Archive for the Cholo's Kitchen (New Rochelle) Category

Cholo’s Kitchen

Posted in Cholo's Kitchen (New Rochelle) on June 11, 2009 by jaydel818
Image courtesy of Dave Austrias photostream on

Image courtesy of Dave Austria's photostream on

 4 Lawton Street
New Rochelle, New York

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Entrees $10-15 (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Warm, friendly, cozy cafe
Cuisine- Authentic Peruvian
Hits- Warm and welcoming owner, home-style dishes made with love, Peruvian spice blends, chicha morada, aji verde, out-of-this-world corn tamales
Misses- Tough meats

There are few things that make Rich nostalgic, but one of them is Peru.  His mom was born there, and he spent many of his childhood summers in rural bliss: buying a baby chick and keeping it as a pet, tasting cuy (roasted guinea pig) in the market without knowing what it was, his grandfather’s citrus ceviches, plentiful fresh seafood, and playing happily under the South American sun with an endless variety of cousins and friends.
Given his heritage, we spend a lot of time in pursuit of Westchester’s best Peruvian food… and the Holy Grail of lomo saltado that can compare to his grandmother’s, a quest that includes my own ventures into Peruvian cooking. Recently, I prepared this Asian-inspired, marinated steak dish served over white rice and french fries with aji verde, a spicy green sauce made with aji peppers (and put on pretty much anything).  Here’s my version:
Lomo Saltado
Our search for the perfect Peruvian has taken us to -among other places- Chavin in Port Chester and Lima’s Taste on Christopher Street downtown.  Today, we tried Cholo’s Kitchen in New Rochelle based on a friend’s recommendation.
More homey than swank, Cholo’s kitchen welcomes you with warm, bright colors and a hodgepodge of eclectic furniture.  The walls are painted in a vibrant yellow and red and adorned with framed, classic film posters like Secret of the Incas playing June 10-12 at Dipson’s Palace and starring Charlton Heston.  (In Peru, the word cholo refers to someone of mixed Indian -i.e., Inca- ancestry.  Although its original Spanish meaning was derogatory, it seems to be used informally in contemporary language as an endearment; Rich’s grandfather called him cholo when he was small, and Rich often greets me by saying, “Hola chola.“)  The menus are encased in brown-beige leather and imprinted with an artistic rendering of Machu Picchu, the 15th century Inca settlement never found or plundered by Spanish conquistadores. This printed leather is common among Peruvian souvenirs, and we have several bottles of pisco, a distilled grape liquor, in our home in similar decorative leather cases.
As we perused the menus, the waiter brought us a bowl of aji verde and a small ramekin filled with canchas, special toasted corn that reminds me of a cross between corn and nut.  The kernels are large with a thin outer skin, and they resemble the delicious unpopped popcorn at the bottom of the microwaveable bag, only they have a wonderful, nutty flavor as well.  Properly toasted for long periods of time, maiz cancha does not pop like regular corn, and it has a slick texture with a buttery, salty taste.  Placed on the table, these two staples are the hallmarks of an authentic Peruvian dining experience.
Cholo’s aji was HOT.  Rich called it “spicy,” and this is a man who grew up eating hot peppers out of his grandparents’ garden like they were apples.  Since I have a more heat-sensitive, Americanized tongue, I only dipped my fork in it.  It was definitely too hot for me, but Rich loved it and put it on nearly everything he ate tonight.
We were also offered a basket of warm rolls served on a charming doily not unlike those that adorn tabletops in Rich’s grandmother’s house.  The bread had a crisp exterior and a soft inside and was in keeping with Peru’s obsessive overserving of carbs.  In many Peruvian dishes, the entree comes with rice and french fries.  If you’re on the Atkins or South Beach diet, this isn’t the cuisine for you.
Rich ordered an Inca Kola, a bright yellow Peruvian soft-drink that smells like bubble gum and tastes very sweet and slightly of tropical fruit.  Also available in a diet variety, Inca Kola is la bebida del Perú, a drink that aligns itself very closely to Peruvian heritage (not unlike Coke’s tie to being the all-American cola).  We also tried Cholo’s chicha morada, a sweet drink made from Peruvian purple corn and embellished with tropical fruit juices.  Although it vaguely resembles a sangria, there are no chunks of fruit in chicha morada. This version had a distinct pineapple flavor and delicious undertones of warm, spicy cinnamon or nutmeg.  Rich drank two glasses and declared it “just might be better” than his grandmother’s.
