By Nancy Tannler
1864 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Tue – Thur 12 – 10 pm
Fri 12–10:30 pm
Sat Sun 4:30–10:30 pm
For the less traveled among us, it’s easy to assume all South American food is the same. After sampling the food at La Leña, I learned that nothing could be farther from the truth. Angeline Perla and her husband Adam Warren recently opened their Peruvian restaurant on Hawthorne Blvd. sharing their family recipes with local diners.
Adam says the food is more a representation of the food of Lima, Peru. “We serve a lot of traditional dishes but these traditions can vary depending upon what part of the country you are from,”
There are several different ethnicities that have influenced the cuisine of Lima. The indigenous people, Spanish, Italian, Japanese and Chinese have added to this culinary repertoire and subtleties of flavor and textures are a refreshing experience for newcomers to the cuisine.
Angeline was born in Lima but came to New Jersey when she was very young. There is a very vital Latin community there so her family was never without the ingredients to make their favorite Peruvian foods. Even now some of the more exotic ingredients they use in their menus come from Peru through New Jersey.
She met Adam here in Portland while working in a restaurant and attending nursing school. Adam has been a chef in Portland for a long time. Before they opened La Lena, he worked for seven years at Navarre on 28th. The idea of opening a restaurant had been percolating in his mind for some time, but just what type of restaurant it would be was the question.
In the food industry these days, there is the question of cultural appropriation, how does a white guy cook authentic Peruvian food? For Adam, the ability to learn to make the food of Lima was spurred along by his father-in-law’s recipes and their numerous trips to the city of Lima sampling different prepared dishes. It is Adam’s opinion that the textures a and flavors of Peru rival any cuisine in the world.
In menu planning, they decided the most approachable way to introduce Americans to Peruvian food was to use traditional family favorites. “We chose what we thought were the very best dishes of the country prepared in my family’s way” Angeline said.
Both corn and potatoes are native to Peru so they are often included in the menu choices. The Southeast Examiner got to sample the Papa Rellena – a crispy fried potato puree with your choice of beef or mushroom picadello served with salsa criollo (sliced red onions, ammarillos and lime juice). It was savory, textural and comforting.
The Lorca de Zapallo is squash, potato and corn stew prepared with Ali, Amarillo and huacatony (black mint), quest fresco and garlic rice. One of the chicken dishes is made in a Peruvian wood-fired rotisserie. This is one of the kid’s favorites .
The first Peruvian food Angeline cooked for Adam when they were courting was Anticuchos – marinated beef heart skewer served with spicy salsa de rococo sauce and Papa a la Huancaina-yellow potatoes topped with savory cheese sauce served with hard boiled egg, Botija olives and a spices de rococo sauce.
Adam loved these dishes and learned the intricacies of preparing them from his father-in-law when he would stay with them. Many of the restaurant recipes are his.
A beverage they serve is Chicha Morada, a spiced purple corn drink sweetened with fruit juice. This flavor is used in one of their desserts, Mazamorra Morada. Other traditional desserts are the dulce de leche sandwich cookies, and orroz con leche (Peruvian rice pudding). Also served are beer, wine and cocktails.
La Leña is a family-friendly restaurant. They have kept menu choices to a minimum and will expand entreés over time. There are a variety of sides offered and many are kid-friendly. Within a few weeks they will be serving sanguches – a Peruvian sandwich roll stuffed with different meat and vegetable mixtures for the lunch hour.
There is a good amount of choices for the vegetarian, vegan and gluten free eaters.
For a South American food adventure La Leña is the place to begin.