with lime juice and that ubiquitous yellow chile paste and then layered in a ring mold with a well-seasoned chicken salad and avocado slices. (The vegetarian version omits the chicken and increases the portion of avocado.) “Peruvians love mayonnaise,” Lima-born chef and restaurateur Ricardo Zarate writes in his book The
Fire of Peru, and that affection is put to excellent use here.
The sopa de quinua, a chicken vegetable soup enriched with quinoa, was simple and satisfying, as was the aguadito de
pollo, a chicken-vegetable-rice soup turned a lovely shade of green by the addition of an abundance of minced cilantro — an herb brought to South America by the Spanish. The
sopa de cebada, another traditional Andean soup, gets its heft from barley (also of Spanish heritage), beef, carrots, spinach, and more potatoes. All the soups benefited from a squeeze of the lime that accompanied them — none more so than the barley, where the citrus spritz cut through the fatty broth and brightened the entire bowl.
Sabor Peruano has only two entrees on the regular menu:
lomo saltado, a juicy stir-fry of beef tenderloin popular throughout Peru, and ají de
gallina, a poached and pulled chicken breast blanketed with a yellow ají sauce, enriched