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Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012

Peruvian Specialties

Chef Paz Brings South America to West Allis

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Peruvian restaurants have been in this area since the 1970s, but there have never been many of them. Some may still remember places like El Inca on Farwell Avenue or El Condor on Downer, but both closed many years ago. Currently, two Peruvian restaurants are in operation: Mr. Sebass and the newest, Chef Paz, named for Maritza Paz. The place is a former corner diner complete with a counter, booths and Formica tables. The interior walls have been painted a vivid lime green, considerably brightening the atmosphere. The menu is a balance between Peruvian dishes and basic diner fare. A grease board displays daily specials—mainly Peruvian seafood entrees. A substantial number of patrons are local Peruvians, which is always a good sign.

Peruvian food comes from a curious group of sources. Spanish influences are blended with native ingredients like corn and potatoes, which come in numerous varieties. Asia also plays a part as Peru attracted immigrants from Japan and China. This makes Peruvian dining an interesting experience. Do start with a green tamal ($2.57) made with corn flour with cheese and wrapped in a cornhusk. It is served with a creamy green sauce that is tart with a hint of hot pepper. The empanadas ($1.99) are smaller than most, but are quite tasty and served with a side of that green sauce.

Peruvians love ceviche. While on vacation in Peru a few years back, I encountered fish and shrimp ceviches in Lima, freshwater trout ceviche in Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca, and even a sea urchin ceviche in Arequipa. The ceviches are invariably made with lime juice and usually incorporate corn—often toasted giant kernels or a portion of a cob. A few versions are offered at Chef Paz. The shrimp ($11.95) are cooked, mostly shelled and buried among thin slices of sweet red onion with a lime juice marinade. Garnishing the top is a jumbo, unshelled shrimp. A slice of yam is on the side as well as large kernels of corn rarely seen in this area. It is a very fine and simple ceviche.

Fish escabeche ($7.57) has Spanish origins. Chef Paz serves it as a filet with a light batter topped with abundant onions marinated in vinegar. The house specialty, beef stew, is served with a sauce of cilantro and a bit of beer ($10.57), the only alcohol you will find in this alcohol-free restaurant. The beef is a better grade than usually found in stew meat and the cilantro is cooked, minimizing its normally pungent flavor. Peru’s Asian influence is seen in one of the daily specials, arroz chaufa de mariscos ($14.95), which is basically Chinese fried rice with seafood. The generous helpings of shrimp, squid and green lipped mussels are topped with a few breaded shrimp and lots of chopped scallions.

Those in the mood for diner fare will find very inexpensive weekday lunch and dinner specials like spaghetti, roast turkey and meatloaf. The dinners are a mere $6.99. The Peruvian servers are pleasant and give helpful ordering advice. It is a bit of a shame that Peruvian beer is not offered here, so you will just have to settle for an Inca Cola.

 

Chef Paz Restaurant

9039 W. National Ave.

(414) 327-1600

$-$$

 

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