Sunday, July 27, 2008

Peruvian Kitchen - Irvine

So here's what happened since we last checked in: Lima City (a Peruvian food stall in an Irvine food court I previously reviewed) is gone, replaced by Peruvian Kitchen, who moved out from its Fountain Valley digs, which is now occupied by another Peruvian restaurant called Casa Inka.

I won't attempt to explain the reasoning behind this game of Peruvian restaurant musical chairs, except to say that it sounds like the plot of a bad telenovela. But whatever may have occurred behind the scenes, it's a good turn of events, at least for Irvine.

At first, I didn't think so. When I saw that new owners had taken over Lima City in a bloodless coup, I shunned their offerings. I was a Lima City loyalist, entrenched in a comfortable routine of ordering nothing but their mushroom chicken from a heated trough.

I ate the dish once a week. Sometimes even twice or three times. Sure, it wasn't something I'd ever seen at any other Peruvian restaurants. And yes, the dish's authenticity was dubious. It's deliciousness, however, was undeniable. Above all, it was quick, good, and cheap -- perfect for a working schlub with only an hour to spare for lunch.

Who was this interloper who drove my mushroom chicken into permanent exile? Within a few weeks, new signs were installed, revealing that it was none other than Peruvian Kitchen, the highly regarded Fountain Valley restaurant which I hadn't gotten around to trying.

Why it was slumming it in a food court, I hadn't a clue. Though now I had no excuse, no choice, but to give it a chance.

And what better than lomo saltado to test the waters. The chifa staple is the pad thai of Peruvian food; a dish that isn't exactly indigenous but still ubiquitously popular in Peru and in Peruvian restaurants stateside.

The first thing I notice shortly after I ordered the saltado was the leaping flames of a stove reflected on the walls of an unseen kitchen. Someone back there was working a wok over a very high BTU burner. Since saltado is essentially a Chinese stir-fry mixed with Latin flavor, this was a good sign.

Scarcely five minutes later, my order was handed to me, already packed in Styrofoam container.

I found a seat and flipped open the lid. When I did, a plume of hot steam carrying the aroma of cumin and soy sauce escaped. It smelled exactly right. Then I took a bite and tasted the best saltado I've had since El Pollo Inka in Lawndale.

The beef wasn't just tender, it melted. Everything that surrounded it -- the fries, the red onion, the tomato -- was wokked and seasoned perfectly. It was flavorful, crisp, and alive.

Even the rice was spot on. Cooked with a hint of chicken broth in a similar manner as Hainan chicken rice, the starch could've functioned as a standalone dish.

Though it was one of the more expensive meals I've ever had in a food court ($9.69 after tax), it marked the moment that I greeted this occupying force as liberators.

Rest in peace mushroom chicken, wherever you are.

Peruvian Kitchen
(949)553-1401
2540 Main St. #J
Irvine, CA 92614

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Shik Do Rak - Irvine

28 Comments:

At 8:05 AM, Anonymous JB said...

Well, I've been encouraging you to visit Peruvian Kitchen for more than 2 years now, and it took a relocation to Irvine to get you there -- LOL.

I almost drove off Magnolia Avenue a few weeks ago when I noticed PK was now "Casa Inka." I'm still curious to know if it's owned by the same family. Still, I'm glad the PK menu lives on in that infamous "Baja Fresh" food court on Main Street. The lomo saltado pictured looks exactly like what was served in Fountain Valley.


Monster Munching readers who are intrigued by this hidden gem of a food court vendor can find my legendary review of Peruvian Kitchen from Feb. 2006 here:

http://www.chowhound.com/topics/78709

 
At 10:00 AM, Blogger ChristianZ said...

I've been to the Fountain Valley one before and thought it was good.

"And yes, the dish's authenticity was dubious. It's deliciousness, however, was undeniable."

Yes, whether or not a dish is authentic is an entirely different matter from whether or not you like it.

jb, Chowhound? I know a lot of people will hesitate to look at that poorly run site with the worst administration and moderation team ever. Maybe you can post your review elsewhere.

 
At 1:20 PM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

Ha Elmo....just when I ask for more non Asian and Mexican reviews you put up a review on Peruvian Cuisine which seems like a fusion of Asian and Mexican cuisine. Ha Ha!!!

Can't really get into Peruvian cuisine for some reason (except for Inka Cola). Maybe it because it doesn't seem to be unique and a blend of 2 other cuisines. It doesn't taste bad, its just that I would choose so many cuisines before picking Peruvian.

I went to King Lobster Place for Dim Sum yesterday. I love it. Clean, not as hectic as the places in Little Saigon, More selectiong, refills on water without asking, 2 people $23.00!!!!

