Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Pollos a la Brasa in Eagle Rock
This is America: a slightly chubby kid comes walking into Pollos a la Brasa, waving his hands in the air, calling out "¡Hola!"
The Peruvian-American boy was saying hi to family friends he saw inside the restaurant. Everyone seems to know everyone else at Pollos a la Brasa, which is hidden away in the nondescript mini-mall next to Blockbuster on the north side of Colorado. It's a tiny, tight little world of Peruvian-American immigrants.
The boy and his family came over to their friends and told them all about other mutual friends or family they had just visited in the hospital: someone had just had a baby. The boy's father pulled out a Blackberry and showed a picture of the baby. The father of the other family asked, "¿Es un chico?" The kids cried out "¡Que lindo!" and "How cute!", slipping back and forth between English and Spanish. The boy used his sister's arm to show how big the baby was, demonstrating with his hands and saying "Así."
Pollos a la Brasa doesn't look like much inside (standard-issue molded yellow bench-table sets like Zankou) -- until it's filled with Peruvian families looking for a taste and feel of home, everyone greeting each other.
Saltado de Pollo
And what are they eating? Almost everyone was having papas, in one form or another. (The west coast of South America is the original source of all the earth's potatoes. Peru currently has several thousand varieties of potatoes.) Peruvians appear to be really into carbs.
The most famous dish here is apparently the Saltado de Pollo. (Don't be mislead by the comments on Yelp that suggest that "saltado" has anything to do with salty. "Saltado" is the past participle of "saltar," meaning to jump, or skip. I'm not sure what "saltado" has to do with this dish, but it's not the word for "salty." That word is "salado.")
1/2 Chicken with rice and beans
Saltado de Pollo is a strange dish. Sauteed pieces of chicken, with onions and tomatoes, and a soy-sauce-based sauce, covered with slightly soggy sliced potatoes that tasted a little like french fries -- though less crispy. It sounds weird, but tastes great. I do wish the dish had been a bit spicier, but I'm always saying that. (The waitress accommodated my requests for something a bit more picante by bringing me a bunch of sliced jalapeños.) The dish tastes vaguely like Chinese food -- if Chinese food came covered in slightly soggy french fries. Again, weird, but good.
Gigantic Peruvian corn
On my recent visits, I also had the rotisserie chicken, which was fantastically tender and moist, served with a big portion of white rice and some tasty beans. (Chicken is the specialty here, as the name suggests. "Brasa" means something like barbecued, rotisserie, spit-roasted, etc.) The chicken is complemented by aji sauces, red and green. The green aji tastes a bit like some kind of Chinese mustard; the red is a bit spicier. Both are lovely. The chicken here compares favorably to the famous chicken at nearby Zankou. It's a bit juicier here, whereas Zankou's chicken has slightly crispier skin, and drier meat.
I also had the giant Peruvian corn, which was, honestly, too gigantic for me to finish. Each kernel on the cob was about the size of my thumb. It was too awesome-looking not to try. The kernels were so big that you have to eat them individually. Weirdly enough, the corn tasted a bit like potato.
I've also had the seafood ceviche here, which is tasty and refreshing -- though I am admittedly not a huge ceviche fan.
Inca Kola, the Golden Cola
It's expected that you'll want to wash this all down with an Inca Kola, which touts itself as "The Golden kola". This stuff doesn't really taste like cola as we are used to it. There's something slightly fruitier about it, but in a very subdued, syrupy way. It's a little like a very light cough syrup. It's tasty enough, but most American palettes would probably be happier with the imported Coca Cola (made with cane sugar, not corn), available in the restaurant's fridge.
None of this is terribly expensive (or incredibly cheap). Expect to spend about $25 for dinner for two. Lunch specials are great here, at $5.95
On my last visit at dinnertime, the dining room was full of families out together for dinner. Parents speaking to their kids in Spanish, kids answering back in English, occasionally in Spanish, at the prodding of their parents. The TV on top of the soda fridge was showing Univision's nightly news broadcast with Jorge Ramos -- who, if you have not seen him deliver a newscast, just exudes this otherworldly calm and competence.
Jorge Ramos on Univision
The broadcast was doing what appears to be a nightly survey of the Spanish-speaking world, steadily bouncing across a giant map of South America, from country to country. Ramos finished the update on Colombia as the image zoomed up away from Colombia and then zoomed south, and settled in on Peru. Ramos gave a short report on the trial of former President Alberto Fujimori. A young mother in the restaurant turned to her two children and pointed up at the television. "¡Mira! ¡Mira!" she told them. "Eso es Peru." Her kids looked up at the TV and watched the disgraced former prime minister standing in court, as they picked up more forkfuls of Pollo de Saltado.
Peru's very far away for those kids. Pollos a la Brasa won't take them there, but it's probably as close as one can get in Eagle Rock.