4310 Genesee Ave.Clairemont858-560-0873
There's chicken and then there's chicken! Nazca Grill serves the latter. Roast chicken, at least in restaurants, falls low on my must-order list, since it's usually so dry and tasteless, but Peruvian roast chicken, or pollo à la brasa, is a whole other animal. A famous national dish, inspiring such devotion that there are websites dedicated to its preparation and consumption (www.HolyPollo.com), this spice-marinated chicken is traditionally flame grilled on a rotisserie in a huge wood-fired brick pit.
Nazca Grill's set-up is a little less primal. Here, the chicken is rotisseried in a gas-powered oven until tender and then quick-finished with natural charcoal, but this is not to imply that the restaurant doesn't take its chicken very seriously. The space housing Nazca Grill used to be a Peruvian restaurant with a different name that split the room with a Mexican taco shop. Now the two restaurants are one, and Nazca Grill employs an entire kitchen just for the preparation of these birds, which turn out juicy and deeply savory.
The chicken pieces, served in quarter-, half- or whole-bird portions, come with a salad, fries and two sauces, including a slightly spicy green hot sauce made from Peruvian herbs and chilis, but the moist meat is plenty flavorful on its own.
While I would likely come to Nazca Grill just for the chicken—there are quite a few chicken-only Peruvian restaurants in the Los Angeles area, but this is the only place for it here—some other dishes also make it worth a trip. The restaurant is named for a coastal Peruvian city known for its extremely warm, dry climate, and its causa nazca is a version of a classic hot-weather dish, sandwiching a light chicken salad between layers of chilled mashed potato seasoned with aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow chilis). Each rectangle of potato cake is covered in a mild cheese sauce, and though it sounds impossibly heavy, it's actually pretty refreshing.
Also tasty and cooling is the ceviche. Though I prefer the version at Pacific Beach's Latin Chef, Peruvian ceviche is one of the best raw-seafood preparations ever, and Nazca Grill's is done with very fresh fish, barely “cooked” by a citrus-based marinade with shaved raw onion and served, as is traditional, with a side of cancha (salty and crispy toasted corn) and some chilled chunks of sweet potato and chewy, large-kerneled Peruvian corn.
A food blog buddy, who's also a fan of offal and meat on a stick, joined me for some anticuchos, savory slices of cow heart, grilled until tender and smoky from the grill. Some things are a miss, like the chicharron de pollo, battered pieces of fried chicken cutlet that came out limp and quite flavorless. And though we had high hopes for the picante de mariscos, the spicy dish we were expecting was instead a boring sauté of bland, albeit tender, shellfish.
The restaurant, located in Liberty Park Plaza, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it corner strip mall on Genesee Avenue, is open for lunch and dinner. Though it's fairly quiet during the day, it comes alive at night with the sounds of live music and a pleasant hum from tables full of Peruvian families gathering over pitchers of chicha morada, a sweet beverage made from boiling purple corn with cinnamon and clove, and liter bottles of almost chartreuse-colored Inca Kola, a caffeinated soft drink with the teeth-twinging sweetness of high-fructose corn syrup. A friend and I opted to share a bottle of wine we'd brought from home while we watched the crowd and listened to the guitar player—one of the owners—lead most of the restaurant in a buoyant call-and-response sing-along. Though I couldn't understand the words, there was no mistaking the sentiment. Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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