The Unvegan

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Picturesque at Picca Cantina

Peruvian empanadas?

Not knowing what I was in for, and being led to believe that I was heading out for a night of cheap cocktails and free food, I headed to Picca Cantina on Pico. Unfortunately, although I had been promised free food, a miscommunication led to food being regularly priced. But this regularly-priced food still looked quite good and the bartender gave us our first round of drinks for free to apologize for the confusion. The menu consisted of some great-looking Peruvian dishes with a bit of a tapas flair. I ordered myself a Cusquena beer and then we got busy with ordering food.

We started off with their Empanada Trio. One beef, one chicken and one most hated eggplant. It also came with an unnecessary salad. Yes, I know empanadas are more of a Chilean and Argentinean dish, but if Thai places can serve orange chicken, I supposed Picca could take some artistic liberties with the continent of South America. They arrived pretty quickly and looked virtually indistinguishable from one another. To figure out which was which, we had to cut them open and see them from the inside. Since I was eating with my pals, Jonesy and DKoll, the cutting apart did not get in the way of our enjoyment. I tried all three because I had told my eating companions that I will try anything once. Yes, even the eggplant. Which was bad by the way. The other two were pretty good, but the seasonings didn’t exactly blow me away. Notably, though, the dough was flaky and almost pastry-like. While these weren’t bad by any means, I think empanadas are just better when they are kept as simple, delicious street food.

Who doesn’t drink sea urchin shooters?

Although Picca didn’t have exotic Peruvian food like guinea pig or alpaca, they did have some other truly unique flavors. One of these was called Tres Leches de Tigre. Of course, this means three tiger milks, but in actuality there were no tigers invoved. In place of tiger’s milk, this was three different shooters – one with rocoto (a type of chili pepper), one with aji amarillo (another type of chili pepper) and the other with sea urchin. Yes, sea urchin. These were each filled with incredibly complex and strange flavors. The rocoto flavor even had a quail egg in it! My favorite was the aji amarillo, which had a really salty flavor, but a healthy hint of ginger to offer and interesting balance. While the first sip of each of these were a shock of taste, after a couple sips, they became more familiar and more like something that would be worth ordering again.

Crispy chicken just knows how to win.

Next, we moved on to the real meat of the meal: Chicharron de Pollo. This was described as marinated, crispy chicken with salsa criolla and rocoto sauce. The criolla was essentially pico de gallo, so I brushed it away on my chicken pieces, but the rest of the chicken was just awesome. It has been lightly fried with a thin, crispy batter and was nice and juicy. The rocoto sauce was great for dipping and helped make this an all-around delicious dish.

The egg is deceivingly un-runny.

Finally, we came to the Bisteck a lo Pobre. Yes, the steak of the poor. This consisted of skirt steak, a fried egg, pan-fried banana and chickpeas tacu tacu. Not sure what the tacu tacu was, but perhaps this somehow hinted at rice, which was also served in this bowl of deliciousness. All mixed together, Picca once again delivered some complex and unique flavors. The only downside of this dish was that the egg could have been runnier. As it was, the yolk produced only the slightest amount of liquid. Fortunately, this was overshadowed by the addition of the banana, which truly made the steak of the poor special.

So, when all was said and done, I felt like Picca was a great idea that needed a few little tweaks. The unique flavors that Picca brought to our table told me that this was a place I needed to return to, if only to discover what they could do with all of the other items on their menu that I didn’t get around to tasting.