Aji Peruvian is one of my top picks for Dine LBC,
happening right now until Sunday May 1st, 2016.
I visit this lovely restaurant several weeks ago and fall completely in love with it, as well as its owner, Rosita Wang. Maybe it is because her story resonates a little with mine, being Chinese living in a foreign land. Maybe it is her love and passion for good food which mirror mine. Or maybe, it is because we are both moms with a son who loves to eat and appreciates good food. Regardless of the reason, I feel an immediate connection with Rosita, her warm demeanor radiating like we’ve been wrapped with a warm blanket on a cold night.
The menu is filled with Peruvian favorites. I see so many things I want to try, but know I have to come back for what we don’t get to on another trip. I have many questions, and each is answered with “yes we make that” which is all I need to hear.
We munch on a complimentary bowl of chips with aji amarillo sauce while we peruse the menu — a lovely alternative to the ubiquitous cancha (corn nuts) at every other restaurant.
A good example of something you should try is Chicha Morada ($3.50) a purple corn beverage with pineapple, cinnamon and cloves. The one here is slightly sweet, making it absolutely refreshing, leaving that distinct aroma lingering on the palate. It is non-alcoholic, and if you’ve never had it before, ORDER IT because Rosita makes it in-house and it is one of the best I’ve tasted.
There are many things I want to try, and usually, ceviche, is my go-to dish when gauging a Peruvian restaurant. Ceviche Mercado ($15) is a cornucopia of sea bass, octopus, shrimp, and onions swimming in leche de tigre. On top, several rings of fried calamari garnish the dish, as well as chunks of fried yuca. I take a taste and the flavors are spot on. The acid is perfect, enough for that mouth-puckering sensation, but not overly so that I am not able to taste the other components, such as the rocoto, a vital ingredient in Peruvian cooking (a pepper also known as manzano in Mexican cuisine). The cancha adds a great crunch to the mix. I love it so much we drink all the liquid from the bowl.
Another item I am eager to try is causa. There are a few to choose from, but Causa Pulpo al Olivo ($12) catches our eye. We love octopus and this is beautifully presented with individual portions of chilled potato mash, topped with diced octopus, olive aioli, and avocado. The potato is nicely seasoned and the texture from the octopus mixture melds in perfect harmony with its softness. I like the hints of olives in the dish, which also add another element of saltiness from the brine.
I will never go to a Peruvian restaurant and not order Corazon Anticuchos ($9) if I see it on the menu. The beef heart here is unlike ones I’ve tried at other places. While the majority are offered dry on a skewer and grilled, these are presented on the plate coated with aji panca, — a dried chile with little to no heat – and served with delicious grilled potatoes, and a house-made aji (chile) sauce.
There are many entrées to choose from and I am not able to make up my mind. After consulting with Rosita, we choose Seco de Res ($19), a cilantro and beer braised beef short ribs, dotted with peas, Peruvian beans, and a scoop of steamed rice. The meat is tender and possesses the fragrance of cilantro throughout. It is hearty, rich and divine.
With the main courses, Rosita brings us an array of house-made sauces to try. There is rocoto, aji amarillo, and huacatay, (Southern Cone Marigold, or simply known as Peruvian black mint). They are all distinctively different, although the first two definitely pack a punch.
I decide to try Rosita’s Aji de Gallina ($16) after much deliberation because it is a dish I generally dislike. Comprising shredded chicken breast smothered in a creamy aji amarillo sauce with walnuts, my experience with aji de gallina has always been a sauce that’s on the sweet side, something that is highly UNappealing to me. Rosita’s dish is comforting, lusciously creamy with absolutely no sweetness to it. Honestly, I must have been eating poorly prepared aji de gallina all these years. I don’t think I will ever look at this dish in the same way again.
When ending a Peruvian meal, I often opt for alfajores – a traditional Peruvian cookie – because I’m usually way too stuffed. Of course, my son wants Flan ($8), a smooth egg custard with citrus hints from the orange marmalade, topped with caramel sauce.
I want Picarones ($8), is Peruvian yam and squash doughnuts in chancaca syrup. I try these in Hong Kong last year and fall in love with their light, airy texture. The picarones here are fantastic. Chancaca, or — better known here as piloncillo — is not overly sweet on the palate and a perfect accompaniment to the picarones.
Our meal at Aji Peruvian is outstanding to say the least. From the cozy atmosphere, to the food we eat, the entire experience is one of warmth and family. You truly feel like you’re eating in Rosita’s home. I cannot wait to bring some friends back and indulge in some of the best Peruvian cuisine you’ll find in southern California.
2308 E 4th St
Long Beach, CA 90814