Thanks for a great find and recommendation!!! And its closer to my house. Only thing was not great there were the custard cups. too much crust and not much flavor. It wasnt bad, but this is one of my favorite Dim Sim dishes and some of the ones in Little Saigon are like sex in a pastry!

I hope Elmo doesn't mind me posting a link to another blogger, but I appreciate these bloggers that have been doing it for a while and take the time to share with us readers. My posting of the link is two fold. #1 to help get more people to read his blog regularly in addition to this great blog #2 He was treated so poorly at a restaurant recently (top post on Cest La Vie) that it pissed me off. Griffen is probably a much nicer guy than I am, so he probably was nice to his rude waitress, where as I would have verbally bitched slapped her and put her in her place. I hate when people take advantage of nice or innocent people. I commented on his blog that I would tell 100 people about the poor treatment he received and they would tell people who would tell people. We foodies of OC need to stick together! What better way to get to my goal of 100 than to post about it here. I hope you don't mind Elmo. I don't even know Griffen...just am supportive of his OC food blog.

Anyway, the link is :

http://www.griffineatsoc.com/


Diamond Dog - The World's First Food Blog Commentator

 
At 7:48 PM, Blogger V said...

OMG, that looks simply WONDERFUL. :)

 
At 7:09 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

well CRAP! I was just there (in that food court) on Friday, meeting an old friend for lunch & even remember seeing that place, but we picked Greek instead (bad choice as it turned out)
Guess I need a re-do. Thanks for the review.

 
At 10:29 AM, Blogger Bill said...

I wonder what happen the kitchen. Now I know where they're at but dang the price. I guess the other joint had too much of an overhead.

 
At 10:39 AM, Blogger Bill said...

If you don't mind where is this King Lobster joint?

 
At 12:21 PM, Blogger KirkK said...

Hey Elmo - Looks great...Lomo Saltado is one of my favorite Peruvian dishes! As with many of these type of dishes, beef in the states is much more tender, but the the flavor of the beef in Peru is more powerful.

 
At 3:02 PM, Blogger melissa said...

I've been wanting to try lomo saltado for quite some time, since I have heard it's just so damn good, but I had no clue what it was. Well, now I do. :)

There's a place here in Lake Forest (I mentioned a short while back that I almost always eat lunch in LF and I think you often do too) called Nory's. It's in the same center as Pho Bo Vang, which I also recommended a while ago. Anyway, I heard from pretty much everyone that they have really great saltado there, and wonderful and spicy sauces. Keep meaning to give it a try.

 
At 5:22 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

JB,

Yup I never knew what I was missing until now. The fault is entirely mine for just plum forgetting that Peruvian Kitchen was highly regarded by you and others. I lost the hand-written list of recommendations from my readers. Maybe PK just decided enough was enough and plopped itself right in front of me!

Christian,

You're talking to a guy who prefers Panda Express over the Irvine Sam Woo's takeout.

DD,

Ah yes. Griffin's post. I read that last week and it angered me too! Looks like you should change your name from Diamond Dog to Attack Dog!! HAHA! And you're right, Griffin is a really nice guy. He's a fellow OCFoodBlogger whom I've been honored to meet.

I would've been a lot nastier in my critique if I was treated like that.

V,

It is! It really is!

Christoofat,

Tell me about it. I ate at that food court twice since the takeover, shunning them twice (until they changed the sign, making me realize who they were). One of those trips I had a very bad plate of nachos at Baja-Whatever. Chicago Best's hot dogs were good though.

Bill,

King Lobster Palace is a review I did for The OC Weekly. Check it out here. I may have spelled their name wrong (it's "Palace" not "Place"), it's still wonderful.

Kirk,

Powerful is how I take it! This dish of lomo saltado is perhaps the most well-seasoned (almost verging on too salty) that I've ever had. Perfect!

melissa,

Ah yes! Nory's. One of my faves. It's right next to Pho Bo Vang if I'm not mistaken. My go to dish there is the fried rice. See a pic here.

 
At 10:09 PM, Blogger Bill said...

THanks! I search your blog and wonder to myself I've been reading this blog long enough not to miss it. Yes I'm guilt of not ever clicking on your OC Weekly reviews.

 
At 1:07 PM, Blogger melissa said...

Yes it's a few doors down from Bo Vang. Did you ever end up trying them by the way? I was going to go today, but I think I'll give Nory's a shot instead.

 
At 2:21 PM, Blogger janetms383 said...

What WHAT??? I'm shocked to hear that Peruvian Kitchen is gone from Fountain Valley. They originally had a store on Beach and Talbert in HB and moved to the FV location a couple of years ago. I would go regularly for their buffet lunch, but since I now work out of the area, I haven't been recently. I always look for the restaurant when I head that way on Warner and though I saw it just a couple of weeks ago!! Well, Elmo, you're lucky to have them close to you. But I am sad......