Unable to choose just one appetizer, we started with Cholo’s combo: a platter designed for 3-4 people of humitas verdes (freshly ground Peruvian corn cooked with spices in a corn husk), papas a la huancaina (purple potatoes in a creamy yellow pepper sauce), and anticuchos (beef heart marinated with special spices and grilled, a Peruvian specialty).  The humitas was my favorite dish of the night– moist, buttery, sweet from the corn, and savory from the spices.  I could probably eat it all day, and Cholo’s version would certainly be included in my last meal (if I were able to plan it).  The Peruvian purple papas are more earthy and meaty than traditional American potatoes, and they had a spicy streak of heat that snuck up late in the finish, after I had chewed and swallowed.  The yellow sauce was buttery, almost like a hollandaise, and cooled the mouth a bit.  Our anticuchos were Rich’s favorite.  This tough, strongly seasoned meat is street food in Peru, and, like other organs (think liver), it has a metallic aftertaste.  The flavors were strong and mustardy with a delicious charred taste.  Since it is cardiac muscle, however, the meat is expectedly chewy and tough.  Our anticuchos were served with sliced potato sprinkled with paprika and other spices and garnished with red onion.  Since the portions are generous at Cholo’s, we had to decidely stop eating and wrap up the remainder of our appetizers to save room for our entrees.
Rich ordered lomo a la pobre, two fried eggs and mature (sweet) plantain with sauteed steak, onion, and tomato in a tangy sauce.  In accordance with Peruvian carb overload, it is served with french fries and rice.  The steak was chewy, as it often is in Peruvian cooking, and the rice was not too sticky (as Rich likes it) but buttery and tinged with delicious garlic.  The fries were soft and had delicious flavor from the soy sauce they had soaked up from the plate.  (Due to substantial Chinese and Japanese populations in Peru, Peruvian cooking has a decidedly Asian influence.)  The platanos, or plantains, were just the right texture (not too hard, not too soft) and caramelized to perfection on the outside; I wound up “helping” Rich finish them.
My entree was churrasco, a grilled London broil steak marinated in tangy soy sauce and spices.  It was served with an enormous salad with generous slices of fresh, creamy avocado.  The London broil had a lovely, smoky char but was quite tough.  Although this cut (or “preparation” for the sticklers out there) of meat is one of the cheapest and toughest, it can be marinated overnight, grilled to medium-rare, and sliced against the grain to make it much more tender and flavorful.  Fortunately, I was too full from the appetizers, salad, and sampling from Rich’s plate to be overly concerned with my own steak.
We were sorely tempted to order one of the many tropical fruit smoothies (offered in mango, papaya, lulo, pineapple, lucama, strawberry, passionfruit, and guanabana or soursop) but simply had no room left in our bellies.  When we heard the day’s desserts, we simply couldn’t resist taking home a thick square of tres leches cake topped with a tart raspberry sauce.  A few hours later, we were not disappointed.  Flaky, rich, and creamy, the tres leches cake was perfectly sweet and spongy, simultaneously rich and light.
Part of the reason Cholo’s Kitchen reminded Rich so much of his grandmother’s cooking was that Peruvian co-owner Gino, a native of Tumbes, Peru, shares the kitchen with his mother, Elizabeth.  Many of the dishes are prepared based on traditional family recipes, which is what gives Cholo’s its authentic, nostalgia-inducing flavor.  Part of the reason we’ll go back is because of Gino’s warm, friendly nature.  He is clearly proud of his restaurant, and it is clear that every dish has his heart and soul in it.  During our meal, he shared with us where to find canchas and the purple corn used to make his incredible, homemade chicha morada. He also offered to write down his aji verde recipe for us when we shared with him our varied attempts to recreate the exact flavors.
With very reasonable prices, Cholo’s Kitchen makes delicious Peruvian dishes accessible and inviting.  The only other way we could have such authentic cuisine would be to hop on a plane to Lima to visit Rich’s family, and a trip to New Rochelle is considerably shorter… and cheaper.  When we need a fix, we’ll be sure to visit Gino again for a delicious, homemade meal.
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