The little restaurant next to our favorite Thai place was new — and completely empty. That didn’t bode well. But peering in the window, we noticed something that did pique our interest: This is a Peruvian restaurant. Well, that was something different.
And when a friend told us he had a terrific experience there, we decided to give it a try. Now we’re planning to take our holiday visitors there, so they can have the fun of discovering what causa limeña, chicha morada, brasa chicken and alfajores are.
We started our Peruvian experience with a tamal ($4.99), a variation on the Mexican tamale that everyone knows. Rather than a log-shaped tamale wrapped in a corn husk, this was a flat, rectangular pocket of smooth, cornmeal dough that had been cooked in a banana leaf. It was beautifully displayed, sitting on part of the green leaf, with slices of red onion on top and a creamy, yellow sauce on the side. Inside, instead of a ground filling, was shredded chicken, and bits of olive, chopped egg and peanut. Nice start.
While we waited for our second appetizer, the waitresses brought us each samples of a specialty drink called chicha morada, which is a dark purple beverage, lightly sweet but also earthy, made from purple corn, apples, pineapple and cloves. It can be ordered by the glass or the pitcher. A spiked version is a popular adult beverage in Peru, we learned, but the chicha at Las Brasas is strictly family-friendly.
Our second appetizer, the causa limeña ($7.99), was a show-stopper. This was a molded, layered dish, consisting of a bottom layer of aji amarillo-flavored potatoes, chicken salad with homemade mayo, a layer of sliced avocado, another yellow potato layer with an artful drizzle of the same sauce served with the tamal across the top.
The sauce, we learned, is a Peruvian standard made from a bright yellow pepper that is as common in Andean dishes as jalapeños are in Mexican cooking.
Las Brasas’ signature dish is Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken. The owner explained that it is marinated overnight in a mixture that includes 14 spices and then roasted. The result is chicken with a beautifully browned, flavor-intense skin, and meat that is moist and lovely. Wonderful.
You can order a quarter chicken for $6.99, a half for $10.99, or feed the family with a whole chicken for $20.99. All come with french fries and a salad, or substitute a specialty side for a buck. We went with the chaufa rice, which turned out to be a yummy fried rice, as good as any we’d had at a Chinese restaurant. (Las Brasas also offers wonton tacos as an appetizer. Hmm?)
Our only mild disappointment of the night was the papa rellena ($6.99), mashed potatoes shaped into a Russet-potato shape and browned so it looked for all the world like a baked potato, and stuffed with a mixture of ground beef, onions, garlic and raisins. It’s not that this dish was bad — it just was forgettable. Next time, instead we’ll try the lomo saltado, a sliced steak dish cooked with red onions, tomatoes and cilantro, that we’ve heard good things about.
We couldn’t leave without a nibble of dessert. Both the chocoflan — a layered combination of a chocolate cake bottom and a flan top — and alfajores sounded good. We went with the later, a small sandwich cookie composed of circular shortbreads with a drippy caramel filling, dusted with powdered sugar. Again, displayed beautifully, with drizzles of caramel atop the dusting of sugar.
Las Brasas offers all kinds of discounts, including two-for-one appetizers, coupons the owners will press on you, and a family rotisserie chicken meal with four sides that’s comparable to fast-food chicken restaurant prices and more bountifully sized.
Occasionally there’s live Andean music at Las Brasas, but mostly this is a quiet, family-affair restaurant with the owner’s children sitting doing their homework at a corner table.
Las Brasas needs some love from Arlington residents. And a sign, a big, showy sign close to Cooper Street.