Worthy ceviche from a mall food court? Trust us.
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., Nov. 25, 2011
La Chaparrita6001 Airport, second floor, 323-5404
Monday-Saturday, 10am-9pm; Sunday, noon-6pm
It is a rare occasion when we recommend mall food-court chow; most of it is chain-related or a bad local copy of a chain. Not so for Lima, Peru, native Susana Osorio's La Chaparrita, which opened last December, just before Macy's and Dillard's bailed out and Austin Community College decided that a less than frisky mall might make a good campus. Her sparkling walk-up counter is now the main attraction of a half-occupied food court; a recent lunch visit saw her getting the vast majority of the food court's business.
We started with a couple of appetizers. Papa a la huancaína ($3.99) is excellent potato salad composed of tender sliced potatoes on a lettuce bed, covered with a creamy cheese and yellow aji chile sauce, topped with hard-boiled egg and black olives. Ceviche ($7.99, and well worth it) is a traditional Peruvian dish, prepared here with fresh and firm tilapia in a zippy leche de tigre (lime and rocoto chile marinade), served with luscious sweet potato, corn on the cob, and crunchy cancha – the original corn nut. It is part aphrodisiac, part hangover cure, and all delicious. Do not pass on the crunchy, mild, pickled red onions on your plate; they make everything taste better.
The arroz con pollo ($5.99) is a platter of moist chicken with crisp skin resting on a bed of rich, chickeny rice flavored with onion, cilantro, peas, and red pepper. Definitely pour on the piquant and creamy green chile sauce offered to take it up a notch. Ají de gallina ($5.99) is delectable shredded chicken breast in a seductive sauce of peanuts, milk, and cheeses, reminiscent of a North Indian korma sauce.
Two other dishes reflect the so-called Chifa Chinese immigrant influence found in Peru's cuisine. Lomo saltado ($6.99) is a lean beef stir-fry of tomato, garlic, onion, and cilantro, loaded with flavor. It rests atop a mound of excellent fried potatoes: crispy on the outside and moist and luscious inside. The Peruvians practically invented the potato, and all of these effete local burger joints that think they know how to make french fries are encouraged to drop by La Chaparrita for a lesson in humility. Arroz chaufa ($6.99) is wonderful fried rice, loaded with bits of crunchy pork and chicken; seasoned with beaten eggs, green onion, and soy sauce; and topped with shrimp. It is old-school, not clumpy in the least, and very satisfying.
If any powdery white cookie sandwiches are available, grab a couple for after dinner. They're called alfajores – crunchy shortbread cookies enclosing a manjar blanco (reduced condensed milk) not-too-sweet filling, dusted with powdered sugar. Wonderful stuff. Likewise for the chicha morada, that famous anti-inflammatory, cholesterol-reducing purple corn drink made with cinnamon. It makes a nice digestif.
Highland Mall might not spring to mind when you think Peruvian food, but it really should.