 
At 7:15 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Bill,

No problem! Happy to help. If I didn't write for The Weekly, I would've done King Lobster Palace for this blog myself! It's that good!

Melissa,

No Pho Bo Vang for me yet. I came close last Saturday, while I was on my way back from watching The Dark Knight at Foothill Ranch, but I was vetoed for a broken rice place in Westminster instead.

janet,

And to think I was ignoring them for three whole weeks. And yep, FV's loss is Irvine's gain!

 
At 1:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi...just came across your blog...what a great treasure trove of information!!
I was looking through the list of various eateries you have visited and noticed that you didnt have one place that I really like. May I suggest Laxmi in Tustin (past Newport on El Camino Real - next to Ballys). Its an Indian Grocery Store/eatery where they have delicious Indian snacks, lunch buffets and stuff for dinner too. (Am not sure if you have already reviewd it, I apologise for not looking properly if you have)
I'm sure youll love the place :)

 
At 8:37 PM, Blogger Roger. said...

I'm sold! Gotta make a stop here the next time I head north.

 
At 12:44 AM, Anonymous Alejandro said...

Nice post, we featured it, and one of your pictures, at Peru Food...

http://perufood.blogspot.com/2008/08/on-blogs-peruvian-food-roundup.html

 
At 9:13 AM, Blogger Passionate Eater said...

Elmo, your are the rock god of all bloggers! Only you can describe food court food in such a way, that the reader can imagine what it feels like to eat at a five-star Peruvian restaurant.

 
At 10:52 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Anon,

You're right, I've not been to Laxmi, but I know exactly where it is and have been meaning to try it. Thanks for the reminder!

Roger,

Well that was easy!

Alejandro,

Thanks again for the mention! You're doing good work spreading the word about Peruvian food, I must say.

Passionate Eater,

A rock-star? ME? Shucks! Maybe a folk-singer who like to tell yarns about how it used to be. But when I start demanding that my M&Ms be sorted into certain colors, then I'll know I'm there.

 
At 8:07 PM, Blogger Katrina said...

awesome, I've been trying to find a good place for Saltado around Irvine for awhile now... anyone know the opening hours/days for the food court?

 
At 11:13 AM, Blogger wonginator71 said...

Katrina, Peruvian Kitchen is open Mon-Thu 10:30AM-8PM, Fri-Sat 10AM-9PM, according to their takeout menu.

Went here yesterday for the 2nd time. Ordered the lomo saltado on my first visit. On my 2nd visit, I got the lomo a lo pobre, which is a fried egg on top of a charbroiled steak. Also came with fried planteins (a type of banana), which was very delicious. I spent the whole meal trying to figure what it was I was eating and initially thought it was some type of tasty eggplant.

 
At 1:25 PM, Blogger Armilyn & David said...

My wife and I had the same experience that the first commenter, jb, had driving by the former Peruvian Kitchen--"Hey, it's Casa Inka now!"

I always found Peruvian Kitchen good but expensive. I think I exclusively ordered the lomo saltado and found it good, but no better than any other I have had from other Peruvian restaurants in OC and in Gardena.

 
At 3:16 PM, Blogger Suz @ Alive in Wonderland said...

I have been wanting to eat here. Thanks for the tip on what to order.

 
At 4:50 PM, Blogger wonginator71 said...

Just an update that when I dropped by the food court today (Nov. 12, 2008), Peruvian Kitchen was closed during the lunch period. I think they might be shut down for good because they had been open for lunch time during previous visits.

There rarely was ever a line when I visited this food court location, and I think their higher prices scared away the regular food court visitors.

 
At 5:56 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Wonginator,

Oh wow! That's sad news! I'm going to post about it on Stick a Fork In It.

 
At 3:14 PM, Blogger wonginator71 said...

Another update (Nov. 25): looks like I was premature in saying that Peruvian Kitchen was closed for good. I did visit the food court again today, and they were open for business. The closure was temporary, maybe just for that one day when I visited a couple of week ago.

Their stall wasn't busy, though. They had maybe 2 or 3 customers during the lunch hour when I was there.

 
At 3:07 AM, Anonymous Sujan Patricia said...

now, i'm not saying that peruvian kitchen is necessarily worth a long detour if it means you're going to be late for work after lunch. but, if you're in irvine and your other options are the nearby food courts, then this you should ...

 
At 12:28 PM, Blogger wonginator71 said...

Adding a final update here, as it is 9 months later since my last post about it. Peruvian Kitchen is closed and gone for good from this Irvine food court on a recent visit in July 2009. I forget exactly what replaces it, but I think it's a Chinese fast food, Panda-Express-type of eatery.

 

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