Tuesday, May 17, 2005

El Rocoto - Cerritos

What a disappointment! I expected a lot from this place given that Jonathan Gold gave it a rave review in LA Weekly a few weeks back. But then, I didn't try the jalea he suggested. I opted for the staple on which I judge all Peruvian restaurants; saltado de pollo.

This is a simple dish, one that I make myself on a regular basis. In fact, if you look at the photo in my blog profile, you will see saltado as prepared by yours truly. Saltado is not a complicated dish. It does not require very exotic ingredients. Cumin, soy, vinegar, a few julienned veggies, chicken and french fries...that's really all there is to it. If you're curious on making this on your own here's my recipe which I posted with photos.

What *IS* important, however, is that everything is cooked to order. Sadly, El Rocoto misses this one essential detail.

I should have suspected something was wrong when they brought out the dish of saltado scarcely five minutes after we placed the order. I know what you're thinking, "What's wrong with that? The sooner the food is brought out, the better! Right?"

Wrong.

At least that's not what I've observed with all the restaurant-made saltados I've ever had. My favorite joints for saltado (El Pollo Inka in Lawndale and Inka Anaheim in Anaheim) take at least fifteen minutes or longer to prepare their saltados. At both of these restaurants, what I get is juicy, plump chicken pieces, with a good brown sear on the meat. You know the minute you taste it that moments ago, this chicken started out raw and was seared on a blazing hot wok. Popping this juicy, hot morsel into your mouth, you should also detect "wok-hey", that elusive flavor you get only from proper wok cooking.

At El Rocoto (and also in the sad chain called Inka Grill), I surmised immediately that this was not the case. As soon as I saw the dish, I knew. The chicken pieces looked stringy and pale, with no visible caramelization or searing. Although they were generous with their serving of it, once I tasted the meat, I found it ropy and dry. Even the dark meat pieces were chewy and spongy.

The verdict was clear. They had pre-cooked the chicken to save time.

The vegetable components of onions, tomatoes, and fries did get stir fried to order, but only then did the pre-cooked chicken pieces get added. The resulting dish was flat and tasted stewed, when it should be lively, fresh, and hot.

This to me is inexcusable since I would have gladly waited a few minutes more to get a properly cooked saltado.

There were also other misses with the food they served. They did badly on the fried plantains, which is again as simple a dish as you can make it. Their mistake here was that the plantains were sliced too thinly and then fried in oil that wasn't hot enough to avoid greasiness. Adding to the comedy of blunders, some pieces were still raw.

Even the sauces provided with the bread was subpar. The green aji and the orange aji sauces had little flavor and lacked heat. It seemed as if every flavor on these sauces were muted, like it had been sitting too long in the fridge. No herby kick, no fruitiness, nothing. Only in aftertaste did a little of the chili heat kick in. But by then, I just didn't care.

The one redeeming aspect of the meal was dessert. It was lucuma ice cream. Lucuma, for those of you unfamiliar with Peruvian food, is the most popular ice cream flavor in Peru. It is made from a native fruit and is adobe red in color. The flavor is slightly sweet, rich and earthy like taro but bolder, and without the starchiness. The ice cream also has pleasant gritty mouth feel to it. It is one of my favorite ice cream flavors. Obviously though, El Rocoto did not make this ice cream. It is, in fact, the same ice cream they serve at all the Peruvian restaurants in L.A.

Now, if only I can find a store that sells it, I can make a complete three course Peruvian dinner at home!

El Rocoto
11433 South Street
Cerritos, CA 90703

20 Comments:

At 11:15 AM, Anonymous sarah said...

just passing through on my weekly blog reads *wink* thansk for the review! cerritos is right on the way down to fullerton (parents' house) for me...

 
At 9:12 PM, Blogger s said...

Hiya Mr. Monster,

I'm a fellow Irvine chowhound trying to get an ethnic food dining group together. I've enjoyed your posts on chowhound re: the local eats and wanted to know if you might be interested in joining.

Hope you'll stop by if you get a chance...

Happy eats!

