This story is running simultaneously in the Orange County Register
I waited a while to try out Renzo’s A Taste Of Peru even though I’d heard from various friends that a new Peruvian place had opened up in Irvine months ago. I usually don’t like to be the first in line when restaurants open because I think it is unfair to judge them during their first weeks when things can go wrong and everyone is still learning to deal with the flow of traffic so to speak. I like them to have some time to work out their kinks first and that way, there isn’t any excuses from either side.
When I finally visited Renzo’s for the first time I found Mr Renzo Macchiavello himself behind the counter with a huge smile on his face welcoming me into his place. My friend who came along has been a customer here since it opened so he was very familiar with the menu and was excited for me to finally try. I, on the other hand, have always loved Peruvian food due to how overwhelmingly familiar its flavors are to me — there is a huge Chinese population in Peru and a lot of the food flavors are imported from the various ethnic backgrounds including Chinese and Japanese — and I was eager to see how this place compared with the various Peruvian places in the area.
Although Renzo did not have my favorite Peruvian items on the menu, namely lomo saltado and parihuela, he did have ceviche and various arroz (rice) dishes. My friend was nice enough to allow me to pick whatever I’d like for our meal , so I selected ceviche mariscos (seafood salad), arroz con mariscos (seafood rice) and the special of the day secco de carne (beef stew).
Ceviche was nice and tart and the selection of seafood: calamari, shrimp, scallops, were all fresh. The red onions, fresh corn and sweet potato wedge are all regular items in all the ceviches I’ve had around Orange County, the only thing Renzo doesn’t include are corn nuts. However, if you so wish to have some in your salad, feel free to help yourself to them at the counter near the entry-way because they are there to for customers to snack on while they wait. If you like your ceviche spicier, by all means, let them know because the kitchen will dress it to your specifications.
Secco de carne was absolutely delicious! The rich, dark stew had layers of flavor and was perfect with the fluffy white rice it was served with. In fact, I wanted more of the sauce towards the end so I could finish off the remaining rice. All specials come with a side salad topped with a dressing similar to the green aji sauce but with a little more tang to it.
After the beef stew, arroz con mariscos was a little bland in comparison, but still reasonable. Aji sauce is available and you can help yourself to it. I call this the ‘miracle green sauce’ because a few squeezes from the bottle will instantaneously kick the flavor-aspect up several notches. It just makes EVERYTHING taste better, and that, is definitely a miraculous feat!
I had asked Renzo about parihuela on my first viit and on my second visit a week later, he informed me he had made parihuela and asked if I’d like to try some. So on top of the parihuela, my friend and I ordered the special of the day, braised lamb shank.
After two visits I’d have to say, definitely order whatever specials Renzo has for the day because those have been winners. The lamb shank was a whole shank braised in a blend of spices, meat is fork tender and oh so addictive. I was blown away at how the sauce tantalized my tastebuds and how I couldn’t stop eating it, but more than anything, I couldn’t believe that this dish was under $10. The portion was generous and filling, but on top of that, you can taste the love put into it. Again, I needed more sauce to soak up the rice it came with.
Parihuela was good, but not what I was accustomed to. The parihuela I’m accustomed to is soupier in consistency while the one here was more ‘stewy’. The thicker liquid worked well though because when paired with the steamed rice, the sauce actually clings instead of just swishing off the spoon.
Although Renzo’s serves up Peruvian food, they do a huge lunch time sandwich business and although they are really a great lunch spot, I could eat this stuff for dinner. At the moment, the restaurant is open for lunch from Mondays to Fridays 10am to 4pm but I’m sure with some arm twisting and gentle coaxing, things might change in the future.
Renzo’s A Taste of Peru, 2222 Michelson Drive, Ste 200, Irvine, CA 92612. Tel: 949-955-9053
*** Photography by Mahesh ***