When you think of Peru you may think of the cloud-covered dramatic peaks of Machu Pichu, or the colorful woven garments of the indigenous Incans. Maybe it is the stunning summits of the Andes that pass through your head, or the lively and crowded old-meets-new capital of Lima. If you're a well-read type, then into your mind will likely pop its world literary contributions including 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winning author Mario Vargas Llosa.
Well, in my fleeting and superficial understanding of what is undoubtedly a diverse and complex Peruvian culture, what pops into my head when I think of Peru is a complete meal of pollo a las brasas: roasted chicken, French fries, shredded lettuce salad and a liter of neon-colored soda.
I must qualify what may seem like expert opinion to say that I have never once been to Peru. My impression comes from a trip to neighboring Chile, where my wife and I went to a Peruvian restaurant (that counted among the best food we had in Chile-- but that's another story). Of course the menu was full of many Peruvian delights, but what really left an impression on me was the large dining room full of Peruvian families most of whom were sharing a whole roasted chicken, an enormous plate of fries and a large bottle of Inca Cola.
Of course the ceviche and other fancier dinner items I tried that night were fantastic, but something about the comforting chicken dinner was nostalgic and irresistible. It is so often the simplest of foods that bond families and make the fondest memories. The pull of those feelings-- though I couldn't have described them at the time (I was already many Cusqueñas into the night)-- and the smell of that roasted chicken skin, had me bewitched; and I ordered my own half chicken with French fries. While my wife and friends indulged in more intricate plates of seafood, I was content with my chicken. It was delicious and one of my better food memories from that trip.
Now that I have likely somehow offended all my Chilean and Peruvian readers equally, let me proceed. Pisco Sour Lounge on East Colfax serves a nice variety of Peruvian cuisine and captures the home-cooked comfort that I remember so well from Chile. (To avoid further escalating the Peruvian-Chilean debate I will avoid any opinions on the drink pisco itself.)
As evidence of the family comfort feeling of Pisco Sour, the evening that my wife and I went they were hosting a child's birthday party, complete with an obnoxiously loud Emcee and a pesky professional clown that at least once led a party train full of eight year-olds around the entire bar and restaurant.
On the flipside of the family-centric atmosphere is the location on East Colfax and Wabash, amidst cheap motel after cheap motel and just down the street from Saturday's gentleman's club. And scattered everywhere in between are plenty of other ladies of the night that weren't good enough (or too good?) to work inside of East Denver's finest strip club. The bar at Pisco Sour is also a little too well-stocked for a place that caters to families much past dark, and once the daylight does stop pouring in the lone row of windows, it turns the already dimly-lit dining room into a cabaret-style lounge circa 1973, replete with red-vinyl booths, gold-trimmed chairs and dark mahogany woodwork.
If there were any doubt in our minds about what was going down after we left that night around 7pm, the sign looming over Colfax summed it up: It was "$aturday", or that is, "Fie$ta Night". Although given that the lucky kid's birthday party was still going strong (and loud), maybe it was the most tame Fiesta night spelled with a "$" in the history of Fie$ta nights.
Somehow I doubt it. Somehow I think you may have a wild time one way or the other if you rolled into the Pisco Sour Lounge after midnight this Saturday. Or Wednesday through Friday for that matter. If I weren't married, that Single$ night would be calling my name. But I am happily married and really all that I care about outside of my family life these days is eating good food. And the Pisco Sour Lounge has that in abundance.
We dove right in and ordered a whole roasted chicken. Our Peruvian host was taken aback that my slight-of-stature wife and I were planning on tackling a whole chicken. He seemed like he was going to caution us, but then simply said something to the effect of, "You can always take the rest home." We also ordered a plate of fried plantain. (I like when my servers encourage my gluttony rather than spoiling the fun.)
While we were waiting, he brought us a round of Chica Morada. Chica Morada, literally "purple corn", is made by boiling purple corn with things like cloves and cinnamon. It is a sweet and layered non-alcoholic beverage usually served cold. The Pisco Sour Lounge makes their own from scratch. It is delicious.
The chicken came out and we immediately dug in. The flavor on the skin was intense. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a healthy dose of MSG on this bird, but if MSG has any place in our increasingly health-conscious world it is in Chinese take-out and rotisserie chicken skin.
It is completely unfair of me to insinuate that Pisco Sour Lounge uses MSG on its roasted chicken. But my point is it doesn't matter and the other point is that this is one delicious roast chicken. The skin was lovely and crisp. Even the deepest breast meat was somehow still moist and the wings were not overcooked either. We were making good headway on our whole chicken but were being sidetracked by this enormous plate of fries and these perfectly done plantains.
Along with everything were some excellent chicken-and-fry dipping sauces. I'm not sure exactly what was in all three of the sauces but they all seemed to be variations of the ubiquitous aji sauce-- made with some combination of what tasted like jalapeños (aji chiles?), mayonaise, cilantro, garlic, lime, maybe some mustard here and there and some vinegar.
Pisco Sour Longue on East Colfax is worth your while. They have a full menu of other Peruvian delights including Anticuchos-- a traditional kabob full of marinated beef hearts. After I finish off all this leftover chicken, I plan to go back for that. Maybe if I'm feeling a little saucy, it'll be Wednesday, and you'll find me singing along with Marco Antonio Solis or belting out some other karaoke classics.
The same reader who urged me to go to Los Farolitos and engaged me in the discussion about Mexican restaurants without Mexicans suggested Pisco Sour. I feel like I have become his pawn in some larger scheme where I'm oblivious to the outcome. That is entirely OK by me, as the journey down this road has been so far entirely delectable. And with my hectic life as of late, if you want me to do your bidding and take me down your own auspicious path to good eating, suggest a great and under-appreciated eatery and I'll do my best to check it out.
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