Posts Tagged ‘Alpaca’

Inka Grill (Cusco, Peru)

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 by virginia

We arrived in Cusco relatively late in the evening, and although they gave us a snack on the train, we found most of it to be pretty bad so we decided to go out for a late dinner when we got into the city. We asked the front desk at our hotel for some restaurant recommendations, specifically saying that we were in the mood for some Peruvian style chicken. One of the restaurants they sent us to was the Inka Grill, which was right on the main square. As soon as we saw it, we knew they didn’t serve the Peruvian chicken we were looking for, but it was late and the menu looked ok so we decided to go in anyway.

The restaurant was definitely more upscale than what we were looking for, though the decor was pretty nice. It wasn’t crowded because of the late dinner hour so it was pretty quiet, giving us the opportunity relax and chat. We started with a nice bottle of red wine and they brought us some homemade potato chips to start. The chips were made from yellow starchy potatoes, and even though they were fresh, they weren’t nearly as tasty as the chips we had at the Lobby Bar at Tambo del Inka. The chips came with a green sauce on the side for dipping, which I thought would be a garlicky ajo sauce, but turned out to a mint sauce made from my dreaded Andean mint. Yikes! I still don’t know what it is about Andean mint, but I had to force myself to swallow that bite rather than spit it out. Josh liked it though.

Yellow potato chips

We weren’t starving at this point so we couldn’t stomach the idea of an elaborate dinner. There was a small section of the menu that featured sampler platters, which we thought would be the perfect way to try different things without having to order tons of food. The samplers were portioned for two people so we picked out the one that seemed to be the most Peruvian, the Novo Andean Sampler, figuring that would be enough food to make up a light meal. We turned out to be right, as the platter was pretty huge.

Novo Andean sampler platter

The platter came with stuffed chili peppers, kiwicha chicken fingers, alpaca brochettes, and quinoa croquettes. The chili peppers were stuffed with meat and weren’t spicy. They were smothered in a gooey, stringy cheese that was similar to mozzarella. I was a bit nervous when I saw all the cheese, since I’m usually not a fan, but when it was melted over the chili pepper it worked well and added a nice richness and saltiness.

Stuffed chili peppers smothered in cheese

The kiwicha chicken fingers were strips of chicken coated in kiwicha, or amaranth seeds. The seeds have a similar flavor and texture to sesame seeds and provided a good crunch. The chicken strips were kind of thin so they were a little dry but we remedied that by dipping them into the accompanying sauces.

Kiwicha chicken fingers

This wasn’t the first time that we had eaten alpaca on our trip, and this version was pretty good. We knew from experience that alpaca can get dry very easily, but these brochettes were well seasoned and perfectly cooked so that they were still tender and juicy. The meat also tasted a bit beefier than usual, which was a pleasant surprise, as we had previously found alpaca to be more similar to veal or pork. This was one of our favorite components of the platter.

Alpaca brochettes

The quinoa croquettes were another of our favorites. They were nicely fried to a golden brown crisp on the outside and warm and creamy on the inside. It tasted like the quinoa had been mixed with cheese, which made it extremely rich and decadent. Quinoa normally has a lovely texture that rolls along on your tongue, and in this creamy format it was similar to cheese grits – we enjoyed it immensely.

Quinoa croquettes

Overall we liked the atmosphere of the Inka Grill, but we probably didn’t taste enough of their food to know whether or not it’s a good place to have dinner. The sampler platter was generously portioned but the chicken fingers were just ok, and the croquettes were good because they were fried well. The brochettes were pretty impressive though, so I guess my recommendation would be to stick with the “grill” part of the Inka Grill. The menu was pretty eclectic, with items like pizza and pasta, french onion soup, and oriental chicken salad. I guess it caters to every taste, but we tried to stick with choosing a platter that seemed the most Peruvian to us, or at least used Peruvian ingredients. I remember thinking that the restaurant was pretty pricey though, we didn’t look too in depth at the menu since we weren’t so hungry at the time.  Location might have been a factor, as it’s right on the Plaza de Armas, but we kind of got the feeling that this place caters mostly to tourists. It had an upscale vibe to it and was a nice place for a drink and a snack, but I think we had better and cheaper meals elsewhere.

Inka Grill
Portal de Panes 115 Plaza de Armas
Cusco, Peru

Alma Cocina Viva (Puno, Peru)

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010 by virginia

Because our hotel, the Casa Andina Private Collection, was so far out of the main area in Puno, we ended up eating dinner at the hotel restaurant, Alma, both nights we stayed there. We stayed at many different Casa Andina PCs during our time in Peru and the hotel restaurant was always named Alma but we didn’t know how similar the menu was from place to place. Based on the menus on their website, it looks like each restaurant serves local specialties as well as some standard Peruvian dishes that overlap at each location.

