By Dan Clapson and Linda Garson
Well-prepared Latin American cuisine isn’t something you can readily find in this city. Sure, there are no shortages of options when you’re looking for a taco or a burrito, but let’sbe honest here, casual Mexican fare is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the broad spectrum of cooking styles that the term ‘Latin American’ encompasses.
As much as the ingredients across our vast country can vary due to seasonality and micro-climates, effecting different provinces’ culinary focuses, cuisines like Peruvian, Venezuelan or Puerto Rican all have their own identities when it comes to their food.
So, if you’ve been thinking that Latin American can be summed up with a bowl of guacamole and some warm tortilla chips, then let these two fine establishments prove you so very, very wrong.
Even though Sabroso is on quite a busy road – 14th Street SW – it has managed to remain somewhat unknown since opening its doors. Those that discover it though know that they’ve found something special.
Although it maintains its under-the-radar status, the restaurant’s interior is by no means basic, reminding us that hidden gems and hole-in-the-walls are two very different things. Yes, there’s definitely a certain charm about this room from the stand-up bass leaning up against a well-worn cabinet and the metal-accented lanterns that give off a golden hue in the evening, to the deep red walls and chestnut brown floors. It’s an atmosphere that immediately warms you up once you step in off the cold, snowy sidewalk.
Drawing flavours from many countries south of the American border, Chef Michael de Guzman constructs small plates like prawn and scallop ceviche, calamari (a must try) chicken and black bean soup and tostadas topped with queso fresco and avocado cream. When it comes to the more filling mains, Sabroso’s seco de pollo (a ‘cilantro-infused’ chicken) is plated up with winter vegetables and chipotle mashed potatoes for a subtle smoky heat that you feel more and more after each bite.
Sabroso’s menu is the same for lunch – they’ve recently started doing weekend brunch as well – but the lunch hour is the optimal time of day to experience one of their arepas. Tender cornflour based buns are stuffed full of either grilled steak, chicken, pulled pork or vegetables and served up with plantain chips and salad. If that’s not filling enough for you, start off with an order of beef anticuchos (beef skewers) rubbed with oregano and chipotle.
If you’re feeling especially hungry, the signature snapper with a green olive and tomato sauce or the steak topped with light and bright chimichurri should hit the spot, but don’t be so quick to overlook the grilled lamb chops. Tender and juicy, in a guajillo pepper sauce and rice, it’s a dinner dish that pairs perfectly with a glass of red wine, window-side watching the snowfall (see culinairemagazine.ca for the recipe!)
Whatever you’re sipping on or forking into at your table at Sabroso, there is no reason why you should walk out the door at the end of the night without having a plate of the cinnamon churros. Sweet, warm, doughy and dusted with sugar – that you’ll need to happily lick off your fingers, of course – it’s the sort of thing that dreams are made of my friends. Sweet dreams.
Hiding in the city’s northeast is Inti Peruvian restaurant – ‘Peruvian food? I’ve never heard of it before!’ you might say, which is a typical reaction from first-time customers according to executive chef/owner Hans Puccinelli. “You can see their faces and they’re truly amazed. Some people said ‘we never expected it to be that good”, he says smiling proudly.
Classically trained, and with numerous executive chef positions behind him, Chef Puccinelli comes from a family who are passionate about their food. The warmth of the welcome you’ll receive here is memorable, with mom Consuelo (a lawyer who loves to cook), and dad Miguel (an economist in Peru) joining their son, and wife, Angela, responsible for desserts.
Authenticity is key – from the artefacts on the wall donated by a ninety-year old lady whose children weren’t interested in them, under the condition that people would see them – to the spices used in the dishes. “I made sure before I opened the restaurant that we could have these ingredients, because as a chef I think if it doesn’t have the right ingredients it’s not honest.” explains Puccinelli.
This includes herbs such as black mint, that only grows above 3,000 metres in the Andes, and used to marinade probably Inti’s most well loved dish, the addictive Pollo a la Brasa, flame-roasted rotisserie chicken that has been marinated in a secret blend of Peruvian herbs. Oops, not so secret now!
Indigenous Peruvian peppers are used carefully to give the dishes their distinctive flavours. You’ll find aji amarillo in Papa a la Huancaina, a popular appetizer dish of cold Yukon Gold potatoes coated in a creamy and lightly spiced Queso Fresco sauce, and also julienned in Lomo Saltado – a stir fry of beef tenderloin, ripe tomatoes and sweet red onions in a tangy sauce.
Cilantro Braised Beef is a firm favourite, as well as Carapulcra, a traditional pork and potato stew prepared by the Incas over five hundred years ago, with a plate-licking sauce made from peanuts and aji panca, an indigenous pepper that lends a unique flavour to the dish.
You’ll find Peruvian staples of quinoa, yuca (cassava), and a choice of twelve different sauces on the buffet, with little cups close to hand so you can try them all.
But it doesn’t end there, Angela’s desserts and drinks are made from the specialty purple corn. Refreshing Chicha Morada, can be enjoyed on it’s own or mixed with a pisco sour for the signature house cocktail, Inti Bliss, and in Mazamorra Morada, a fruit pudding regularly served with Arroz Con Leche –creamy coconut rice pudding to you and me!
Inti means the sun in Qechua, an Inca language, and Sabroso means pleasurable, lovely… so branch out and bring a little delicious warmth into your dining this winter!