Gil Portocarrero is a popular fixture in the North End.
Besides taking care of customers at Amigos, his Mexican eatery on State Street, he can be found delivering his chunky salsa to Albertsons and the Boise Co-op.
He’s undoubtedly an industrious guy not afraid of trying new things.
This may help to explain why Portocarrero recently started serving a breakout menu of Peruvian fare (offered 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays) at Amigos.
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You’re probably asking by now: Peruvian cuisine at a Mexican restaurant? While the two cuisines do share a few similarities, they are many miles apart in terms of cartography and culinary likeness, in most cases.
But like I said, Portocarrero enjoys a challenge.
Now, diners at Amigos will find lomo saltado and causa de pollo side by side with Mexican standbys such as chile verde and chicken mole.
Peruvian cuisine is a hodgepodge of international influences and flavors. The capital city of Lima has a vibrant Italian enclave that’s been going strong for more than a century. This Mediterranean sway has made its way into the mainstream cuisine over the years. Chinese laborers in the 19th century also left their mark and at the same time introduced Peruvian cooks to soy sauce and other Asian seasonings.
Let’s not forget that potatoes hail from the foothills of the Andes. So, expect most Peruvian plates to have spuds on them in one form or another. When in doubt, put a potato on it.
The appetizer portion of the menu has Peruvian classics such as papas rellenas ($7.95), a fried potato pocket (stuffed with seasoned ground beef, raisins, hard-boiled egg and unpitted kalamata olives) that turned out to be mushy and not crispy as I expected. Regardless, the filling was a symphony of sweet and salty flavors, served with mint-spiked pureed green salsa.
Continue down the potato path to the papas a la huancaina ($7.95), a chilled dish that consists of skinned and boiled gold potatoes draped with an incredibly rich cheese sauce made from feta and ricotta cheeses, milk, chili pepper and a dash of yellow mustard for color.
During the scorching days of summer, a chilled plate of ceviche de pescado ($10.95) will also be a welcome treat. Served in a romaine lettuce boat, thin slices of citrus-cured cod (mixed with chopped scallion, cilantro and Peruvian peppers) are blanketed with shaved red onion. Puffy Peruvian corn kernels and blanched sweet potato join the tangy fish on the plate, offering sweet juxtaposition.
Chicha morada ($2.50) is another good choice on a hot day. This traditional Peruvian juice, served over ice in a big, glass boot, boasts a deep purple color (thanks to Peruvian purple corn) and hints of clove, cinnamon and fresh lime.
As for seafood entrées, the menu has several good options. If you like paella, go for the arroz con mariscos ($17.95). A mound of piquant rice (I didn’t detect any saffron, but it had no shortage of fiery amarillo peppers and garlic) comes pocked with delicately cooked green-lipped mussels, tiny squids, shrimp and fried cod bites.
If seafood is not your thing, try the lomo saltado ($16.75). This dish resembles fajitas (strips of juicy sirloin mingled with tomato, onion and cilantro) yet it tastes more like a Chinese stir-fry. The dark sauce — redolent of soy sauce, garlic and red wine — seeped into the adjacent mound of steamed white rice and crispy crinkle-cut fries.
You’ll get the same treatment with the pollo saltado ($15.95), except the beef is replaced with tender strips of marinated and stir-fried chicken breast.
The idea for the tallarin verde con bistec ($14.95) certainly comes from the Italian neighborhoods of Peru. It’s essentially a tangle of spaghetti coated with a verdant and somewhat bland pesto, topped with slices of marinated and grilled skirt steak (excessively tough in my case) and julienne bell pepper.
You might see carapuicra pork and rice ($12.50) from time to time on the special board, but this classic dish (made with potato and toothsome pieces of tender pork in a spicy peanut sauce) didn’t make the cut on the final menu.
It’s obvious that Amigos is still working out the kinks with its Peruvian food, but there are some good flavors going on here. Plus, Idahoans will surely appreciate the spud-heavy menu.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org.