Shinae

 
At 12:33 PM, Anonymous Juan Carlos said...

Hi!

I hit ypur page just by chance but as a peruvian, and one that really enjoys peruvian cuisine, I could not leave without commenting that the "Pollo saltado" you mention does not exist!

The peruvian dish (and one of the best I might say1) is "Lomo Saltado" which is made with smacll chunks of sirloin steak.... Sorry to dissapoint you but you must have landed in the hands of a typical "peruvian chef" born and raised in the USA!!!!

If you want the real recipe for the Lomo Saltadi..drop me a note.....

Regards,

JC from Lima, Peru
jcc2@Interzone.net

 
At 4:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

El Rocoto is the best restaurant in the LA area. If you don't like it your don't know how to appreciate what good dinning is. I bet who ever thinks that they can make this kind of food at home is nuts. You have to be either peruvian or a great Chief to make such great food. I married a peruvian and i enjoy peruvian food more then my own mexican food. I would never trade peruvian for no other food. I would love to find a restaurant like El Rocoto in San Diego. I have to drive several miles to enjoy this great food. So you live in LA take advantage of this place.
Isabel

 
At 10:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you really want to try good peruvian food, I will recommend you El Misti.
It is a great restaurant, the food is delicious and the service incredible. Don Juan ( the owner) really tries to make u feel at home. Its website is: www.elmisticuisine.com

 
At 10:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you really want to try good peruvian food, I will recommend you El Misti.
It is a great restaurant, the food is delicious and the service incredible. Don Juan ( the owner) really tries to make u feel at home. Its website is: www.elmisticuisine.com

 
At 3:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try El Rocoto in Gardena. It's just down the freeway from the one in Cerritos. (Artesia & Normandie, half a mile from the end of 91 FWY) Foods there are very authenticly delicious. I love it there.

 
At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess you need to be peruvian to realize the difference between real peruvian food and american hormone pumped chicken peruvian food(El Pollo Inka). as a matter of fact I have worked for both restaurants el rocoto and el pollo inka and if you wanna base yourself in a single dish then suit yourself!! el rocoto will beat el pollo inka by far any time of the day maybe you should try something better than pollo saltado or how we actually call it saltado de pollo given that they're actually very common plates that like you said any idiot might try to do;remember is not about how you do it but about how good it tastes .

 
At 5:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't know about the rocoto in Cerritos. Personally i've noticed restaurants water down the further away they get from their "home" population. Gardena and its surrounding area has a huge Peruvian population. Cerritos where I grew up....no. I enjoy the tallarin in Gardena. For saltado's I go to Mario's in LA, vine and melrose. Both saltado's are great! Try the calamari too! Yes it's greasy but isn't all good food from a wok greasy!

 
At 11:40 PM, Blogger otonitoni said...

El Rocotto was a big disappointment to me as well. I've tried Mario's (THe owner/chef is actually Korean that grew up in Peru), El Pollo Inka, and now this. Their dishes were bland and the plantains were horrendous.

I would drive the extra 35 minutes for some Mario even though the wait could be an hour long!

 
At 1:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, are you getting some money from those restaurants you advertise? I am peruvian and as that, I actually know how peruvian food taste. Let me tell you that El Rocoto does a great job getting their food taste as peruvian as possible. The restaurants you mentioned not only have tasteless food, but a horrible service. Maybe, next time, you should order some typical food, so you can actually comment about it. as you said, saltado de pollo is something you can do at home.

 
At 11:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

El Rocoto Restaurant is actually really good. I recommend it to many people who have not tried peruvian food. The sauces they serve are very tasty. I am peruvian and I know what is good peruvian food.....

 
At 11:56 PM, Anonymous paredes said...

