LA CANDELA BISTRO
600 S. Oyster Bay Rd., Hicksville;
AMBIENCE: Peruvian meat destination with generous portions and pours, where servers are enthusiastic about sharing their passion for the country and the cuisine.
ESSENTIALS: Lunch and dinner, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday; parking lot, good for groups, outdoor seating, reservations, takeout, wheelchair accessible, major credit cards.
Long Island hosts more Peruvian restaurants than ever — something to celebrate, as that country’s food earns recognition for a melting pot of influences, its rising star chefs and distinct ingredients from the jungle, the sea and the highlands.
More than 8,000 Peruvians live on Long Island, and according to the Long Island Peruvian American Chamber of Commerce, there are more than 50 spots to try Peruvian foods on Long Island and in Queens.
Elvin and Elizabeth Paulino are shaping up as major players in this restaurant community, with three sit-down places: La Candela Restaurant on South Broadway in Hicksville, which opened in 2008; a second La Candela that debuted in West Hempstead in 2012; and now La Candela Bistro in Hicksville. While the first two focus on fish, the newest restaurant beckons with a meat-focused menu.
A bright dining room with red and brown accents, La Candela Bistro offers intriguing yet accessible dishes, including the mouthwatering anticuchos (beef heart) as well as feasts of super seasoned chicken, chops, sausage and steaks.
Servers are passionate about the food and drink, starting with recommendations like the Pisco sour, Peru’s famous brandy in a cocktail that includes lime, egg whites, simple syrup and Angostura bitters. But there’s nothing wrong with a big pour of a jammy Argentine malbec or a straightforward beer like Stella or Budweiser.
The latter pairs with anticuchos, served as street food like Japanese yakitori. Flattened, chewy, marinated and grilled beef heart comes on skewers with Peruvian corn, each oversized kernel as white as enamel. “Did you drag the corn through the marinade on your plate?” asked the server. I hadn’t, but it makes sense to use it to season an otherwise bland side.
I get the sense that in Peru, the range of potatoes are astonishing, heirlooms of different colors and flavors. Potatoes here are standard russets or Yukon golds, dressed up with presentation, such as papa a la huancaina, boiled and sliced, then drizzled with a pepper sauce in an alarmingly yellow hue. The papa rellena is more interesting with beef, raisins, egg and olive stuffed inside a potato like the Italian rice ball-stuffed arancini. Among rice dishes, consider the chaufa: savory, salty and sweet bites of glossy Chinese-Peruvian rice dotted with chewy bits of beef.
While starters are hearty, the mains are more meat in the best way. Go for the pollo a la brasa on the last page of the menu, rotisserie chicken with crisp, super-seasoned skin that could easily fall among favorite chicken feasts. It arrives cleaved, served with a creamy salsa verde sauce, a plate of fries mixed with vertically cut franks, salty black beans and a forgettable salad. Even if you don’t think you’ll finish a whole bird, order it for the leftovers.
Bring an appetite for the parrilla bistro for two, a spread of grilled chorizo and pork chops, beef ribs and those grilled hearts, steak and a char that will up your craving. It’s a rustic dinner for a special occasion.
Though you’ll be full at the end of this dinner, allow time to finish a glass of wine or coffee and dessert. Yes, there’s tiramisu and leche asada, similar to flan. I’d recommend the humble arroz con leche, milky and eggy, laced with cinnamon, sugar, lime and vanilla.
Between Chinese rice, Japanese-inspired heart, Latin American parrilla and this Spanish version of rice pudding, La Candela Bistro delivers a world of influences in a modest corner of Hicksville.