Va. Beach restaurant serves up traditional taste of Peru

Lunch arrived on a plain white plate - one deep-fried, potato-sized ball with a tangle of red onion on the side.

The Papa Rellena didn't look fancy. It didn't smell exotic. But after splitting it to reveal a core of ground beef, exotically seasoned and studded with onions and raisins, it seemed we weren't in Virginia anymore.

A forkful of the salsa criolla, thinly sliced red onion tossed with cilantro and lime, confirmed it.

We were, in fact, in Don Gallo, a tiny outpost of Peru positioned in a strip of shops in the shadow of Lynnhaven Mall in Virginia Beach.

Peruvian food is the "hot newcomer on the ethnic cuisine scene," according to a recent Food Network report. Don Gallo opened three and a half years ago, predating the trend.

It marks the fifth stop on our global gastro-nomic journey that already has served up authentic eats from the British Isles, Jamaica, Argentina and Laos, all with no passport required.

Peru is a South American country of contrasts, with the Andes Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Main dishes favor beef, chicken and seafood. Sides tend toward starches, including yucca fries, potatoes and thumb-sized kernels of corn. Peruvian yellow aji pepper, which packs a Tabasco-level heat, appears in most every dish.

At Don Gallo, about 40 percent of the restaurant's customers are Peruvian, as are the owners.

Arturo Vilcherrez hails from the coastal capital of Lima, while Cecilia Pancho comes from the country's sierra region, home to some of the world's highest mountain peaks. Together with the chef, Vilcherrez's wife, Ana Maria Garcia, they have curated a menu that honors the full range of the country's flavors.

"Every time she goes to Peru, she tries to bring more recipes, her mother's recipes," Vilcherrez said of his wife.

"This comes from family," he said, nodding at the menu. "Always she is trying to maintain the traditional flavors of our country."

From the coast comes seviche, also spelled ceviche, one of Don Gallo's most popular dishes, and one of Peru's signature dishes. To make it, raw fish, shrimp, squid and octopus are marinated in lime, cilantro and onions.

The acid of the lime "cooks" the seafood, brightening its fresh flavors while allowing each ingredient to maintain its delicate, yet distinctive taste. Peruvian red and yellow peppers add a touch of heat, but it's nowhere near searing.

From the other side of the menu comes Anticuchos de Corazon, thinly sliced beef heart marinated for a day in a menjunje of traditional spices - garlic, cumin, aji - and grilled. Even those who eschew offal - or organ meats - shouldn't eschew this dish. It's deeply beefy and assertively salty, but add a dollop of the green sauce served plate-side in a tiny terra-cotta pot, and the whole affair takes on zing and depth that a platter of liver and onions could never match.

The green sauce is made with pulverized peppers, cilantro, onions, vinegar and a touch of salt. The waitress said that regulars daub it onto just about every dish.

It transformed the flavor of the Causa de Pollo, a traditional layered appetizer that starts with a strata of mashed potatoes flavored with Key lime and a hint of heat from the aji pepper. A thick layer of creamy, meaty chicken salad makes up the middle layer, and that's capped with seasoned mashed potatoes and garnished with a halved hard-boiled egg.

At first bite, the dish is borderline bland, mild enough for a child. But a hit of the green sauce gives it Latin verve.

Don Gallo's authentic offerings extend to the bar, where the Pisco Sour - Peru's national drink - is unabashedly made the traditional way with raw egg whites frothed into a near meringue-like consistency.

Its sweet-tart-silky sensation is reason enough to linger at this latitude.

Lorraine Eaton, 757-446-2697, lorraine.eaton@pilotonline.com

Check out Lorraine's blog at hamptonroads.com/blogs/lorraine-eaton.


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Va. Beach restaurant serves up traditional taste of Peru

Lunch arrived on a plain white plate - one deep-fried, potato-sized ball with a tangle of red onion on the side.

The Papa Rellena didn't look fancy. It didn't smell exotic. But after splitting it to reveal a core of ground beef, exotically seasoned and studded with onions and raisins, it seemed we weren't in Virginia anymore.

A forkful of the salsa criolla, thinly sliced red onion tossed with cilantro and lime, confirmed it.

We were, in fact, in Don Gallo, a tiny outpost of Peru positioned in a strip of shops in the shadow of Lynnhaven Mall in Virginia Beach.

Peruvian food is the "hot newcomer on the ethnic cuisine scene," according to a recent Food Network report. Don Gallo opened three and a half years ago, predating the trend.

It marks the fifth stop on our global gastro-nomic journey that already has served up authentic eats from the British Isles, Jamaica, Argentina and Laos, all with no passport required.

Peru is a South American country of contrasts, with the Andes Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Main dishes favor beef, chicken and seafood. Sides tend toward starches, including yucca fries, potatoes and thumb-sized kernels of corn. Peruvian yellow aji pepper, which packs a Tabasco-level heat, appears in most every dish.

At Don Gallo, about 40 percent of the restaurant's customers are Peruvian, as are the owners.

Arturo Vilcherrez hails from the coastal capital of Lima, while Cecilia Pancho comes from the country's sierra region, home to some of the world's highest mountain peaks. Together with the chef, Vilcherrez's wife, Ana Maria Garcia, they have curated a menu that honors the full range of the country's flavors.

"Every time she goes to Peru, she tries to bring more recipes, her mother's recipes," Vilcherrez said of his wife.

"This comes from family," he said, nodding at the menu. "Always she is trying to maintain the traditional flavors of our country."

From the coast comes seviche, also spelled ceviche, one of Don Gallo's most popular dishes, and one of Peru's signature dishes. To make it, raw fish, shrimp, squid and octopus are marinated in lime, cilantro and onions.

The acid of the lime "cooks" the seafood, brightening its fresh flavors while allowing each ingredient to maintain its delicate, yet distinctive taste. Peruvian red and yellow peppers add a touch of heat, but it's nowhere near searing.

From the other side of the menu comes Anticuchos de Corazon, thinly sliced beef heart marinated for a day in a menjunje of traditional spices - garlic, cumin, aji - and grilled. Even those who eschew offal - or organ meats - shouldn't eschew this dish. It's deeply beefy and assertively salty, but add a dollop of the green sauce served plate-side in a tiny terra-cotta pot, and the whole affair takes on zing and depth that a platter of liver and onions could never match.

The green sauce is made with pulverized peppers, cilantro, onions, vinegar and a touch of salt. The waitress said that regulars daub it onto just about every dish.

It transformed the flavor of the Causa de Pollo, a traditional layered appetizer that starts with a strata of mashed potatoes flavored with Key lime and a hint of heat from the aji pepper. A thick layer of creamy, meaty chicken salad makes up the middle layer, and that's capped with seasoned mashed potatoes and garnished with a halved hard-boiled egg.

At first bite, the dish is borderline bland, mild enough for a child. But a hit of the green sauce gives it Latin verve.

Don Gallo's authentic offerings extend to the bar, where the Pisco Sour - Peru's national drink - is unabashedly made the traditional way with raw egg whites frothed into a near meringue-like consistency.

Its sweet-tart-silky sensation is reason enough to linger at this latitude.

Lorraine Eaton, 757-446-2697, lorraine.eaton@pilotonline.com

Check out Lorraine's blog at hamptonroads.com/blogs/lorraine-eaton.


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