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May, 2011, Page 155
Photos by David Moore
Ceviche and aji de gallina
Fill up on fresh, vibrantly seasoned food at this quaint Peruvian place in Tempe.
Chef Gabriella Arizola had taken a break from her kitchen duties at Villa Peru to bring me my causa rellena. I had only ordered the appetizer, and since she thought I would be hungry, she had made me a double portion.
So now I was wolfing down a triple-decker tower of thick, bright yellow mashed potato patties, blended with aji Amarillo chile, layered with mounds of mayo’d tuna fish, then decorated with hardboiled egg and an olive ($6.95). It’s a traditional Peruvian dish, to which Arizola adds a piquant green salsa of cilantro, chile, onion and cream instead of the more traditional, fiery rocoto pepper sauce.
“We make everything fresh when you order it,” she says. “I want you to know that.”
The proof was in the tasting, which I did over several subsequent visits, sampling through the lengthy menu and discovering vibrantly seasoned food equal to the delicious things I’ve eaten on my visits to South America. Sticklers will miss some authentic touches – no pungent botija olives, no cancha (crunchy toasted corn nuts), and domestic corn instead of the boiled cusco corn with kernels the size and texture of lima beans.
Yet, what these dishes lack in flair they make up for in comfort. Since opening her 60-seat café last summer in a Tempe strip mall, the Peru-born Arizola and her Chilean business partner, David Banda, have been crafting satisfying dishes such as cau cau de pollo ($9.95), a lovely stew of chicken and potato chunks smothered in a lavish turmeric-mint sauce over rice. Order the aji de gallina ($10.75), and you’ll get another chicken stew, swimming in mild, silky chile sauce studded with potatoes, asparagus and crunchy walnuts.
Inside Villa Peru
It’s not fancy – diners sit at black cloth-topped tables or on a small patio facing the parking lot; aioli-gold walls are sparsely hung with llama-etched copper plates and paintings of pottery. Still, ceviche ($13.95) is first-class, with meaty hunks of sea bass, shrimp, calamari and octopus, brightened with fresh lime juice and a side of sweet potato and corn. For a sweet accent, sip chicha morada ($1.75), a bright purple juice of cold corn flavored with pineapple, cinnamon and cloves.
If lomo saltado ($12.65) reminds me of a Chinese stir-fry for its slightly overcooked beef strips and veggies over soy-splashed rice, the French fries on top make it truly Peruvian (you can even get the dish as an omelet at breakfast, which, in South American style, doesn’t start until noon but runs all day). What might be fried rice, meanwhile, tossed with broccoli, green beans, carrots, peas, eggs and scallions, is actually nutty quinoa ($10.95).
Don’t bother with the ordinary flan ($2.95) or super-sweet alfajores (shortbread and dulce de leche sandwich cookies) ($1.75). But after a dinner of steak smothered in two fried eggs, served with rice, French fries and fried bananas ($11.95), it’ll be easy to just tell Chef Arizola you’re full.
: 1857 N. Scottsdale Road, Tempe
: noon to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
Highlights: cau cau de pollo ($9.95), aji de gallina ($10.75),
ceviche ($13.95), chicha morada ($1.75), lomo saltado ($12.65)
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