The first time Gluttons ate Peruvian food, we stumbled into it after hoofing it around the empty streets of some Madrid neighborhood one Sunday morning a few years ago. We were up grandma early cuz of the time change and hungry as goldfish cuz on US of A time it was lunchbox time. After like an hour of walking–no exaggeration–we found our joint, the only place open on the entire block, a shiny gold tooth in a jacked up grill. Three Peruvian women sat us in a stuccoed back room with no windows and no way out but the way we came in. Had a live chicken bolted into the room, or Ollie North showed up in a thawb to deal arms, none of us’d've blinked. That was one scary-ass, claustrophobic room.
We sat there for a second, hungry and taking it all in, until the women brought us bowls of hot, broth-y soup. Sorta like chicken noodle soup but with garbonzo-like beans and fish. Shit was delicious, but I’d mostly forgotten about the flavor cuz the soup’s become this weird-ass food item that we ate that one time in that fucked up room in Madrid.
Flash forward to last week to Rosa de Lima, where Gluttons have gathered to celebrate my birfday (Holla!) , and lo and behold, what does the waiter plop in front of us but the same motherfuckin’ soup! That’s some serious symmetry. Food gods is real, son.
And the soup was again tasty, although not stunning. Not like were popping flavor cherries or anything. But if I was laid up on the couch with the flu in me, I’d eat this shit with a Nyquil back all day long.
Before we get too deep into the food, a word about the decor. Rosa is wide-open–one giant room that was almost totally empty the night we were there. The drop ceiling was punctuated with sharp fluorescent lights that were on full hum. The floor is packed full of big round tables covered with white table cloths. There was no music, no chatter, no waitstaff other than our waitress, no kitchen din. The only sound in the place came from a TV playing the World Series in Spanish. Someone needs do something about this. I’ve seen more ambiance in retirement home dining halls.
Alright. So, the food. In addition to the complimentary soup, we were also given garlic bread, which I promptly spread with aji sauce. What, you may ask, is aji? Let’s ask the Family Circus:
Nah, just playin’. Aji‘s a green, creamy hot sauce made with aji peppers and cilantro, among other things, and it’s good as hell. I’ve never had a hot sauce that tasted quite like it before. I spooned it on everything that crossed my plate.
After the free soup and bread, we ordered three appetizers. Two were fine, nothing exceptional. In fact I barely remember them. One was halved avocados covered in a some sort of mayonnaise-based shrimp salad. The other was a plate of boiled (I think) potatoes covered in a yellow cheese sauce. Solid B’s both of them. The tamale, though, was crazy delicious. It was wide–think three traditional Mexican tamales smashed together like Fig Newtons–and served out of its husk. Eating it was like eating cake or chocolate–super rich and decadent–but also salty and savory like jerky. Way moister than any other tamale I’ve ever had. It didn’t need the aji but I doused it in it anyway.
Entrees followed the same pattern–most were B’s but one was fucking phenomenal. The B’s included a ceviche dish, a pile of mixed seafood, a cold chicken dish, and a steak. All fine, but all nothing compared to the superstar, the featured item, the headliner. That, my hungry friends, was the roasted chicken. Yessir, at Rosa de Lima, the biddy stands alone.
Typically, I don’t get down with the bird when I eat out unless it’s deep-fried. Swine, bovine, duck, goats, quails–all of the above usually sound more appealing than the base poultry options on menus. But this bird, damn. I don’t know what kind of chickens they raise in Peru, but Holy God are they delicious. Ours were spiced perfectly, with a rub that seemed to include pepper, cumin, maybe paprika. The outside was done right, slightly crispy with just the right amount of charred skin. And the insides: beautiful. Our chickens ran juices like Snapple when we cut into them.
The pickled onions deserve mention also. They looked like they were gonna taste like straight-on sliced red onions but instead were uber-fresh, lime-marinated muted versions of the raw bulb. But, really, what it comes down to at Rosa de Lima is the bird. Everything else (except that dank-ass tamale) pales. We had two orders at our table of six, and there was no question which entree was the real business. If ya’ll ever find yourselves at Rosa, there’s no question what you need to do. Get yourself half a chicken, spiced and roasted Peruvian style. It’s the kind of chicken that inspires stand-offs and duels. This ain’t no Tombstone pizza. You don’t let the last piece sit.