Monday, June 24, 2019

Where to Eat: Contemporary Peruvian Comfort Food @ Los Balcones, Hollywood

The Eats: Northern Peruvian comfort food with an international flair, featuring dishes like ceviche and Arroz con Pollo (chicken with rice)

The Location: Hollywood

The Vibes: Earthy, authentic, intimate, chill

Good for: Alone, Dates, Groups (small and large)

When-To-Go: Opens daily at noon; closes at 10 p.m. (Sunday & Monday), 11 p.m. (Tuesday – Thursday) and midnight (Friday & Saturday)

The $$ Factor:
Appetizers, $12+; Entrees, $20+; Cocktails, $14+

The Names behind the scenes: Chef Michelangelo 'Miguel' Aliaga

The 4-1-1: Los Balcones also features weekend brunches and daily happy hours, 4 - 7 p.m.

Parking Situation: Nearby metered and limited free parking

I’ll Be Back…: For the Lomo Saltado!

If you had to take a wild guess, what do you think a restaurant's average lifespan is?

A 2018 USA Today article notes that most establishments typically only last for five years before shutting down, with 90 percent closing within 12 months of opening.

So, it says a lot that Los Balcones on Vine St. in Hollywood has kept its doors open for 14 years and counting, even expanding its footprint across two new locations — Studio City in November 2018 and DTLA later this year.

But succeeding at longevity doesn’t mean that this one-room Peruvian restaurant has remained unchanged over the years. In fact, it’s had at least three renovations. The latest one has brought in rich textured woods, soft lighting and a color palate that’s reflective of native Peruvian color schemes — lots of muted reds, browns, oranges and yellows.

It also means the menu has evolved over time. Two years ago, the restaurant took a seasonal approach, rotating out items each quarter. And now, since March 2019, Chef Michelangelo “Miguel” Aliaga (pictured below with me) has been involved, bringing his own distinctive touch to the forefront. Originally from northern Peru with 10 years of professional culinary experience in Italy, he’s artfully blending traditional Peruvian dishes with international influences.

“We’re trying to put the discipline of European technique with Peruvian cuisine — that is our mission,” Chef Aliaga explained to me when I stopped by, earlier this month. “It’s European techniques, but not the ingredients.”

Paying homage to this South American country means you’ll find choclo — a native Peruvian corn that has a very large kernel — infused in a variety of dishes, such as in the thinly sliced sea bass tiraditos, pictured below.

It also means many dishes are reminiscent of comfort food that’s traditionally found in Northern Peruvian households, including the Arroz con Pollo, pictured below. Crispy chicken confit, prepared the French way of slowly cooking meat, lays on a bed of cilantro rice. It's all topped with a chilled, zesty salsa criolla, which comprises spices, tomatoes, onions, peppers and sliced jalapeños.

And the ceviche, pictured below — a dish that actually originated in Peru (who knew?!) — is made how it would typically be within the country: massive chunks of seafood and sweet potato are topped with onions, peppers, lots of lime juice, and not surprisingly, choclo corn.

In the Lomo Saltado entrée, flavors of Peru and China artfully merge. Sautéed beef filet gets doused in an Asian lee kum kee oyster sauce, accompanied by rice, roasted tomatoes and a Peruvian staple — the potato (apparently, Peru has more than 3,000 different potato variations!) Thick Kennebec fries are served soft and dense on the inside, and lightly salted and crisp on the outside.

But Chef Aliaga isn’t saying out with the old, in with the new, completely. A few Los Balcones staples from before his time actually remain, including the Fried Brussels Sprouts, pictured below. I learned that apparently, there was such an uproar from diners when they were temporarily unavailable, that they were ushered right back onto the menu in no time. They're similar to how many places these days are preparing Brussels Sprouts — crispy and slightly sweet. Yet they have their own distinct flavor, thanks to the addition of crunchy peanuts and a tangy aji amarillo yogurt sauce.

Rounding out the menu is a variety of cocktails, ranging from the pisco sour, a popular Peruvian libation, to creative inventions, like the Tamarind & Smoke, with mezcal, Jarritos tamarind-flavored soda, tamarind syrup and a chili rim. Personally, I loved Los Balcones’ fruity take on a pisco sour, called the maracuya sour, pictured below. Passion fruit gets added to the classic blend of pisco — a.k.a. Peruvian brandy — frothy egg whites, simple syrup, bitters and lime juice.

So the next time you’re up for trying out Peruvian food and cocktails, head over to Los Balcones in Hollywood. You’ll get fantastic, filling dishes, all in a welcoming ambiance.

See you there soon!

For more information: 

Disclosure: I received complimentary services; all views and opinions reflected are my own and not influenced by any other third-party sources.

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