“How are you doing?” a friend asks, knowing somehow what my answer would be.
“I’m okay,” I say, though a little blandly, a little tiredly. The household help is on vacation. Deadlines galore have been my bugbear at the office for weeks now. Mother had a case of stomach flu last week; we’ve been several people short at the office for one reason or another. The person whom I consider best friend / confidante / brother in arms / creative sounding board (among other things) is up and away on a 44-city tour that will take him all over the Philippines for the next four months. I’m tired and I look puffy ’round the eyes; I am not really okay, but I try to be. I do my chores; I write ads and releases at the office; I write poetry in the form of Instagram captions.
But, just to keep myself from going bonkers from worrying, I do mad things – new things – these days. My Monday nights will be quiet for now till early December, so I’ll spend my Monday evenings concocting new creations to tuck into my lunchbox for the next day. I’ll scope out new finds at my local supermarket and tiangge; I do need new jelly-flats for the flood season, after all. I’ve chopped off half my hair. And, of course, I’ve been trying out new restaurants. On top of the list: Cocina Peruvia.
Cocina Peruvia is a new restaurant where the Upper West branch of Blenz Coffee used to be: right smack between ToastBox and a BPI Family Savings Bank branch. It’s a warm-coloured little spot and the interiors are minimalist / modern with ceramic plates on the walls, little pieces of sculpture, silhouettes of the famed Nazca Lines on a couple of pillars, and travel posters. In a slightly hipster-ish move, specialties are written up on a chalkboard over the kitchen window and the menu is presented on clipboards.
But the menu offerings piqued my interest: a selection of ceviches, most of which are dressed with the classic South American citrus marinade called leche de tigre [tiger’s milk: fresh lemon or lime juice with chilies, salt, and pepper]. The salads were anything but ordinary; potato salad got turned on its head by being transformed into causa, a heady and chunky mix of spuds (Peru having been the place where said tuber was discovered), fresh avocado chunks, prawns, and hard-boiled eggs in a zingy dressing. There were even anticuchos de corazon – those spicy grilled cubes of beef heart typical of Peru, Argentina, and Bolivia – on the menu! I swear: I wanted to taste it all. Unfortunately, I only had an hour for lunch and decided to grab one of la cocina‘s lunch plates; may I just say I was not disappointed at all.
Lomo saltado is a dish that would be perfect for introducing most Filipinos to Peruvian food because it is both strikingly familiar and intriguingly different all at the same time. A classic example of chifa cooking (food inspired and influenced by the Chinese immigrants who flocked to Peru at the end of the 19th Century), a lomo saltado involves marinating beef in a mix of soy sauce, aji amarillo (those tangy, golden chilies with a citrusy flavour), cumin, and cilantro, then stir-frying it with red onions and fresh tomatoes. The resulting dish is served atop patatas / papas fritas (deep-fried potatoes / fries / chips) and rice. (Yes, you can get away with a double-carb meal. But, given how cold it gets in the mountains of Peru, can you really blame them for double-carbing?) If you’re a fan of either bistek (soy and kalamansi-marinated beef with sweet onions) or tapsilog (smoked beef with fried rice and an egg), this dish is for you.
You can get the lomo saltado as an a’la carte dish without the rice and the egg, but the lomo saltado rice plate (P 290.00) lunch special offers excellent value. The beef tenderloin is cooked to a proper medium: nice and brown on the outside and still slightly pink within, and so tender. The ferrous tang of the beef is complimented beautifully by the tangy yet earthy marinade it was soaked in and there are enough juices in the plate to mix into the rice and the runny-yolked egg to make a scrumptiously rich mess of the lot. (Your server will insist that you mix everything into the rice; take said server’s advice because it’s the course of delicious wisdom here.) The potatoes were good, but I wish they had been served beside the beef as opposed to being covered by it. I would have preferred crispier spuds to provide a textural contrast to all the other elements of the dish. Still, it was delicious enough for me to overlook this slight mistake.
I intend to haul a few adventurous friends along next time to grab a ceviche, a helping of anticuchos, and the arroz con mariscos (a Peruvian spin on paella) I spied at another table. Oh, and those alfajores…!
Cocina Peruvia: Ground Floor – Bonifacio One Technology Tower, 31st St., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
Incidentally… Since we’re on the subject of adventurous friends…
…catch Dragonfly Collector (Clem Castro aka Clementine from Orange & Lemons / The Camerawalls) as he takes his quirky, eclectic, thought-provoking music on the road on The World is Your Oyster: Philippine Tour. Four months, 44 cities, and a totally different way of presenting music to the people: a revolutionary idea that may very well change the music scene in this part of the world. The tour will mostly feature acoustic performances, though there will be full-band shows in specific destinations. Young folk musician Ian Penn opens all the shows for the tour.
Clem and Ian will be up north this week, by the way. They hit Tarlac tomorrow with a performance at the Chimichanga Mexican Bar and Grill in Tarlac City. They’ll be at Baguio’s 18 BC on Friday, 21st August. For more info on tour dates, check the picture above or, better yet, head over to the official website at http://dragonflycollector.com.