Our meal on both nights started off with a basket of bread. There were some soft dinner rolls as well as seeded breadsticks. The rolls were a bit stale but tasted good when dipped into a garlicky spread topped with sweet balsamic vinegar.

Dinner rolls and breadsticks

Garlic spread with balsamic vinegar

On the first night, neither of us were really hungry so we just ordered entrees and no appetizers. We chose a dish that was described as being a traditional Puno dish, called saqta de gallina. Gallina is hen, but we didn’t know what saqta meant. When the dish arrived and I saw it was in a yellow sauce, I was terrified that it would be the ocopa sauce that I disliked so much. My fears intensified when I saw a bright green herb sprinkled on top of the dish, which I thought would be the dreaded Andean mint. Fortunately, it wasn’t. The yellow sauce had a mild sweet flavor and reminded me of korma sauce, which I love. The pieces of chicken were tender, and it was mixed with onions and potatoes. There was Andean cheese on top of the dish but they were easily moved aside. Josh and I both ended up really enjoying the dish, and we were pleasantly surprised.

Saqta de gallina - a traditional Puno dish

Our other entree was lomo saltado, a standard Peruvian dish. It’s stir fried beef with onions, tomatoes, and peppers, served with french fries and rice. The beef was a little salty but it was tender and flavorful. The french fries were pretty good as well, I just wish they had given us more because there were only about a dozen fries altogether. I do love my french fries!

Lomo saltado

On our second night eating at Alma, Josh got a yellow potato cream soup to start. Peruvian potatoes are a bit more starchy than the ones we’re used to, but the soup was rich and creamy with lots of potato flavor. There was a chili oil on top but it wasn’t spicy, and once it was stirred into the soup we didn’t notice it at all.

Yellow potato cream soup

For my entree, I selected the alpaca steak frites because I loved the alpaca we had at Zig Zag, and I love french fries, of course. Unfortunately, the menu did not say that the alpaca would be crusted in cumin seeds. The pieces of meat were absolutely covered, and while I like the flavor of cumin, crunching into whole seeds with every bite was really not pleasant. I tried to scrape of the seeds as best as I could but it kind of ruined the dish for me. The alpaca was also a bit tough and chewy, and I was disappointed with the dish overall. To add insult to injury, the portion of fries was once again pretty paltry.

Alpaca steak frites

Josh ordered a dish that was recommended, which was glazed kingfish in a sesame honey sauce served with mashed potatoes and garlic tempura vegetables. The kingfish came from the lake, which meant that it was fresh. However, I took one bite and almost spit it out. The fish had been crusted in sesame seeds, which I found overpoweringly bitter, and the honey sauce was so cloyingly sweet. I wanted to try another bite, thinking that maybe I just got a bad piece, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. The first bite had taken me a lot of willpower to swallow and not throw up. It was such a strong reaction that even Josh was a little shocked. Josh liked the dish though, so I guess our palates just reacted very differently to the flavors.

Glazed kingfish in a sesame honey sauce

Overall I wasn’t so thrilled with the food at Alma, but it was certainly convenient for us since it was right in the hotel. I did like the saqta de gallina dish from the first night, and the lomo saltado was decent, but nothing was really super impressive. Prices were on the higher side for Peru, though not very expensive by NYC standards. Entrees mostly ranged from 30-40 soles, or about US$11-14. Service was fine, and they actually brought a phone to us one night when our tour guide was trying to reach us. Still, I kind of regret not eating in the city, especially since we generally don’t like to repeat restaurants when we’re away. Oh well. While I can’t really recommend Alma unless you’re in a bind, I do think that Casa Andina PC is a great hotel chain.

Alma Cocina Viva
Av.Sesqui Centenario 1970
Puno, Peru

Zig Zag (Arequipa, Peru)

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010 by virginia

After our early morning start to see the condors at Colca Canyon, we were pretty tired by the time we got back to Arequipa, a four hour drive away. Our experience with altitude had left us feeling a bit sluggish and took away our appetites so I couldn’t stomach the thought of eating anything complicated. While the Peruvian food we had eaten so far was tasty, some of it was really rich, and there were a lot of spices and herbs mixed into the sauces. I was in the mood for something plain and simple, and Zig Zag fit the bill.