El Misti and Inka Grill are the worst Peruvian Restaurants. I love El Rocoto and El ceviche del rey in Downey especially for their Pollo al la brasa....I am also peruvian and this is the best so far aside Marios

 
At 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having been around Souther Calif. all my life and having worked as a waiter in peruvian restaurants i know of the best place for peruvian food. I agree that pollo inka (gardena) and the el rocoto (cerritos) are not what they used to be. they are now interested in the money and not the quality. i have eaten in both restaurants frequently and i have found myself loving a few dishes such as aji de
gallina, and alfajor from pollo inka and chicharron con pan for breakfast from el rocoto. but over all i have not been happy with both restaurants. I finally found the perfect peruvian place in the city of bellflower. It is a huge place yet it is a little hidden. it goes by the name The South Village. The service ther is spectacular. The food cheap when you see the portions! and food cooked to order. the make everything from scratch such as their leche asada, and the deeply colored and tasteful chicha morada
and talk about their menu. they have over 70 plus items and they are made to orders! they have the common saltados, paellas, tallarin verdes, chaufas, chifas......

i am not a food critic but as a fellow peruvian and cook i from the first time i walked in there and was greeted be agustin (yes i still remember him from the last
time i was there...he was great)
a waiter there,
i fell in love. the decor might not be tarditional but the space...the size of the restaurant in huge. they have a night club there! they have a fully stocked bar with pisco sours and more....

i apologize if i rambled a lot but i am really pasionate about food and it is hard to get good good now adays but i am really happy that these places such as the south village are around that bring variety with tradition.

here is the info if any one is interested:

"the south village" fine peruvian cuisine and bar
562-804-0200
www.thesouthvillage.com
i cannot remember the address but it is in the city of bellflower. it is in the corner to bellflower st and flower.

 
At 10:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love el Rocoto in gardena, they have the best pescado a lo macho and tallarin verde. I don't like their chicken dishes like their pollo saltado, but their sea food dishes are delicious, the green souce and bread are really good and service is great

 
At 8:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

when i read this review i was completely shocked!! i couldnt believe the negative feedback that i was getting. I personally used to eat at Nory's Restaurant, they had excelent food for a long time. However, the quality of the food began to decrease as did the service. I was recommened by a friend of mine that i should try El Rocoto. As a true peruvian that I am, I can verify that the taste at this restaurant is very authentic. The overall feel of the restaurant and service go beyond my expectations each time. I feel very proud of the country that I was born in, and a way that I share that with others is by recommending them to try our Peruvian cuisine. Most of my friends are born here in the USA and tghus afraid to try new things. However, each time I see my friends after they visit El Rocoto, I get nothing my great news. They tell me that loved the food and felt comfortable eating there. My best friend is an example of those people who hold back on new foods. She has grown to love El Rocoto so much that she tries new dishes from time to time. I just think that you are ordering the wrong dishes. After all, you are the critic and should feel challenged to try things that you CANT make at home. Here's a thought: Peru has miles and miles of coast line. TRY SEAFOOD!! there is nothing better than a good chupe or a ceviche!! Peruvian seafood is amazing you should try it!!

 
At 11:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

TOO BAD THE SERVICE IS HORRIBLE AT EL ROCOTO IN CERRITOS.

 
At 12:22 PM, Blogger Patricia S said...

Hello Im a peruvian wich like the good peruvian food (is the best), El Rocoto in Cerritos or in Gardena are the best restaurants in this area, the great service, presentation and enviroment match perfectly with the high gourment taste of the food, is not every day food, wich I can cook also at home, the desserts are great Try the torta de chocolate)also if you want to taste the real Arequipenp food just go to El Misti, Grat (my dad is from Arequipa and he love it) Don Juan is an excellent anfitrion Patricia

 
At 12:03 AM, Anonymous Will said...

I don't know about el Rocoto in Cerritos, but "El Rocoto" in Gardena is pretty good. You should try that one.

 
At 11:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been to Roccoto and I did not like it very much, I've tried different plates. Polla Inka used to be great in the mid 90's but now have lowered there quality and I feel are more interested in turning a profit than representing the Peruvian culture at its best. Lately I've ate at El Charo at the Long Beach town center off the 605freeway and Carson I believe. The place is great! and the service is very welcoming. I encourage you to try the food there, it's delicious! I might go this weekend, I started craving it now!!!

 

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