Wednesday, December 23, 2009

5 Countries in 5 Blocks - El Rincon de Chabuca - North Beach

[sorry, this restaurant has closed]

The food of Peru is possibly the original "fusion cuisine." Indigenous, Spanish, and Asian influences all have made their contributions. An abundance of produce, including more potato varieties than can be imagined, exotic chiles and herbs, as well as ready access to all sorts of seafood, also play a significant role in the uniqueness and diversity of Peruvian cuisine - which is represented in my "5 Countries in 5 Blocks" series on North Beach restaurants by El Rincón de Chabuca (or, as we call it in my household, El Rincón de Chewbacca).

El Rincón de Chabuca is a modest eatery along Collins Avenue just past 71st Street in the North Beach neighborhood where, as I've previously noted, you'll find a multitude of eating options from around Latin America. It's not much to look at, and it's probably not in contention for the best Peruvian food in all of Miami (most people think that honor goes to Francesco in Coral Gables), but some things are quite good.

If there is one item that people think of when they think of Peruvian food, it would most likely be ceviche, or its cousin, tiradito. Traditionally, a ceviche features raw fish or seafood that has been marinated in citrus juices, the citric acid in effect "cooking" the fish. With Chabuca's shrimp ceviche, the shrimp seemed to have been previously cooked, which with shrimp is not that unusual, doused in a mixture of lime juice, salt, garlic, and chile paste (they ask how spicy you want it and it is prepared to order), served over a bed of lettuce, topped with slivered red onions, and plated with traditional accompaniments of steamed sweet potato, choclo (a South American variety of corn with starchy, gigantic kernels), and corn nuts. Ours was good if a tad oversalted (a common refrain for many of the dishes we tried). Their ceviche can also be had with only fish, or with a mix of seafood (calamari, octopus, mussels and shrimp). I was intrigued by a menu item called "Ceviche Caliente Exotico," described as "crispy on the outside and yet fresh on the inside" and apparently involving seafood prepared ceviche-style and then deep-fried - but not intrigued enough to try it. You'll find a broader variety of preparations at a place like Francesco or La Cofradia, where they offer their ceviches either traditional style, or with an aji amarillo chile sauce or a rocoto chile sauce, and sometimes even more esoteric, non-traditional versions.

This "Causa Limeñisima" looks like the fussified creation of a 1980's nouvelle cuisine chef, but a causa is a very typical Peruvian dish. It seems rather unlikely - a cylindrical tower of cold mashed potatoes and avocado, topped with a crown of poached chicken or shrimp, dabs of mayonaise and slivered olives. But the potatoes have a wonderful creamy texture that matches that of the avocado, their flavor enlivened with aji amarillo chile, with yet another layer of creaminess from the mayo. It's a dish that manages to be rich without being heavy, and was one of our favorites here.

The Papas a la Huancaina didn't quite do it for me, though. Slices of steamed potatoes are topped with a creamy cheese sauce, which is supposed to be perked up by the delicate heat of aji amarillo chiles. But the chile heat was missing in action here, leaving this to taste like potatoes topped with watered-down Cheez Whiz.

These Anticuchos Peruanos were better. Though many Latin American cultures have their variations on anticuchos - which are, basically, meats on a stick - the meat of choice in Peru apparently is beef heart (corazon de res). These seemed to have been given a light herbal marinade before hitting the grill, and were served over rounds of roasted potatoes, crispy on the edges. These had a dense, rich meaty flavor; the texture is both smoother and more firm and a bit more bouncy than a steak, but not hugely different (the heart is a muscle, after all). These could have used some sauce for dipping. Indeed, I've been a bit like a junkie needing a fix since my local Peruvian chicken place, Edy's, with its fantastic green sauce, closed down (I think the magic ingredient was huacatay, a Peruvian herb with a unique flavor somewhere in the neighborhood of tarragon, mint or basil; it was either that, or crack).

The Lomito a la Pobre was a thinly sliced palomilla-style steak, accompanied by french fries, maduros, and a mound of white rice crowned by a fried egg - simple, hearty and filling. It would have been better if served with tacu tacu, a mix of white beans and rice that is pan-fried until crispy on the edges.

Arroz Chaufa con Pollo is a good example of the East/West fusion that characterizes so much Peruvian cuisine. "Chaufa," I believe, is a variation on "Chifa," which is customarily used to mean "Chinese-style." This is basically a chicken fried rice in a Sino-Peruvian style. The rice is heavy on green onion and red pepper, flecked with thin layers of cooked egg, and perked up with a bit of chile that gives a distinctly different, non-Chinese dimension to the flavors.

El Rincón de Chabuca may not be the best Peruvian food in Miami, but it's a decent neighborhood spot and not a bad place to start sampling the variety and range of Peru's cuisine. And if it's not for you, you can still pay a vicarious visit to Uruguay, Argentina, Venezuela or Colombia just by walking right down the street.

El Rincón de Chabuca
7118 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33141

El Rincon de Chabuca on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your review. I've started a group, the Miami & Miami Beach Spanish Language & Culture Club, and recently visited this restaurant to consider it as a possible place for our group to explore Peruvian food.

    We could really use someone with your obvious knowledge of Latin American cuisine in the group. If you are interested in joining, it is free and without any obligation. To join, just visit

    Please be sure to let me know if you join so I can add you to my list of high level advisors!

    Thanks again.