Restaurant Review: Paila Peruvian Cuisine
Cutting-edge traditional flavors and combinations that deserve to be tasted and appreciated
Reviewed by Mick Vann, Fri., Sept. 28, 2007
Wed-Fri, 11am-9pm; Sun, 1-4pm
Paila Peruvian Cuisine5100 E. Seventh, 386-5799
Wednesday-Saturday, 11am-9pm; Sunday, 1-4pm
Paila is owned by a trio of friends: "Potsy" Rivadeneyra and Alex Pedemonte (Pedemonte was founder of Austin's Proyecto Teatro, and both are Peruvian) and their Mexican counterpart, "Chuy" Velasquez. Rivadeneyra and Pedemonte oversee the kitchen, and even though neither has formal culinary training, they cook decidedly delicious, traditional Peruvian home-style cuisine. Paila is situated on a tree-shaded corner lot just off of Airport Boulevard, where Taco Sabrosos used to be; it's a leased arrangement with Sabrosos' Peruvian owner. The restaurant is under a grove of large pecan trees, with an air-conditioned, artistically decorated dining room; a covered patio with fans; and a detached kitchen set up in a complete catering trailer.
For those in the dark, Peruvian cuisine is an amalgam of Incaic, Quechuan Indian, Spanish, Italian, French, Moorish, African, Chinese, and Japanese. Madrid Fusion 2006, the world's most influential culinary forum, labeled Lima, Peru, the "Gastronomic Capital of the Americas." It's a cuisine that borrows from four continents, and it's getting ready to explode in popularity.
We started a dinner foray with glasses of chicha morada, a tartly refreshing drink made from purple corn, pineapple, apples, and cinnamon – good enough to demand a second round. We passed on Peru's famous Inca Kola, a yellowish soft drink that tastes like a cross between Dubble Bubble and cream soda. There is no liquor license, so forget the pisco sours, the Pilsen Callao, or the Cerveza Cusqueña, unless you bring them yourself (although future plans call for a license and a formal kitchen).
Appetizers delivered Austin's best platter of yucas fritas ($6): thick, crispy golden wedges, served with a cheese and ají amarillo chile huancaína sauce. The anticuchos ($7), skewers of marinated and grilled beef heart served with an ají panca chile sauce, were delicious, although the flavor was a touch gamey for some at the table. Probadita de Salsas ($6.50), a platter of diced boiled potatoes served with three dipping sauces (chimichurri, huancaína, and spicy rocoto chile aioli), is an excellent medium for tasting the addictive sauces.
Chicharrón de Pollo ($9) – a pile of marinated chicken fried in a thin, spicy batter; resting on a bed of fried yam; garnished with pickled red onions; and served with tartar sauce – really tempted us to order a second (or third) plateful. We sampled some cancha ($4), a mound of corn "puffed" in olive oil and spices, sort of like a cross between corn nuts and half-popped popcorn and nice to snack on.
For entrées, we were smitten with the Carapulcra ($12). It is a stew of chicken, pork cubes, and chuño (traditional dried potatoes, nutty and toothsome) in a rich sauce of peanut, tomato, onion, and garlic. It comes with the ubiquitous potato (Peru is home to some 3,500 varieties of potato) and white rice. The Ají de Gallina ($12), a cornerstone of Criollan cuisine (the food of Lima and the central coastal region), is a large rarebit with shredded chicken in a rich sauce made from white bread, milk, garlic, onions, ají chile, and pecans. Think of the best chicken pot pie you ever had, with a subtle spice on the finish.
For dessert, we tried a couple of the offerings. Quatro Leches Cake ($3.50) is one of the best in town; a huge slab of light cake topped with cajeta (caramelized goat's milk) in a pool of manjar blanco (a butterscotch-toffeelike sauce made from condensed milk). Excellent. Suspiro de Limeña ($3.50) is a wisp of a caramelized pudding topped with meringue, as light and "sweet as the sigh of a woman from Lima."
Sunday brunch, their Buffet Criollo ($12.99), served from 1 to 4pm, was definitely in order. White rice started the base, and then I added the fantastic Seco de Carne con Fréjoles, an unctuous beef stew faintly flavored with cilantro, tomato, garlic, and herbs, with a serving of the buttery mayocoba beans. Next to that a portion of the spicy Adobo de Chancho (a spicy tender pork stew with vinegar, chiles, and onions), and more of the previous Ají de Gallina (so good I couldn't resist).
Plate two is a slice of the light-as-a-feather Causa Rellena: a cold layered "cake" of seasoned mashed potato, chicken, lime, and avocado. It was tart, savory, and refreshing. I couldn't resist the seviche ($12), a platter of thin-sliced tilapia with lime and red-onion slivers, served with choclo (corn with huge, round white kernels), a slice of sweet potato, and some of the cancha popped corn. Ambrosia and the leche de tigre (the liquid of the seviche) was so good I sopped every drop.
Paila offers delicious flavors in combinations you've never had before. This is cutting-edge traditional cuisine that deserves to be tasted and appreciated, and we can't wait for the menu to grow with the crowds.