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Monday, July 13, 2009

Inti: Peruvian at Its Best

I'm so glad I finally found a decent, no-frills Peruvian joint that's both good and easy on the wallet. I had never been too impressed with Mario's or Los Balcones del Peru, to name a few, so there was some trepidation entering this restaurant in a non-descript minimall. But the friendly staff and delicious food quickly won me over.

The bread and salsa brought before the meal were good starters. The bread itself was nothing special but it was warm and fresh, which is more than I can say for some of the fancier venues that charge an arm and leg.

The green salsa it came with was very spicy and flavorful. Besides milk, which gave the salsa a creamy consistency and likely tempered the heat, the salsa also contained habanero, which made it so spicy and condiment-worthy.

The ceviche mixto included raw shrimp, squid, halibut and octopus slightly cooked in citrus. They were topped with red onions, spices and cilantro, among other things. I loved that it came with toasted corn kernels that added a great smoky and crunchy texture to the mix. It also came with boiled potatoes whose mild flavor counterbalanced the sourness of the juice well.

Most importantly, the seafood was fresh. They also don't mess around when it comes to heat. When they asked how spicy I wanted it, I asked for spicy. And spicy it was. I daresay it almost kicked my butt. Delish.

The highlight of the meal, however, was the Bisteck a lo Pobre. A hearty slab of steak topped with an over-easy egg, sitting on a bed of fries, with a side of white rice on a plate whose edges were adorned with fried plaintains. Need I say more?

The meats on these types of dishes in other restaurants are always sub-par quality, but this meat tasted like quality meat (while not grass-fed premium or anything). I usually like my meat bloody -- aka medium rare -- but because it was on the thin side, I let it slide that it was cooked well-done. But it wasn't overcooked like in most other joints either, which was good. The egg could have been a tad less cooked as the yolk wasn't as oozy as I'd like it to be, but I like anything with a fried egg on top so I'm biased. The fries were crispy enough, not too greasy as in many other joints. Ditto the fried plaintains, which are usually an overripe mush dripping in grease. These were on the firm side but still soft enough to savor and with a bit of a crunch from the deep-frying. I didn't love the rice too much, which was on the dry side but not a huge deal.

The Arroz Chaufa de Mariscos -- seafood fried rice with scrambled eggs and green onions -- was good, although not as good as the steak. The dish represents Chinese immigrants' influence on Peruvian cuisine, in the form of chau fan, which I believe is "fried rice" in Chinese. One can find restaurants serving "chifa," Peruvian-Chinese food, all throughout Peru as well as in Chile and Argentina, the latter of which aren't considered as authentic. Don't mean to belabor the point, but I did like that the fried rice wasn't as greasy as I usually find in Chifas and Chinese restaurants. The seafood tasted fresh and my only complaint was that it was on the bland side. Then again, everything else was pretty strongly flavored so it's no wonder that it must have tasted flat in comparison.

Service was great. I didn't like the typical Peruvian drinks but that may be a matter of taste. I didn't care for maracuya juice or the chicha morada, which is made from black maize and boiled with pineapple and spices.

I look forward to returning and trying other dishes, like the classic lomo saltado (more fries!).

5870 Melrose Ave. #105
Los Angeles, CA 90029
(323) 962-2027

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