mercredi, avril 25, 2007

El Picaflor: Would my Mom like it?

So, DJ and I were overdue to go out for dinner, especially since DJ had been at an ethnomusicology conference, and he needed to update me on all the gossip (yes, even we have gossip). There is this Peruvian restaurant, El Picaflor, that I have been meaning to try pretty much since I got here. You see, I have variable success with Peruvian restaurants. There was a place in Toronto, El Bodegón, which always served up delicious and unpretentious Peruvian comfort food. When I moved to Chicago, I tried the better-known Peruvian place, Rinconcito Sudamericano, but the food was "meh" and they were trying far too hard to be "fancy;" the result was that they had a menu that consisted of almost exclusively expensive and "high-class" Peruvian cuisine, but very little of the comforting stuff like yucca frita or carapulcra. I later found a place in Chicago on the extreme North side, called Ay! Ay! Picante (really, that's its name), that served a wider (and more representative) spectrum of Peruvian cuisine, although the prices were a bit high.

So it was with trepidation that I took DJ out to El Picaflor. We walked in and, after waiting for a long while as the waitress didn't see us from her station, we walked to the back and asked to be seated. We got an intimate (read: small) table near the kitchen and started looking at the menus. They had a great "Piqueo" ("nibble") menu for two people at 39€ each (alas, a reasonable price in Paris), which included an apéritif of pisco sour and empanaditas (little empanadas), an appetizer platter with 5 elements, a main dish with 3 elements, a digéstif of passionfruit sorbet covered in pisco, a dessert dish with 4 elements, and coffee or maté de coca (I don't think there were real coca leaves, though...). So we ordered that, obviously.

When I tried to order drinks, I asked if they had chicha morada; the server said "No." Uh oh. My experience has been that any Peruvian establishment that considers itself above serving chicha morada is also going to be insufferably fussy. In a way, it was true: this restaurant clearly wanted their French customers to take their food seriously. But the menu we were having included a lot of rustic dishes, so I wasn't too worried. I ordered a half-litre of the Peruvian wine (Tacama) and we awaited our food.

The apéritif of pisco sour was very well done; the taste of the pisco wasn't overpowering, and the crown of fluffed egg-whites were not too stiff or too soft. The empanaditas had wondrously light and fluffy dough--nothing like the bread-y dough you usually get--but the meat filling could've used a bit more onion to keep the beef moist.

The entrée included a few sticks of fried yucca (manioc root), and petri-dish-sized serving of salsa huancaína, some causa limeña, some guacamole and tortilla chips, and ceviche de pescado. The yucca sticks were cut a bit too thin, which meant that by the time the outside was fried golden brown, the centers were no longer flaky and moist. Despite the loss of mouthfeel, the taste was there and it the salsa huancaína that went with it was great. Mind you--and this is true of the entire meal--spicyness levels were clearly lowered for French palates. Nothing we ate tonight would qualify as "spicy" to a chile-eating American. Anyway, the causa was lovely if a bit too mild (it needed more lemon juice, in my opinion), and the guacamole may have been unexceptional in a North American context, but was simply the best guacamole I've had in Europe. The ceviche, however, was GREAT. The fish (which I think was sole or tilapia) was sliced thinly and left to quickly pickle in a batch of lemon juice, garlic, ginger and various other spices. I missed the presence of cilantro in the mix, but otherwise the texture and flavour were great.

The main dish included servings of ají de gallina, roasted pork with quinoa, and "ceviche de pato" (which wasn't really ceviche, in my opinion). The ají de gallina itself was probably the weakest dish on the menu; it certainly wasn't much like my recipe or my mom's. A quick check of their menu (available online) explains why: their ají de gallina involves only white meat chicken and a slightly spicy cheese sauce. My ají de gallina (which I consider to the platonic ideal) involves crushed walnuts, lots of hot peppers and tumeric, a whole hen (not a chicken...too delicate), and is thickened with bread and milk. Anyway, it was OK but not amazing. The pork was delicious, and the bed of quinoa it came on was exquisite (but I tend to always be delighted by the taste of quinoa). The "ceviche de pato" was actually somewhere between a lomo saltado preparation and an anticuchos preparation. Like lomo saltado (the Peruvian equivalent of steak frites), the duck breast was sliced and cooked with onions in a savoury sauce. Like anticuchos, the the meat seemed to have been marinated in something acidic and smoky, with a heavy dose of coriander. This last duck-saltado-anticuchos was really, really tasty. Possibly my favourite part of the meal.

The digestif of passionfruit sorbet covered in pisco came and went (and I managed to spill a fair bit of it on myself). The dessert plate came with four items: some quinoa con leche (rice pudding, but with quinoa) covered in a mousse of lúcuma, a bit of mango ice cream, some rice pudding, and alfajores. The quinoa with lúcuma was a favourite for both of us; it was creamy and thick but not too sweet and the lúcuma wasn't too strong (it's a fruit that not everyone enjoys). The mango ice cream was mango ice cream (perhaps it was homemade? I dunno, but it wasn't any better than what Berthillon can do). On the other hand, I really enjoyed the alfajor cookie; my only complaint was that they made it way too small. It was teardrop-shaped and about the size of my thumb, rather than thick, round, the size of a jam jar lid, and STUFFED with manjar blanco. The rice pudding was quite nice, but didn't have the sharp note of cinnamon and nutmeg that I was used to in my mom's version.

In the end, was this as good as mom's cooking? I've discovered that that question is couter-productive. Nothing will ever be as good as mom's cooking. However, would my mom approve? Yes, although she might have a word with the cook about the ají de gallina.

After dinner, DJ and I wandered off in search of a drink, and found a little bar called L'Envoi Québécois. As you can imagine, it's a québécois bar, which had the distinct benefit of serving almost the entire line of Unibroue beers. The interior of the bar was an amusing performance of ex-pat nostalgia and separatist sentiment. There was a huge québécois flag hanging on the ceiling, but there were no Canadian flags or even maple leafs anywhere to be seen. One wall had a large mural with a quintessential scene from Montréal, including the split-level houses with the stairs at the front, the dépanneur selling beer, and a young guy carrying a 2-4 of beer. More amusingly, DJ and I noticed that the bar flew the flags of other separatist groups, including Corsica and Brittany. Oddly enough, we couldn't find the Basque flag or the Texan flag. We'll have to mention this to the owner next time we go there.

As we were drinking our beers, we noticed that the owner/bartender had a very controlled accent. You could perhaps guess that he was québécois if you knew to listen for it, but it was otherwise just a light brogue that hinted generally at "not from Paris." However, as we were leaving the bar and making our goodbyes, the owner said, "Bonne fin de soirée!" -- and out came all the nasalization, dipthonging and other phonetic magic that makes Quebec French so québécois.

4 commentaires:

::Alejandro:: a dit…

Luís, nothing is ever as good as Mom's cooking...

LMGM a dit…

Too true. The food was on the whole very good at El Picaflor, and I'm definitely recommending it as the best place for Peruvian in Paris. Someone very carefully re-calibrated Peruvian food for French palates.

::Alejandro:: a dit…

Due to your recommendation, I will link their website on my Peru Food blog...


LMGM a dit…

Great! I wish I had a link for El Bodegón in Toronto, but they don't have their own website. ¡Que lástima!