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Monday, April 28, 2008

Porturuvian in the Northeast

It started as a quest for Peruvian Chicken. That particular style of rotisserie chicken, marinated and roasted in a specific way, has been quite popular in New York for a while, but hasn't seemed to make inroads in Philly. But we'd heard it was available at El Balconcito in Northeast Philly. So we trekked on up, thinking that some roasted chicken and ceviche would make for a nice light dinner. We should have known that we're fundamentally incapable of ordering a light meal, but even keeping that in mind, we were unprepared for the banquet that resulted.

First, we'd forgotten that El Balconcito is more than a Peruvian restaurant, it's also Portuguese. The menu is divided in half, and there are extensive options from both country's traditions. Second, given the reasonable prices, we significantly underestimated the portion sizes, and therefore drastically over-ordered. Not that such behavior is a bad thing...

We started on the Portuguese side of the menu, ordering Croquettas de Bacalao (above) and Chorizo. The croquettas did not have an especially assertive salt-cod kick, tasting more of potato, but they were so ethereally light, with a perfect fried crunch, that nobody was complaining. The chorizo was served over a dramatic blue flame, which sadly didn't show-up in the photo, but did add an appealing fresh crispiness to the moderately spicy sausage.

But, let's not lose sight of why we came: rotisserie chicken. We tried to order a whole chicken, but our waitress launched into a long and involved story in rapid Spanish. Did we mention that none of us really speaks Spanish? We can pick out a few words here or there, and know just enough that we can usually stumble through ordering at restaurants, but we were having a hard time following this story. But we did sort out that there was no rotisserie chicken, and even figured out that one has to call ahead for it. We later asked, in very stilted Spanish, when we would need to call, and got a very long and complex answer, from which we extracted the word mañana, so we're pretty confident that one needs to call a day ahead.

There did not seem to be any English-speaking waitstaff, but our server was very nice, and we did fine with some pointing and simple yes-no answers to a few things we could understand: "picante?" "Si!"

But, OK... no chicken... we can handle it, there's plenty on the menu that looks good. When in Peru, what else would one get? Ceviche of course. We ordered a basic fish version (as opposed to mixed seafood) and were unprepared for the HUGE pile of it that arrived, accompanied by a potato and sweet potato. It was very tasty, but would easily have served 8 people. The three of us made a good dent in it, and even used some of the vibrant, spicy, citrusy marinade as a condiment for a few other dishes, but we just couldn't finish it.

Another Peruvian specialty is Lomo Saltado, a stir-fry of beef strips, onion, tomato and french fries. It's pretty strange: the fries are soggy with sauce, the spicing is pretty subtle, and yet we came close to finishing it off, it has an inexplicable appeal.

As a consolation for not getting the roasted chicken, we tried the Chicharones de Pollo. While not anything especially unique, they were very tasty chunks of fried chicken, both greaseless and juicy. One could choose two accompaniments, and not having perceived how carbolicious the meal as a whole would be, we chose rice and Tostones. The fried discs of plantain were good, although we ended up using them as accompaniments for some of the other saucier dishes, rather than as partners for the chicken.

Finally, we headed back to Portugal for what was perhaps our favorite dish of the night: a stew of Pork and Clams. You can't actually see the pork in this photo, but there was a ton of it hiding below the clams, pickled vegetables, olives and crisp roasted potatoes. All were luxuriating in a rich brown sauce, which complimented the tender cubes of pork beautifully. This is comfort food at its best, and a huge portion for under $15.

We accompanied everything with a few Peruvian Beers (Cristal and Cusquena) and still got out for not a lot of money. I think we paid about $90 (pre-tip) between the three of us, and we took about half of the food home.

So now we know: order a chicken a day in advance, and order about half of what you think you want from the rest of the menu. Oh, and we need to brush up on our Spanish...

El Balconcito
658 E Godfrey Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19120
(215) 342-2340

6 comments:

  1. Hey Philadining, just wanted to say that I enjoy reading your blog. I always seem to hear about a new restaurant through your blog and in this particular instance, it's good to know about a (half) Peruvian restaurant in the Phili area. Cheers.

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  3. Why, thank you comrade! And back at ya. In case the link's not obvious, comradechu has a cool food blog here>>

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  4. i been to that restaurant!! cheap and great food.

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  5. Incan eater9:00 AM

    I am Peruvian and i am salivating at the descriptions of food. I will make a trek up to Northeast to check it out. If the server said "en la Manana" that would mean in the morning as opposed to the day before. I assume you call in the day to eat it at night.

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  6. Big Thanks Incan Eater! We were only grasping a word or two her and there, but I think you're right, our server probably said "en la manana." So we'll try calling in the morning and pre-ordering a chicken. I think you saved us a lot of trouble!

    Please go to this place and report back, we'd love to hear your opinion.

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