Operation roadfood: Peruvian in New Haven.

I didn’t really have a good base for what’s good in Peruvian cuisine until recently, when a stop at New Haven’s Machu Picchu enlightened me to what I had been lacking at the lackluster Smith Street and 5th Avenue joints.  Who says New Haven is just Yalies and proto-hamburgers?

The name belies the restaurant’s atmosphere: it ain’t no rich Inca’s resort hotel kitchen.  Lovably dive-y, in fact, and filled with regulars sucking down Chinese-style noodle dishes, hidden behind plates of chicken bones and rogue napkin piles.

They’re smart, because the most delicious item on the menu is easily the beyond-perfect roast chicken ($12 for a whole), which defies its status as “grilled” on the menu by tasting like it had been smoked!  Easily the most tender and juicy bird I’ve eaten in the last year, and possibly in my lifetime.  I could have devoured the whole plate.

Instead, I went polite and sampled a few of the other things we ordered.  The salad that came with the chicken was hilariously perfunctory, but the fries were good (we sadly didn’t try the salchipapas).  The lomo saltado ($10) improved the fry formula by taking the spuds and using them as the potato portion of a tough beef stir fry that tasted like it had a French onion soup base.   Tasty, in a “tastes like Mom’s fifteen-minute recipes” kind of way, if only mom had access to a fry-o-lator.

Against my sometime anti-seafood-in-a-non-seafood-restaurant bent, I also tried certain parts of the mixed seafood ceviche (it’s unclear to me, as I was not the one ordering, how this differs from the alternately-listed “seafood mix ceviche” – both $12), and found the squid to be particularly well-served by the citrusy brine – I would have ordered it with four-alarm spice levels, though, and the lowering of said made for a ho-hummer kind of experience.  The portion, as with everything, is LARGE.

I would be remiss not to mention the ridiculously good juices, too.  While my papaya was great, the clear winner of the evening was the mango, which came out looking almost jellied.  Both were in enormous glasses and cost somewhere in the neighborhood of two bucks.

I’ve got the menu in front of me here and it’s making me hungry.  Sadly, unlike most of the places I review, it’s a bit far away (not even close to the train) to make a random evening of.  Rest assured that I’ll be going back whenever possible; if you’re looking for a meal not too far off the CT Turnpike in the New Haven vicinity, you ought to try it.

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