La Vicharra Grill
62 Landing Rd., Glen Cove, 516-801-1314, https://www.lavicharra.com/
AMBIENCE: Generic but pleasant
SERVICE: Attentive and hard-working but, on a busy night, severely overtaxed
ESSENTIALS: Open every day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturdays until midnight; street parking, wheelchair accessible; no liquor license (for now) but you can bring your own wine or beer
Gold, in all its resplendence, is the predominant color at La Vicharra Grill. Not in the modest décor — which seems unchanged since Anthony’s Italian restaurant exited this Glen Cove address a few years ago — but in the food.
There’s the glossy sheen of cancha, roasted and salted corn kernels, a dish of which graces each table; the vivid Huancaina sauce that blankets slices of pale boiled potatoes; the mellow yellow of chupe, corn-enriched shrimp chowder; the burnished skin of a fried half chicken, flanked by bronze-edged roasted potatoes.
Did you note a lot of corn and potatoes in that list? These crops were first cultivated by the Inca, native to Peru, and, along with many chili peppers and legumes (such as lima beans, named for the capital city) are among the culinary debts the world owes to Peruvian cuisine.
La Vicharra Grill’s owner, Pilar Valli, is another Peruvian success story. In 2013, she opened La Vicharra, a little takeout on School Street whose menu is primarily rotisserie chicken. At the seven-month-old La Vicharra Grill, she is showcasing the range of Peruvian cooking, from the country’s Pacific coast (whence comes ceviche) to her hometown of Satipo, sandwiched between the Andes mountains and Amazon rain forest. Back in Satipo, Valli spent countless hours with her mother, grandmother and aunts in the traditional communal kitchen called, in Spanish, la vicharra.
Try not to overdo it on the free cancha because La Vicharra Grill’s appetizers are almost all worth ordering. Ceviches, marinated raw seafood, are almost comically generous, flanked by slabs of copper-toned sweet potatoes and champagne-hued boiled corn (these kernels looking like American sweet corn — only huge). Choose among pescado (here, sea bass), mixto (sea bass, octopus, squid and shrimp) or camarones (shrimp-heavy mixto). I found “medium” spicy exactly right for my taste.
For tiradito, the fish is sliced, not diced. And leche de tigre (tiger’s milk), served in a large cocktail glass, is about half seafood, half spicy marinade whose milky appearance and chili-charged spice account for the name.
In Peru, Huancaina-style potatoes are justly popular, boiled until tender, sliced, and blanketed with a mellow-piquant cream sauce made with aromatics, fresh cheese and the aji amarillo (yellow chili) that is responsible for the color and spice. Another famous Peruvian dish is anticucho, sliced, grilled veal hearts. We ordered the version with tripe (rachi), and the two vital organs came beautifully served on a hot cast-iron skillet, along with more corn and more potatoes.
Duty required me to order the salchipapas, sliced hot dogs on a bed of French fries. I always expect this dish, beloved by many, to taste like more than the sum of its parts, but I am always let down. Bland and lukewarm, the fries here did nothing to elevate this salchipapas above previous disappointments.
While the original La Vicharra specializes in roast chicken, the Grill’s pollada is a marvel of frying. First the bird is relieved of its breasts and wings, then the legs are splayed and pressed flat before being fried to a golden crisp. (The white meat makes its way into a zesty chicken salad that is sandwiched between two layers of mashed potatoes in the elegant cold starter causa relleno de pollo.)
Fusion comes naturally to this nation, whose indigenous population was conquered by the Spanish and then augmented by African slaves and immigrants from Italy, China and Japan. The resultant culinary babel is suggested by dishes such as “aeropuerto,” fried rice scattered with short segments of linguine and bits of meat. “In Peru,” Valli explained, “we make it with beef and chicken and pork and lamb — it’s like all the languages you hear at the airport.”
Like the fried chicken, many of the main dishes here come with both potatoes and a startlingly steep pyramid of white rice. Parillada, grilled steak, was fine for $17, but it couldn’t hold a candle to the pescado a lo macho, a thick fillet of sea bass that had been deep fried and napped with another gorgeous, golden sauce, this one based on a reduced seafood stock. Strewn around the plate were mussels, rings of squid and shrimp.
La Vicharra Grill is still experiencing growing pains. The intriguing-sounding desserts on the menu are only intermittently available. The service, friendly and diligent, can’t always communicate the finer points of Peruvian food — it’s good to keep your iPhone handy to look up terms. The restaurant seats nearly 100 people but even when it’s been half full, a skeleton crew of servers labors to keep up. A liquor license has been applied for, but in the meantime, you can stop by Landing Liquors, next door, which has a decent selection of South American wines.