By Suzanne Parker
One of the big advantages of living in Queens (aka multi-cultural land) is the ability to virtually travel to distant lands without leaving home by patronizing an ethnic restaurant. During the recent cold snap, while tromping through accumulations of dirty snow at every curb, I longed to be someplace where palm trees sway in gentle breezes. This time of year, the temperatures in Peru range between the high 60s and the low 80s. Sounds about right.
According to the website of the Peruvian embassy to China, “Peruvian cuisine was founded on a fortuitous meeting of Spanish and indigenous cooking — both highly developed, but it is much more than that having been profoundly influenced by other gastronomic traditions. The Africans who came to Peru as slaves, the Chinese who settled in the middle of the last century and the Italians, have all shaped what we know today, in all its succulence and variety, as the Peruvian Cuisine.” Fusion cuisine — what a concept.
El Anzuelo Fino, (the fine fish hook) the Peruvian restaurant we scoped out, is an unpretentious little place in Woodhaven. It is the second location of a similarly named restaurant in Astoria.
Ambiance is not the highest priority here. The theme is early whatever-was-there-before, overlaid with a couple of Peruvian wall hangings, and fake flower arrangements strategically placed. The room is dominated by a humongous video projection screen playing Peruvian and other Spanish language music videos, some rather risqué.
We began our tasting with soup. Various soups are offered according to the day of the week. We went on a Friday, so we had a choice of Sopa de Pescado or Chupe de Pescado, translated on the menu respectively as “Fish Soup,” and “Fish Soupy Soup.” We were told that the difference was that one had rice and the other noodles. We ordered one of each, but both arrived with rice. I’m not sure whether it was the “soupy” one or not, but it was excellent. The broth was gently spiced with aji pepper and other intriguing herbs. The fish was fresh and plentiful. The soup comes in two sizes: a regular sized bowl (“small”), and a very, very large bowl (“large”).
The appetizer offerings reflect true Peruvian gastronomy. Potatoes are a mainstay of Peruvian cuisine. According to the International Potato Center in Lima, the Incas cultivated more than 1,000 varieties of potato. While many varieties have disappeared, hundreds are still commonly found at market stalls in the Andes. Causa Rellena con Pollo, Atun, o Camerones is potato dough stuffed with a choice of chicken, tuna or shrimp. Papa al Ocopa (peanut) and Papa a la Huacaina are cold boiled potatoes in a mildly spicy green or yellow cheese sauce. We especially enjoyed the Tamales de Puerco, a corn tamale filled with pork (or chicken if you prefer) and beans, presented on a banana leaf.
The entrees are very traditional as well. Cebiche Mixto is the Peruvian take on this zingy South American favorite, well seasoned here and generously portioned. Corvina al Anzuelo Fino is a corvina fillet (a flakey white-fleshed fish) abundantly topped with shrimp, clams, calamari and octopus. It rests on a bed of roast potatoes and is acccented with a mustard wine sauce. Rice is served on the side, but if you want to extend your Peruvian experience, you might order a side dish of tacu tacu, the Peruvian version of risotto, instead of the rice. We also asked for hot sauce on the side, and were pleasantly surprised by a concoction resembling a thin, very spicy guacamole.
Two other interesting dishes for those wanting a truly Peruvian experience are Cabrito a la Nortena (Coriander goat with butter beans) and Arroz con Pato (Duck with green rice.) Both reflect the culinary style of the north coast.
The beverages offered here provide additional opportunities for ethnic experimentation. We wanted to try Chica de Jora, a traditional fermented corn drink. They were out of the fermented variety, so we settled for Chica Morada, described as a “purple corn beverage” although it was more like the color of cranberry juice cocktail. It is a sweet punch with diced bits of apple floating on top. Kids will love this drink. They also offer Batidos de Frutas con Leche o Agua (fruit shakes with milk or water) in a range of tropical fruit flavors.
Beer and wine served here include Peruvian concoctions and also sangria. The wines are all very reasonably priced, with none exceeding $20 per bottle.
One disappointment about this restaurant is that it doesn’t always have all the items listed on the menu. We were eager to try purple corn pudding, but would have settled for Peruvian style custard. No dice on either. We wound up with two desserts not on the menu — flan and a cake flavored with dulce de leche. Both were pleasant, if not memorable.
The Bottom Line
A place for an authentic Peruvian meal in unpretentious surroundings. Generous portions of ethnic food at modest prices.
El Anzuelo Fino Restaurant
98-01 Jamaica Ave., Woodhaven
Cuisine: Traditional Peruvian
Setting: No frills. Sit as far as possible from door on cold days to avoid drafts.
Service: Efficient and accommodating
Hours: Seven days 11-11
Parking: Off-street parking at C-Town Supermarket lot
Children: Family atmosphere
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Acceptable
Handicap accessible: Yes
Sopa de Pescado (fish soup)…$2.50/$4.50 (sm/lg)
Causa Rellena con Pollo, Atun, o Camarones (Potato dough stuffed with chicken, tuna, or shrimp)…$5-$6
Tamales de Pollo o Puerco (Chicken or Pork Tamales)…$4.50
Cebiche Mixto (Diced seafood in lemon sauce)…$12
Parihuela (fish chunks and seafood soup)…$13
Corvina al Anzuelo Fino (Seafood on corvina fillet)…$16
Cabrito a la Nortena Chivo Guisado (Coriander Goat W/Butter Beans)…$10
Arroz con Pato (Quarter Duck with Green Coriander Rice) weekends only…$10