Alameda a la carte: Chicha Contemporary Peruvian Bistro

Alameda a la carte: Chicha Contemporary Peruvian Bistro

Denise Shelton

Restaurant Review: Chicha Contemporary Peruvian Bistro

I must confess right off the bat that I know absolutely nothing about Peruvian food, and not much more about Peru except that it's in South America, they have llamas there, and it is home to the famous Incan historic site, Machu Picchu.

My husband assures me that we will visit Peru someday, which is fine and dandy as long as no llama wrangling is involved. Take it from me, you may look them in the eye and speak as sternly as you please, but they're still apt to knock you on your keister. (I have post-traumatic llama issues. Can you tell?)

In any event, I hadn't expected to sample Peruvian cuisine until visiting that country, so it was a pleasant surprise to see that Alameda's food choices are continuing to expand with yet another new restaurant, Chicha Contemporary Peruvian Bistro.

Peruvian cuisine is described on the restaurant's website as "one of the world's original fusion cuisines, combining Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, African, Italian, and French cuisine with native Inca culinary traditions." Dishes feature a variety of ingredients: potatoes - both white and sweet; rice; seafood; pork; chicken; and beef. There are vegetarian choices on the menu as well.

The decor is understated, the walls painted in deep jewel tones and adorned with numerous framed pictures. Tables have ample elbow room and a pleasant bar area is arranged along one side of the room. The lighting ranges from dim to dimmer, so if your eyesight isn't too great, you may struggle with the menu if you aren't seated in one of the brighter spots in the areas.

When my friend and I arrived, we were greeted by the bartender. A server soon appeared and showed us to our table. A lively atmosphere prevailed, with a number of patrons appearing to have stopped in for nibbles and drinks after work with friends.

Our waiter was friendly, helpful, and very sweet, but a little overwhelmed. Since our table was in a poorly lit area, I got the impression that he was not as attentive as he might have been because he just couldn't see us.

Chicha features a good selection of tapas, which makes it a great place to grab a drink and a snack. We ordered the Chicha Platter which included an excellent salmon ceviche, crispy empanada, "papa a la huancaina" - slices of boiled potato served in a creamy aji Amarillo, queso fresco sauce, beef heart, and yucca fries.

I enjoyed my entree, an of adobo de chancho - chunks of barbecued pork marinated with aji panca, vinegar, and corn beer. The dish was accompanied by seasoned rice arranged in an attractive pyramid, sweet potato fries and salad.

My friend had the aji amarillo chicken stew which she found to be a little on the bland side. (One or two of the dishes seemed to be in need of an extra sprinkle of salt. Happily that, is easily remedied.)

The cocktail menu is varied and interesting. Featured items include both Peruvian and European wines, and specialty cocktails. We sampled the non-alcoholic Inka Kola which, to my taste, was closer to cream soda than Coca-Cola, and the wonderful Chicha Morada, a fruit juice blend made from purple corn, pineapple, and spices.

One of the highlights for both of us was the traditional Peruvian dessert arroz con leche with mazamorra morada, a purple corn pudding served with rice pudding made with apples and raisins.

Chicha Bistro is fairly new. The service is not always as prompt and not all the menu items are available. That said, it's a welcome change from the same old, same old, and certainly worth investigating. Is it the best Peruvian cuisine anywhere? I have no idea, but it's certainly the best in town!

1544 Webster Street, 522-3764. Open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; open for dinner from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday. Closed Mondays.

Home Cooking: Simple Gifts - Some Thoughts on Thanksgiving

As I've gotten older, Thanksgiving has become my favorite holiday. One reason might be because most of my relatives are either dead or live too far away to show up at my house for dinner. But there's more to it than that.

When I was in grade school, in ancient times when this sort of thing was still done, we were taught to sing the Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts" around Thanksgiving. I'm not sure if this was because of some confusion on the part of the music teacher between Puritans and Shakers or just because he couldn't endure launching into the fa-la-las until we were well into December. In any case, it's a great little song about the virtue of simplicity, and in that sense, it really is the perfect song for Thanksgiving because Thanksgiving itself is simple, and that's the real reason I like it so much.

Think about it. Pretty much everybody in the country sits down to pretty much the exact same meal on the exact same day every year.

