By Suzanne Parker
Chalet Alpina was a fixture of the Forest Hills dining scene for over 30 years until the owners decided to retire in November.
It served schnitzels, wursts and other German specialties in vaguely Bavarian surroundings.
Its former digs, near Metropolitan and 70th avenues, have recently been transformed by Jessica Yui into La Coya, with vaguely Incan surroundings serving Peruvian fare.
Peruvian cuisine is shaped by diverse cultural and geographic influences. There is the cuisine of the indigenous people, which contributes native ingredients to the mix like chochlo — jumbo corn kernels served as a side to almost everything Peruvian — and all manner of potatoes.
Peru, incidentally, was the source of potatoes introduced to Europe by the Conquistadors in the 16th century. The European influences of coastal regions account for the both the wonderful cerviche (marinated raw seafood) and jalea batter fried seafood. In the 19th century, many Chinese were brought to Peru as farm workers and laborers. Some found work in homes as cooks. As they became more established, they opened chifas, restaurants serving a distinctly Peruvian style of Chinese food. Japanese immigrants to Peru are also in this culinary mix.
It is no wonder that La Coya, which means queen in Quechan, offers a mélange of all this culinary diversity.
Its owner, Yui, is of Asian-Peruvian descent, and serves the dishes she remembers from her mother’s kitchen. She bills her establishment as a pisco (Peruvian brandy) bar as well as a restaurant.
Just like other cocktails that now come in a dizzying assortment of added flavors, here you can choose from a prodigious list of pisco sours.
You could easily while away an evening here with a few pisco sours, or a pitcher of their equally excellent sangria, and work your way through the list of appetizers. Go for the exceptionally tasty tamales — perhaps aji amarillo accounts for the unusual orange color. The fried calamari is virtually indistinguishable from that served in Italian restaurants, but admirably done.
Causa, from the Incan Quechuan word Kausaq — meaning that which gives life — is a uniquely Peruvian take on potato salad. Traditionally, chicken salad is perched on a puck of mashed potato. Here you get three golden potato pucks topped by three different salads. The only dud we found in the appetizer category was the anticucho (grilled beef heart), which was both dry and tough.
Mixed cerviche was our favorite entrée. Peru, though in contention with Ecuador, claims bragging rights as the birthplace of cerviche. Unlike the Mexican version, you won’t find any tomatoes. The marine flavors are bright, clean and vibrant. Lomo saltado is an example of Peruvian-Chinese fusion food. It is a stir fry of skirt steak, onions, and French fries served with a mound of rice. This was a homey sort of comfort food dish. Tallarin saltado was another example of the style. It was sort of Peruvian-inflected lo mein, made with stir fried spaghetti, skirt steak and vegetables. Chicken or shrimp can be substituted for the beef.
Entrana, grilled marinated skirt steak, is a standard throughout South America. It was a nice piece of meat, served with pesto pasta, but was unbearably salty.
The Bottom Line
More diversity along the Forest Hills stretch of Metropolitan Avenue is always appreciated. La Coya brings some new and interesting flavors to the neighorhood. We were sorry to see Chalet Alpina go, but give an enthusiastic welcome to La Coya.
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at qnsfo
98-35 Metropolitan Ave.
Price Range: Appetizers: $8—15, Mains: $11–30
Cuisine: Peruvian Pisco Bar
Setting: Modestly decorated, medium sized with bar.
Service: Efficient and accommodating
Hours: Tuesday—Sunday, 1 pm — 11 pm. Closed Monday
Reservations: Groups only
Alcohol: Full bar
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Acceptable
Handicap accessible: Yes