One of the couples in our Colca Canyon tour group had eaten there before and recommended it to us. They said that we would probably need reservations but we decided to chance it, arriving at the restaurant at an early hour for dinner. The restaurant was empty but every table had a little “Reserved” sign on it. Uh oh. However, because we were there so early, they told us they could accommodate us if we finished before a certain time, when the reservations were to be honored. Since that gave us an hour and a half to eat, we had no issues. We settled down to eat and they brought us a small dish of cheese and olives to start. The cheese was crumbly and salty, like feta.

Cheese and olives

The menu featured all different kind of meats, most of which were sold by the gram and simply prepared. We picked out three dishes to share, including an appetizer of three different tartares – trout, tuna, and salmon. All three with simply prepared with a little bit of olive and citrus. Each was topped with a sundried tomato that was intensely flavorful. The plate was garnished with cornichon, hearts of palm, capers, peppers, and a tiny quail egg. The fish was super fresh, and nicely cut into small cubes. The portions of each tartare were ample, and we enjoyed every bite.

Trout, tuna, and salmon tartare

While we were eating our tartares, they also brought us some small rolls of bread with herbed butter. The bread was soft and chewy and the butter was flavorful. They were fine to nibble on.

Roll with herbed butter

For the main part of our meal, they brought us paper bibs to wear. Yes, bibs. Our waitress told us they were “necessary”, and when our food came, we saw why. We had ordered a grilled platter that came with four different kinds of meat. The meat was served on hot volcanic stones and were sizzling hot. The juice from the meat was literally sputtering when the platter arrived, so the bibs protected our clothes. In reality, we probably didn’t need bibs but it was all in good fun. We found them amusing and wore them proudly. What astonished me most, however, was the amount of food we were brought.

When we ordered the assorted meat platter (which I actually thought came from the appetizer section), we told the waitress we would be sharing it. When the platter came, there were actually two sets of stone, each with its own set of four meats. It also came with a huge bowl of french fries that could have easily fed four people. I couldn’t believe this was one order, and I worried that the waitress had misunderstood us and had placed two orders instead. Turns out that wasn’t the case. It really was an order for one, and boy, that was a lot of food. The meats were marked with toothpicks so we could identify what each one was, and it came with ostrich, alpaca, beef, and lamb.

Huge platter of meat - ostrich, alpaca, beef, lamb

The meats were already cooked to perfection so we quickly removed them from the stones to prevent them from overcooking. They were very simply prepared, just a little seasoning and grilled on the stones. After all the rich foods we had eaten on our trip, it was a welcomed change. The alpaca was tender and tasted similar to veal or pork. The beef had actual beef flavor, and the lamb was nicely gamey. The only meat we didn’t like was the ostrich, which was tough and bland. We dipped the meats into the various bowls of sauce that included an ajo sauce (garlicky), tartar sauce, herbed butter sauce, and a spicy rocoto (pepper) sauce.

The fries that came with the meats were heavenly. They were super crispy on the outside, potato-y on the inside, and not greasy at all. They were seasoned with salt and that was it. I ate handfuls, even without ketchup, and enjoyed every one of them. I am an avid french fry eater and even I couldn’t get through all of it. We left half the bowl behind, and let me tell you, I was really tempted to ask them to pack it up for us.

Awesome french fries

We had been worried that the meats wouldn’t be enough food so we got a small order of camarones, or crayfish, which are an Arequipan specialty. The camarones also came sizzling hot on a volcanic stone. We were too busy eating all the meat first, however, so they did get a bit overcooked sitting on the hot stone. They were still really tasty though, fresh and flavorful.

Camarones on the hot volcanic stone

The camarones came with a choice of a side dish so we opted for fried yuca. They turned out to be breaded yuca croquettes, with a crisp exterior and creamy interior. They were really good but a little starchy, and we were beyond full at this point.

Fried yuca

The veggie action in our meal came from a side dish of ratatouille. To be perfectly honest, we really didn’t eat it because we were too busy stuffing our faces full of meat and carbs.


Josh and I had walked into the restaurant not feeling so hungry, and the amount of food we ended up ordering (by accident) was pretty hilarious. Our table was absolutely filled, and despite not having an appetite to begin with, we made a pretty good dent into everything.

So much food!

