Peruvian Tapas: Lunch at Andina

Andina is a standby restaurant that I recommend to any visitor, and especially if you haven't had Peruvian food (which the Wall Street Journal is calling the next big thing). Andina's location is in a more trendy area then Limo (aka Pearl District as opposed to far end of Nob Hill), and the menu larger in terms of variety and they also have the advantage of having been established longer and a larger space. With that also means they are well known and can get pretty busy and the last time I was here for dinner, could barely make out the conversation with the person across from me. That's why I particularly recommend Andina for lunch because it isn't quite as noisy and bustling, though then you miss out on possibly live music. You can conveniently make reservations either way on OpenTable.

Since it was lunch, we declined any of the wonderful looking cocktails we saw around us and stuck with water and Chicha, a purple potato drink that supposedly has roots from the Incas. It tastes sweet actually, not what you would surmise from the description of using purple potato.

We also enjoyed their generous bread service (the best bread service I've had in Portland), with a basket of soft bread and a little speech explaining the 3 dips, going from mild and nutty in the back to the sweet fruity one in the middle and the garlicky spicier one in front. At a time when economicially some restaurants make you ask and charge for bread on your table, Andina keeps the bar high in terms of welcoming experience.

We dined tapas style, ordering 5 plates (they come in small, medium, and large) which we shared, often having halves of items as we ordered smalls for most dishes except for the empanadas which we got a medium so we each could have our own (you can see the sizes below). In retrospect I wish we had done that with the scallops too.

First to arrive were the Empanadas Caseras De Carna, flaky pastry filled with slow-cooked beef, raisins, and Botija olives. This was a meaty empanada, and suddenly at the corner I found essentially all olive. I thought they would have sliced the olives a bit more to distribute it throughout to give those pecks of sourness with the beef. The texture of the pastry was nice though, a great combination of crunch but softness inside.

At the same time to the table were the Yuca Rellena, cheese-stuffed yuca with an aj√≠ amarillo and cheese sauce. This is something I always order- I love the sauce (if the had been closer I would have dunked my bread to wipe it up), its creamy and rich and our server joked it's essentially like a Peruvian equivalent to a cheese stick. MMM crispy and gooey cheese stick.

 

Causas are always great eye candy in terms of presentation. Causas are a traditional preparation of freshly mashed potatoes, in Andina's case additionally infused with key lime juice, and always pressed into a cake with assorted fillings. We selected the seafood one "Mixta Nikkei" with spicy tuna, crab salad, and crispy shrimp over the chicken version or the vegetarian version they had, and it came with slices of avocado fanned aside it.

The last two tapas were my favorite and least favorite of the meal. The Conchas a la Parilla, smokey tasting grilled diver scallops with a garlic lime butter sauce and lots of crispy onions, went down just too quickly. I really wanted more of these, like a whole dish all to myself. Meanwhile, the Ahumados de Mar Y Rio, assorted smoked fish from the river and the sea were just too fishy for my taste, especially after the freshness I tasted from the causa and the conchas dishes.

Dessert visual candy: most pretty pretty princess was the Alfajores, the classic Peruvian cookie, scented with key lime and filled with manjar blanco, essentially a creamy caramel. Also ordered were a fruity berry sorbet and 3 mini creme brulees each highlighting a distinct Peruvian flavor. In all three dishes the cheery white flower was included and brought a sweet look to the plating, but is totally not edible.

I promised myself to come back and enjoy other tapas that were missed this time, but with cocktails, before the end of this year. When I first came to visit Portland, I didn't like the granola-y hippie atmosphere- keep in mind this was more then 10 years ago- and I couldn't see myself living here and liking it. When I stayed for Portland for a week in summer of 2008 ago again to see if I could live here, the Pearl District had been created by then and Andina was one of the stops I made- and it was also a lunch stop just like this visit was.

I loved the meal then, and that experience demonstrating Portland's growing infusion of more sophisticated modernity was part of the tipping point that made me think I could be a Portlander. And, here I am- this week, I will have lived in Portland for 3 years.

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