Time off with my wife minus our kid is a rare jewel that I guard preciously and spend carefully. So when we dropped off our daughter with her grandparents one Sunday afternoon, and realized neither of us had any obligations, we decided to drop everything and run off to Peru.
Peru’s pretty far, though. So we settled for Peruvian food at Los Andes on Chalkstone Avenue in Providence.
I’ve been wanting to try Los Andes for a while, but it’s not the kind of place where our 5-year-old daughter, who thinks a cheeseburger is exotic, would be comfortable. Perfect for a date with just my wife.
Because I like to live dangerously, I almost never make reservations. It’s a bad habit which came back to bite me when we elbowed past a line of bored-looking couples standing near the bar to reach the hostess, who told us the wait was 45 minutes. It ended up being only 15 and we spent all of it outside taking a walk around the neighborhood, but be advised — make a rez.
The interior is sleek and dimly lit, with a neon-lit aquarium behind the bar and dark furniture. The sizable dining room is home to an enormous South American statue, and the walls are clad in stone, giving it an exotic, upscale vibe.
Even at 3 p.m., the place was jam-packed, every table taken and wait staff in full hustle mode. My wife and I were shown to a tiny two-seater table and enjoyed some Spanish music on the stereo system while we juggled the array of menus handed to us.
I counted three beverage menus. Normally I’m an iced tea or sparkling water guy, but my wife and I felt like being bold so we ordered cranberry juice ($2). There are plenty of other options if you’re not boring.
One menu was for specialty cocktails. Next was an exhaustive wine list feature dozens of varieties and labels, with whites, red, rosés and sparkling wines anywhere from the mid-$20 range to $200 if you’re impressing a date or like to pretend you have a fancy palate.
There’s also a thicker beverage menu that lit up when opened, revealing a list of beer and cocktails inside like gimlets, mules, sours, margaritas, cachaça and mojitos. The Venezuelan Mai Tai ($11) with run, tangerine, pineapple and lime caught my attention, as did the Holy Water sangria with Argentinian herbal gin, white cranberry juice, rosemary syrup and Chardonnay ($10 for a glass, $30 for a pitcher).
The food menu is much smaller but still loaded with fresh and exotic dishes, with enough variety to not feel limited. Factor in what words I felt I could comfortably pronounce without feeling like an imbecile, and choosing was difficult.
Starters include the causa limeña, with whipped aji amarillo potato and avocado purée ($9), empanadas with various fillings at $3 each and, being a Peruvian restaurant, a ceviche martini ($12), a dish of raw seafood tossed in citrus. I considered the ceviche — it’s a house specialty at Los Andes — but instead we went with the anticuchos, or marinated beef hearts with grilled potatoes and rocoto crema ($10), because while I’ve eaten plenty of raw fish in my life I can’t recall ever having eaten that particular organ.
The service was unfailingly polite if a bit slow, probably due to the size of the crowd for dinner — or whatever meal you’d call eating at 3 p.m. So when the beef hearts arrived, we were a bit famished. Luckily, the dish more than made up for it.
Various gory images had been running through my mind so I was intrigued to see our server deliver thick, skewered slivers of tender meat— pretty tame, really, and if you’d been told they were just lean cuts of beef you might never suspect.
My wife and I each grabbed a skewer and savored the amazingly smoky and rich meat. Underneath the bold, spicy marinade, the meat itself had a wonderful iron flavor that was completely satisfying. The potatoes and creamy cheese sauce only added to the delight.
I could’ve done with an entree of just those beef hearts, but they were soon gone. We’d considered a few options, like the pique a lo macho, with chorizo, sirloin strips, eggs and jalapeño ($16), or the chicharron, Bolivian-style pork ribs with queso blanco and salsa criolla ($14), poached tilapia with garlic-wine broth and rice ($15) or even one of the ceviche dishes from $20 to $23.
I ended up getting the chaufa aeropuerto, a dish of soy fried rice, noodles, crispy pork belly, chicken, shrimp and choclo topped with an omelette ($19), while my wife picked the churrasco al gaucho, a hefty 16-ounce ribeye with chimichurri, red salad, fried yucca and rice ($23).
We sat through another bit of a wait, only to be astounded again by the arrival of the main courses. They were much bigger than we’d expected — fancy restaurants in the city aren’t often known for their humongous portions — and it was only now that I began to notice the jaw-dropping size of everyone’s dishes as servers carried them past, and how often they followed up with to-go boxes.
My wife’s ribeye was a beautifully rare-grilled beast, a slab of beef that was a marvel to behold. The meat itself was a little sinewy but packed with flavor and seasoned just right. Complementing it was a refreshing salad of pickled beets and onion tossed with a little mayo, and a chimichurri that was like an explosion of freshness in my mouth.
A few stray French fries ended up on her plate along with the fried yucca and rice, which may account for how she ended up having a minor reaction even though she told the server she was nut-allergic and asked if the kitchen could avoid any cross-contamination.
The chaufa aeropuerto was enormous, essentially like a stir fry or Chinese fried rice dish, and loaded with proteins and vegetables. With each bite I seemed to discover new flavors hidden in the dish, from ginger to soy to sweet orange to chili pepper, mixed with the savoriness of the crispy pork and earthiness of the bean sprouts and choclo.
I ate more than I should have, since it was so wonderful, and still ended up taking home enough for two more meals.
We were both stuffed but managed to pack in dessert — of the day’s options we picked a delicious slab of tres leches sponge cake, a creamy and custardy treat covered in sweet glaze and packed with the flavor lemon and ginger. It capped things beautifully, and brought the bill to just $64 before tax and tip. Not bad for a trip to South America.
Check out previous Dine Out reviews below