Sometimes the best way to introduce yourself to a new world is to eat it. At Santa Fe’s newest Peruvian spot, Quechua Peruvian Restaurant, Andean cuisine is served with a side of language and music (as well as, of course, potatoes).
Quechua Peruvian Restaurant is helmed by Trotsky Barreto, who originally is from Lima and studied classical music (specializing in trumpet) at the Peruvian National Conservatory of Music, and Gloria Hidrogo, a well-known Mexican artist who has toured the world with her paintings of pop icons rendered on tortillas. The couple have lived in Taos for the past five years, where they opened the Taos version of Quechua a year and a half ago. The Santa Fe location opened Friday on Vegas Verdes Street on the south side, a smaller — but just as tasty — central node of Peruvian culture and cuisine.
The menu at the Santa Fe location is almost the same as the Taos version, with a few additions. You can, of course, get chicha morada, a sweetish drink made from Peruvian purple corn, maracuya (passion fruit) juice and imported Inca Kola, a fruity Peruvian soda as patriotic as the flag. Starters include things such as aguadito de pollo, or Peruvian chicken soup (flavored with cilantro), crunchy fried yuccas and Peruvian quinoa salad, toasted and served with avocados. You can also get ocopa, a traditional dish of boiled Peruvian potatoes served with a creamy sauce made from the aji huacatay pepper (Peru’s many distinctive chile peppers are refered to as aji) and a boiled egg. Peru is the ancestral home of potatoes, and it has about 4,000 varieties, four of which you can try at Quechua, all imported from Peru.
Main courses include items such as aji de gallina (chicken served in a bright yellow sauce flavored with Peru’s quintessential and piquant aji amarillo chile peppers), rice and a boiled egg (the standard sides), arroz con pollo and pollo a la brasa, a distinctly Peruvian rotisserie chicken dish prepared according to Barreto’s “secret family recipe.”
“It’s very heavy but very important,” Barreto says. “The chicken is marinated for days beforehand, and it’s totally different than [rotisserie chicken] here.”
Despite having a strong indigenous culture, Peru also is a melting pot of Spanish, Chinese and even Japanese cuisines (Chinese and Filipinos were brought over as slaves, and Japanese immigrants arrived prior to World War II), giving many Peruvian dishes a distinctly Asian bent (there is even a specifically Peruvian-Japanese fusion cuisine called Nikkei, which is hard to find stateside). At Quechua, you can try lomo saltado, which is essentially a Chinese-Peruvian beef stir fry, or arroz chaufa, Peruvian fried rice.
And because Peru is a coastal country, seafood dishes are paramount, particularly ceviche. Peruvian ceviche also involves a kind of byproduct — after the fish is marinated in lime and spices like salt, pepper and the piquant aji limo, the resulting liquid is considered a drink itself, called leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk.
“It has a lot of protein,” Barreto says.
The Santa Fe location includes two new menu items that Barreto thinks Santa Feans will be more receptive to than Taoseños, both of which involve organ meats. One is anticuchos, grilled skewers of beef marinated in vinegar, spices and Peruvian chiles like aji panca. An Incan dish, this was originally made with llama heart but has since been largely replaced with beef heart, which is how it will be prepared at Quechua, served with Peruvian potatoes and Andean corn called choclo served like elotes. The other is mondonguito, a stew-like dish made with beef stomach/belly cooked with potatoes, vegetables, chiles and spices and served over white rice.
But for Barreto, Quechua Peruvian Cuisine is more than a restaurant — it’s a grassroots cultural hub. The food is only one facet of Barreto and Hidrogo’s vision, which is to create a delicious portal into Peruvian culture for Santa Feans. Barreto is enthusiastic about helping people find their way to Peru, be it by giving travel advice, handing out literature from the Peruvian consulate in Colorado or even talking about cheap flights with customers. Right now the restaurant is only open from 11 a.m. to 5, but dinner hours will be added as things get rolling.
“We see it as a cultural place,” Barreto says. “[Eventually] we’re going to have Quechua classes” (Quechua is the dominant indigenous language of Peru), “and we’re going to have some dance classes too. We’re going to form a Peruvian ballet for kids.”
The couple even raise llamas and alpacas in Taos, mostly for community outreach and, well, the fun of having llamas and alpacas.
“A lot of people are discovering the Peruvian culture,” Barreto says. “In the last 50 years, Peru opened the doors for the world.”
Where: 1374 Vegas Verdes No. 4
When: Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; closed Sunday