Overall we both absolutely loved Zig Zag. It was one of the best meals we had in all of Peru, even though it was one of simplest meals we had. The meats and camarones were all top notch and the presentation was pretty neat. The fried sides were all well prepared, and I couldn’t stop eating the french fries even after I was stuffed. The restaurant was empty when we arrived but by the time we left, it was packed and there was a line at the door. The vibe was upbeat but not stuffy, and it’s someplace that I wouldn’t have minded hanging out at the bar. Service was great and the prices were actually really reasonable. For all of our food, which included the trio of tartares, the assortment of meats, the camarones, all sides, plus a few Cusquena beers, the total was S/182 after tax and tip. That’s about US$67, which would be an absolute steal here in NYC. If you find yourself in Arequipa, run, don’t walk to Zig Zag! Reservations are definitely recommended.

Zig Zag Restaurant
Zela 210 – Cercado
Arequipa, Peru

El Balcon de Don Zacarias Restaurant – Chivay, Peru

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010 by virginia

During our drive from Arequipa to the Colca Valley, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant called El Balcon de Don Zacarias in the town of Chivay. Lunch was included as part of our tour package but that wasn’t the case for everyone in our group, and Josh and I were pretty disappointed not to be able to explore restaurants in the town by ourselves. In our experience, tour package restaurants for the most part have served us pretty lousy, bland food that is designed for tourists. See most of my China posts for reference.

Nevertheless, since we had apparently already paid for lunch as part of our package, we grudgingly trudged up the stairs and into the restaurant. We were further disappointed to see that it was a buffet, and the few patrons in the restaurant were all clearly tourists. Josh and I took a quick stroll around the buffet to see what the offerings were, and I was pleased to see that the food did look pretty interesting, as we didn’t recognize any dishes. Everything looked homemade and kind of rustic, no fussy presentations or decorations in sight, so I was hoping that we would be eating authentic Peruvian dishes, not a watered down version of Peruvian food for tourists. With everything arranged in pyrex dishes on a long table, it looked sort of like a potluck, rather than a restaurant buffet.

Some dishes on the buffet table

Josh and I both started out with some soup – squash for him and chicken soup for me. The squash soup wasn’t like the pureed butternut variety we typically eat here. Instead there were cubes of different kinds of squash mixed in a creamy yellow soup that was surprisingly light and not too rich. The chicken soup I had was plain but soothing, with a clean chicken flavor. There were thin strands of noodles inside but they were long and kind of hard to spoon up so I mostly just drank the broth.

Squash soup

Chicken soup

I started out with a “feeler” plate, taking a little bit of most things so that I could try as much as possible. Half of the buffet contained raw salad items, however, which I avoided because I wasn’t sure how they washed their vegetables. I did eat things that were peeled though, like beets and tomatoes without skin. Maybe I’m just being paranoid but even though we’re adventurous eaters, we do take some precautions to try and avoid getting sick.

Beets, salsa, beef, bread, pork, quinoa, llama, alpaca, chicken, vegetable fritters, french fries in the middle

The meats were all in stew-like sauces, so it was hard to distinguish between them. It was the first time that we tried llama and alpaca though. The llama was very strange, since they have to dry the meat before cooking it. The result was very tough and gristly, almost like eating cartilage. Flavor-wise, however, it was fantastically gamey. I loved the taste but couldn’t get past the texture. The alpaca was inoffensive, with a texture similar to veal or pork, and tasted mostly like the sauce it was cooked in. The beets were fabulous, just plain roasted but super sweet and intensely “beety” in flavor. I took seconds of that, as well as the vegetable fritters which were a mix of corn and squash and were also sweet and fresh-tasting.

For dessert, there was fruit in a sweet, white syrup, a flan-like custard, and a passion fruit flavored pudding. Nothing super exciting, but not bad either.

Papaya and pineapple in syrup, flan, passion fruit pudding

The food at Zacarias really wasn’t upscale or gourmet, but I actually liked it much more than I thought I would. Yes, I’m sure it’s still designed for tourists, but the food seemed genuine and there weren’t any cop-out dishes (ie., plain chicken or beef, American food, etc.). The only dish we knew was french fries, but they were made from flavorful, starchy Peruvian potatoes, not the McDonalds variety. I don’t know if you need to be part of a tour group to eat at this restaurant or if you can just walk in, but if you find yourself in Chivay for whatever reason, it’s worth checking out. The restaurant and the facilities are clean, and the buffet was a nice way to try lots of different dishes. I still like to think they were authentic homestyle Peruvian dishes, though I don’t know the names and won’t be able to order them elsewhere. Regardless, the food was tasty and we left with our bellies very full.

El Balcon de Don Zacarias Restaurant
Av. 22 De Agosto, Valle Del Colca
Chivay, Peru