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Dining Out: Cuzco Peru: Take culinary trip to the Andes in Rego Park

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Peruvian cuisine is poised on the cusp of becoming one of those ethnic cuisines that you find in every neighborhood, just like Chinese, Thai or Mexican (and dare we point out that even pizza was once an ethnic specialty). Pollo a la brasa (rotisserie chicken) and Jalea (battered fried seafood) are universal in their appeal, even to fussy kids, and the more exotic fare is easy to love. When we spotted Cuzco Peru on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park, it confirmed our belief in the inevitability of Peruvian joining the ranks of omnipresent ethnic dining.

Cuzco Peru is small, but cute and inviting. The walls are painted with Incan-inspired designs. The tables sport crisp white linens. The food is mostly representative of the cuisine of the central coast of Peru. Potatoes and jumbo corn turn up in almost everything. Seafood dishes are plentiful, along with chicken. Beef, while not absent from the menu, is something of an also-ran.

We were drawn to this restaurant by a friend’s rave about their Anticuchos—marinated grilled beef kebabs, a popular Peruvian street/snack food. Alas, there were none to be had, either on our initial visit or when we returned. We contented ourself instead with Papas a la Huancaina and Ceviche de Mariscos. The papas Huancaina is made of boiled potatoes served on a bet of lettuce in a slightly spicy cheese sauce with an olive and hard boiled egg. It’s a pleasant unassuming vegetarian starter that is a gentle introduction to traditional Peruvian fare. Interestingly, even if the name indicates that it is from Huancayo, it is actually from Chosica, in Lima, made by a “Huancaina” (a person from Huancayo). Go know.

The seafood ceviche was workman-like, embellished with a section of jumbo corn as well as a scattering of cancho (roasted jumbo corn kernals) and flying a flag of fried plaintain. In the manner of Peruvian ceviche (as opposed Mexican style) there were no tomatoes—only seafood, thinly slice onions, herbs, and lime juice. The seafood selection was heavily weighted towards squid, with the occasional shrimp. A few scallops or octopus would have been welcome, but the clean, bright flavor with just enough zip went a fair way towards making up for the monotony of the seafood.

The Jalea—batter-fried assorted seafood and fish—was a study in abundance, ample enough for two or more diners. Ever present squid joined with fish filets, crab claws (in the shell), mussels (also fried in the shell), shrimp (mercifully shelled) and fried yucca. This dish is easily distinguishable from regulation fish and chips by the characteristic flavor imparted by the lime marinated red onion strewn over the seafood and the ever present cancho.

The succulent, tender chicken a la brasa, when ordered as one of the various combos, is a great way to feed a family. The timid can stick to salad and French fries, while the more adventurous can experiment with sweet or green plantains, beans and rice, or Salchipapas (fried pigs in the blanket).

We had a few disappointments along with the successes here. Tallarín verde is a Peruvian pasta dish using a sauce which is a creamier version of pesto sauce incorporating cream cheese and spinach along with the basil. It comes with slices of marinated beef or chicken perched on top of the pasta—we chose the beef. Our beef, while well flavored, was dry and tough. The pasta below must have been left sitting sauced so that it had absorbed it all, turning it into dry, mealy green pasta with only slightly perceptible traces of sauce. The arroz chaufa with chicken, a Peruvian version of Chinese fried rice was no better. The rice was stodgey and the chicken, while abundant, was dry and stringy. The best part was the spicy green sauce that came with it.

The Bottom Line

Cuzco Peru is another arrow in your quiver when seeking a solution to the problem of what to eat when you don’t feel like cooking, are tired of the usual casual dining/take out options and don’t want to take a big hit in the wallet. The food is tasty and interesting, portions are prodigious, and the prices are modest. They also offer some traditional Peruvian beverages including a killer sangria. A half pitcher is adequate to be shared between all but the thirstiest of souls.

Cuzco Peru

98-02 Queens Blvd.

Rego Park, NY 11374

718-275-1575

Price Range: Appetizers: $6-$14, Entrees: $16-$32

Cuisine: Peruvian

Setting: Small, cheerful

Service: Friendly, accommodating, sometimes slow.

Hours: Open seven days for lunch and dinner.

Reservations: No

Alcohol: Wine & beer

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Children: Welcome

Music: Recorded

Takeout: Yes, free local delivery

Credit cards: All

Noise level: Acceptable

Handicap accessible: Yes

Updated 6:14 pm, October 10, 2011
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