If you have a 5-year-old in the house, you most likely will be reminded that you can draw a fairly decent-looking turkey by outlining your handprint on a paper plate, which is a good thing to know, if you ask me.

All you have to do to have a happy Thanksgiving is eat turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing, cranberry sauce (or jelly), and a piece of pie - preferably pumpkin, but apple will do in a pinch. It's also recommended that you give thanks prior to the meal, whether that means just thanking the cook for cooking or outpouring your eternal gratitude for life itself to the Almighty is up to you. Nobody's taking notes.

Human beings being what we are, we can of course make this simple gift of Thanksgiving more complicated than it needs to be. One year, my family and I labored for two days making the suggested menu out of Wine Spectator magazine. It was spectacular, we were exhausted, and it was gone in 20 minutes.

We've also purchased the absurdly expensive "Heritage" bird, experimented with various brines and roasting techniques, and concocted green bean casserole completely from scratch. (Was it better? Sure. Was it worth the effort? Not so much.)

Thanksgiving is an event that requires no special clothing, no gifts, and no guilt. It's just family, friends, good food, and being with others you care about, so don't stress out about the food. And if you can't be with the ones you love, gather some "orphans," invite those new to this country over to see how it's done, or volunteer to feed the homeless. In other words, love the ones you're with. And keep it simple.

Which Wine is Fine with the Bird You're to Brine?

Many of us plan to serve wine at our Thanksgiving feast, but did you ever wonder whether or not this was traditional fare? Those pilgrims were pretty uptight after all, weren't they? Yea, not so swiftly good friend. The answer might surprise you.

Although the Puritans frowned upon drunkenness, a little wine and beer was perfectly alright. In fact, the conditions on their sea voyage would have made drinking water dangerous.

No one apparently recorded what beverages were served at the first Thanksgiving, but scholars agree that beer and wine were most probably among them. In fact, the Mayflower typical cargo was wine and dry goods, and its hold could accommodate 180 casks. So in the "spirit" of the occasion, I asked two of our local wine merchants what they suggest is the right wine to serve on Turkey Day.

Karen Ulrich at Alameda Wine Company starts out by suggesting what not to serve. "No big oak, no big tannen, and no big alcohol," she advises.

Ulrich cites the fact that there is a wide variety of flavors and are often a wide variety of palates among those at the Thanksgiving dinner table, so unsophisticated wines are the way to go. She suggests sparkling wines such as prosecco or cava, or a rosé or Riesling.

Alameda Wine Company is currently featuring Age of Riesling's excellent selections, which she says you can pair with different parts of the meal for an all Riesling Thanksgiving lineup. She suggests their Winter Dry Riesling for starters, followed by the half-dry Becker-Langraf Feinherb for the main course, and finishing with the same producer's Auslese for dessert.

If you like red wine, Pinot Noir is a good option. Ulrich says "lightweight, earthy red wines that will not dominate anything you put in front of them" are the best choice.

"Of course, if grandma wants Zinfandel," Ulrich says, don't stand in her way.

Around the corner at Bonne Vie in the Park Street Plaza, Debbie George agrees that Pinot Noir is a good choice. She also likes ice wines for dessert, like the Louis Guntrum Eiswein 2007 from Germany. "It's pricey," she admits, but for a special occasion, it's a real treat.

George also recommends Spirit of the Andes Torrontes sparkling wine from Argentina for Thanksgiving dinner, which the environmentally conscious will appreciate is sustainably farmed.

Special Offer: Bonne Vie is discounting all wines 10 percent in November, and Alameda a la Carte readers who mention this column will get an additional 5 percent off.

Alameda Wine Company: 2315 Central Avenue, 523-9463. Bonne Vie European Spirits and Fine Cigars: 1419 Park Street, 521-6227.

New and Noteworthy

Lola's Chicken Shack is set to open just after Thanksgiving at the old Boniere Bakery site, 1417 Park Street. The Colonel's about to get some competition.

Baron's Meats at the Alameda Marketplace has expanded into the sandwich business with Baron's Eats. Baron's Eats is open weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and from 11:30 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Try the pullman sandwiches featuring specially made rolls and Baron's top quality meats.

The old Uniglobe Total Travel building at 1400 Park Street will be home to a speakeasy-themed restaurant and nightclub called Capone's. No word on whether or not they'll be serving bathtub gin.