Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Dish on Dining: Limón Peruvian Rotisserie

Classy Take on Home-style Peruvian Food
1001 South Van Ness Ave. (at 21st Street), San Francisco
Mission neighborhood
PH: 415.821.2134
Open daily, noon to 10 p.m. (until 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays)
Major credit cards accepted, walk-in only

Sometimes it pays to be a Single Guy dining out.

Awhile back I visited Limón Peruvian Rotisserie on the edge of the Mission on a Friday night, so of course it was packed. But I spotted the last single seat at the bar and quickly nabbed it.

The fairly new Limón Rotisserie is a smaller version of Limón on Valencia Street—a popular Peruvian restaurant and my go-to place for ceviche (the Latin riff on raw fish). When it closed in October because of a fire, I was devastated.

But Limón’s flames never died, in a way. Chef Martin Castillo and his brother opened this offshoot on Van Ness Avenue, focusing on fiery rotisserie items and a few cold dishes. They continue to refurbish their flagship restaurant, and Limón, thankfully, is scheduled to reopen this month.

It may have some competition from its sibling because the rotisserie seems to have caught on with the neighborhood because of its low prices and quality food.

The menu is limited to a few ceviches, other cold dishes and a few hot dishes—all in the small-plate format. Rotisserie chicken is sold whole, half or quarter with choices of sides. The same menu is served for lunch and dinner.

As Missionites circled around me with their glasses of sangria (a bit too sweet for my tastes), I started with the Ceviche Mixto ($9.25). It was a mix of halibut, octopus, shrimp and calamari simply tossed in lime juice and chilies. It’s served with roasted corn nuts and the Peruvian corn, choclo.

It was refreshing and exactly like how Chef Castillo makes it at the main restaurant. (I actually prefer his cream ceviche but that’s not offered at Limón Rotisserie.) Some people might find it a bit too tart, but that’s where the crunchy corn nuts come in. The slice of choclo still on the cob looks like corn on steroids, but tastes more like kernels of starchy white yam.

The guy sitting next to me was raving about the Tuna Tartar ($7.25) so I got an order of that. I have to say, I’m not a big tartar kind of guy so I wasn’t really blown away. The tuna tasted fresh, but the tartar preparation gave it a muddied texture (I guess the chef was trying to simulate raw beef). And unfortunately on this night, the accompanying chips on the side were stale.

On the hot side, I got a plate of the Chicharron de Pollo ($7.25), which is a dish of pan-fried chicken nuggets that surprised me. The nuggets—marinated in orange juice, soy sauce and peppers—had an umami-like crispy exterior and a warm, tender meat inside. I could eat a whole plate of it.

Side note: Chef Castillo can be seen on most nights at the prep counter, expediting dishes like how Tom Colicchio did on a recent episode of Top Chef. Beyond Chef Castillo you can see the various cooks firing up dishes (and I mean that literally because those flames were flying high). On this Friday night, the wait staff seemed a bit overwhelmed, but the diners didn’t seem to mind, even those still waiting for tables.

While most plates are small (including a small version of the traditional marinated beef dish, lomo saltado) the desserts can be downright huge. Just take a gander at my Tarta de Crema Chantilly ($6.50), which is a slice of cake dripping in custard-like cream sauce, powdered sugar and fresh fruits. This dessert was good, but not exquisite. It was more filling than tasty, but still worth the price.

I enjoyed the food so much that I felt bad that the dim lights of this hot spot didn’t allow me to really showcase the food. So I returned a week later for lunch on a bright, sunny Saturday.

The restaurant was quieter than at night, but it eventually started to fill out. I got a seat at a table by the window so I could photograph the food, including my starter dish of the Aquadito de Pollo ($5.25), a Peruvian chicken soup that was warm and comforting, with chunks of tender white chicken meat and a slight spicy undertone from the peppers. The broth was soothing on a cold day and I could probably have just had this for lunch and be satisfied.

But I decided to try the rotisserie chicken, ordering the quarter portion ($7.25). With each order, you get your choice of two sides, which includes a green salad, yucca fritas, tacu tacu, stir-fried vegetables, and papas fritas. I got the stir-fried vegetables and the tacu tacu, which is a type of bean-and-rice cake.

The chicken is also served with a few dipping sauces, which looked pretty but I actually didn’t even bother to use. The chicken itself was tender and juicy enough on its own. My only complaint might be that it may be a wee bit too salty. But I simply balanced it with the tacu tacu, which is the first time I’ve eaten this rice cake that’s almost like leftover risotto that’s been pan-fried.

The cake held together, maybe from a bean paste, and was a nice tasty base for the chicken. The vegetables, which were prepared in the style of how they make the lomo saltado, was OK but seemed a bit overwhelmed by the saltado-like marinade. (Plus the wax beans I had were too al dente.)

Limón Rotisserie is a pleasant little spot with a tiny menu executed well by the kitchen, but the menu seems so limited that I wonder if one would still be excited about the food after several visits? Unlike the main restaurant where the offerings are more diverse, the limited menu makes Limón Rotisserie a nice place for a low-priced, quick dinner or nice lunch. But I’m looking forward to the reopening of Limón, where Chef Castillo’s talents can be displayed on a bigger canvas.

Single guy rating: 3.75 stars (Fire-roasted fun)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Limon Rotisserie on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Chubbypanda said...

I love Peruvian food. It's one of the world's great fusion cuisines. Mmm... Lomo Saltado...