Rosa De Lima [Closed]
2015 N Western Ave
The Eaters decided to go global (as we always do) and celebrate a South American New Years ’09. We began the night with a visit to a restaurant so new that the old sign from the previous occupants – Cancun Mariscos – still hangs in front of the building. But don’t be fooled – Rosa de Lima, Bucktown’s newest Peruvian restaurant – is definitely there, and we think it has some of the best Peruvian cuisine we’ve had in Chicago.
Given the great reviews it got on Yelp and the fact it was New Year’s Eve, we were in a bit of a rush to make sure we arrived on time for our 7:30 PM reservations. We were a little surprised to find that, upon arrival, we were the only diners in the entire place. This is usually a bad sign, so we walked in assuming the worst. The decor was nice enough – dark, candle-lit booths and white tables flanked with wall-sized photos of famous sights in Lima make this a good date place, and particularly fun for anyone whose visited Lima and knows the mural locations. Our fears increased, however, when the waitresses muted the Spanish TV station blaring on the restaurant’s far side and instead turned on a steady bad stream of late 1980s / 1990s rock (Blues Traveler?). We still do not understand why so many world eateries play really bad American music, but after all, we’re not there to listen, we’re there to eat.
And eat we did. The evening began as our amiable waitress addressed us in Spanish (good sign on the authenticity index) and immediately brought us a full pitcher of water as well as two small cups chicken and wild rice soup with green beans. The soup was a great, light appetizer for what turned out to be a larger meal than we expected, and the Eaters are always impressed with solid free food before a meal. The water of course is necessary to cool the heat of the aji, a spicy Peruvian dipping sauce made with the pepper of the same name. We got a basket of semisoft and strangely-spiced bread to dip in the aji – it reminded us more of Italian bread than a Peruvian staple, but we let that one slide.
For the appetizer, M ordered one of his favorite dishes from his time in Peru: anticuchos, skewered cuts of goat or cow heart muscle, marinated in vinegar or oil and spices, then grilled. Some Peruvian restaurants in the US cater more to American crowds by substituting other cuts of meat for the heart muscle, but we think the real thing is better. The meat is very lean but not tough, while the marinade adds a nice, subtle kick without being overpowering. M thinks this is a hallmark of good Peruvian food – a good amount of subtle spices and a touch of heat that work well with the texture of the cuisine, without having sauces or marinades overpower the base ingredients. Anticuchos are a great example of this, as was L’s order: 1/2 baked chicken. The 1/2 Roasted Chicken with 2 side orders was a steal at $8. The chicken had a delicious spice rub and the chicken itself was moist and tender. Some of the best roast chicken I have had in a long time. The chicken platter came with a choice of two side orders – L got the Potato purée with milk butter and nut nutmeg and Tostones (fried plantains). The potato puree was like a soupier version of mashed potatoes (potatoes are big in Peru) and the tostones were deliciously crispy.
But if there is any dish where the marinade makes the meal, it is ceviche de pascado. M’s all-time favorite dish is an automatic-order whenever we’re at a Peruvian restaurant, but if there is one complaint, it’s that the order is always too small to be a full meal. That’s probably in the nature of the ingredients: ceviche de pescado is fresh, raw fish marinaded in citrus juice (in Peru, usually lime) and garnished with cilantro, onions, sweet potatoes, and oversized kernels of Peruvian corn (see photo). This ceviche came with a $12.95 price tag, a little less than most other ceviches I’ve seen on Peruvian menus, so I naturally assumed it would be smaller – but was shocked to find it nearly twice average size. It was a struggle to finish the entire plate, sweet potatoes and all, but by no means unpleasant.
To finish off we wanted to order some lucuma ice cream, but they were all out, so we ordered some Alfajores ($2.25 for one). Alfajores are basically two cookie wafers sandwiched with dulce de leche. The Peruvian version is covered in powdered sugar, unlike Argentine varieties, which are covered in chocolate. All in all, we were very impressed with our meal – the service was great, the price was right and the food was excellent. We can definitely say that Rosa de Lima is the best Peruvian food we’ve had in Chicago. We hope they get more crowded than they were on New Years Eve, because Chicago needs this kind of cooking.