Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Panca Revisited (New York, NY)

Over the years, Panca has become one of our most reliable neighborhood standbys. I love the place, not because it serves the best Peruvian food in town. In truth, it does not. Main courses, which include standards like aji de gallina and lomo saltado (but no longer the delicious arroz con pato or arroz con pollo, sadly), are sometimes just a smidgen off: over- or undersalted, overly acidic, etc... But there are certain things Panca does consistently well -- very well -- including ceviches, tiraditos and anticuchos that are as good as most any version you can find in town. Pisco sours are competently mixed. And perhaps most importantly for winning our undying loyalty, the restaurant is dog friendly. They are awfully nice about letting us sit in the sidewalk enclosure with Julius.

On a recent, warm evening, after a long, pleasant family stroll, Justin, Julius and I stopped by Panca for a bite to eat. We ordered tapas style, sampling each of the four appetizers offered on the brief menu and a cebiche. Of the seven or so cebiches offered on the menu, we chose the cebiche mixto made with fresh fluke, shrimp, calamari and octopus in a rocoto "leche de tigre". To judge by the mild spice level and the light orange color of the leche de tigre (the liquid portion of the cebiche, literally "tiger's milk"), there wasn't much rocoto in the mix. But the ceviche was well made, well balanced and included reasonably high quality seafood. Red onions had probably been soaked in water to mute their bite and the dish was served with chunks of boiled sweet potato and huge Peruvian corn kernels.

I think the restaurant may have reformulated its anticucho recipe. The version of anticucho de corazon / grilled veal heart skewers with fried yuca & huacatay sauce we had on our most recent visit included very, very tender beef hearts that had not been marinated, but had been rubbed with a dry red pepper rub, then grilled. The texture was sublime; I think I prefer the deeper flavors of prior, marinated versions we've tried, there, however. The meat paired very pleasantly with the mild aji and huacatay sauces.

A trilogia de causas / a trio of mashed Peruvian yellow potato topped with tuna tartar, shrimp salad & octopus (pictured at the top of this post) was interesting and enjoyable. Seafood in the dish were across the board tender and non-fishy. The beautiful purple octopus topping one causa had been mixed with chopped black (purple) olives, which was quite a nice combination. The potato base was not as acidic as I've had at other places and it included a good amount of flavorful olive oil.

One of our surprise favorites was the papas a la huancaina / fingerling potatoes topped with aji amarillo & queso fresco sauce, served with eggs, corn & olives. It's really a very simple dish, but the execution elevated it to something wonderful. The mild, creamy sauce is made with fresh, white farmer's cheese (like queso fresco), yellow chili peppers, milk, oil and saltine crackers. (Make note, celiacs!) Potatoes were boiled to the perfect stage of being tender without being mushy. It's the Peruvian version of potato skins.

The final small plate we tried off the appetizers portion of the menu was taboule andino / quinoa grain salad with bell peppers, corn, avocado, asparagus, botija olives. Quinoa, a grain I often prepare at home in similar ways, is an Incan grain that's indigenous to the Andean highlands, extending through parts of Peru. I'm not sure Panca's preparation is something you would really find in classic Peruvian cuisine, but it is a high protein, gluten free and most importantly enjoyable vegetarian dish which reminded me of a cold pilaf. 

Panca may not serve the best Peruvian food in all of New York City, but it's enjoyable and good enough to make all three of us happy.

92 7th Avenue South 
New York, NY 10014 
(212) 488-3900

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