Take a stroll down any major thoroughfare in the Peruvian capital of Lima and you'll find that pollerias, or rotisserie chicken joints, are as ubiquitous as pizzerias are here. In fact, many of these hole-in-the-wall eateries closely guard their recipes for pollo a la brasa the same way that pie-makers guard their recipes for pizza sauce. And while Peruvian-style chicken has yet to establish itself in this city's culinary lexicon, you'd be hard-pressed to coax the fowl formula from the cooks, waitstaff and proprietors at Brazas Chicken, all of whom defend their secret like Túpac Amaru defended his Incan pride.
Occupying a corner of an Edgewood strip plaza, the bustling full-service restaurant forgoes the fast-food ambience typical of pollerias. Earthy tones exude a warmth inside the inviting, though somewhat cramped, interior while Andean objets d'arts and the predominantly Peruvian staff lend the place an air of authenticity.
As far as chicken goes, you won't find a better deal. A whole roasted pollo, hacked into quarters, can be had here for a paltry $8. The spit-fired bird is, typically, rubbed in a marinade comprising (but not limited to) salt, paprika, cumin, black pepper, garlic, lemon juice and vinegar, resulting in crispy, herb-speckled skin and incredibly moist, fragrant and flavorful meat. I particularly enjoyed drizzling the juicy morsels with zesty chimichurri and a creamy piquant sauce made from the Andean herb huacatay, or Peruvian black mint.
A whole chicken will easily satisfy two, possibly three, diners depending on which side items you order. I opted for the maduros ($3), or sweet plantains; arroz con frijoles ($4), long-grain rice and beans; and good ol' fashioned papas fritas ($3), aka french fries. Ravaging the succulently salty chicken, then downing a chubby fried plantain ripened to a wonderful sweetness was a gratifying act.
But that didn't stop me from indulging in the papa a la huancaina ($5), a starchy specialty of boiled potato halves lathered in a huacatay-infused cheese sauce the consistency of béchamel and served over a bed of lettuce. The cold salad was a nice prelude to the chicken ' though, really, I found myself eating bits and bites from all the dishes on the table at once.
Those dishes also included Peru's national dish, ceviche ($10). Cured in citrus and peppered with aji limo, a Peruvian red chili, every sliver of the uncooked, cilantro-flecked tilapia offered a tantalizing tang and took me back to when I first sampled the dish in a seaside restaurant in Lima. The inclusion of thinly sliced rings of red onions, sweet potato and canchita, roasted kernels of maize, provided texture and a cooling balance to the dish.
Bubble gum-flavored Inca Kola ($1.50) and chicha morada ($2), a cider made from purple corn and sweetened with pineapple, sugar and cinnamon, are both equally palatable beverages.
A dulce de leche-layered sandwich cookie known as an alfajore ($1.50) was a sugary chew, while the lucuma ice cream ($3), made from a popular Peruvian fruit, had a pistachio-like flavor reminiscent of Indian kulfi.
With influences from Spain, North Africa, Japan, China and Italy, Peruvian cuisine has long been heralded, and its emergence on the global stage was astutely predicted most recently at Madrid Fusion 2006, one of the premier gastronomic events in the world. Brazas Chicken may not offer the full culinary spectrum from the South American nation, but what it does, it does well.