Specifically, Machu Picchu. Though sadly, I have not been the pre-Columbian Inca site, fabled in story and song. I am speaking instead of the Machu Picchu Charcoal Chicken and Grill, fabled in restaurant reviews and blogs!
I visited Machu Picchu in February, after our Taza tour on the suggestion of my friend Elise. There are actually two Machu Picchus in Union Square – a more formal restaurant with a more extensive menu, and the grill, which is more casual (as evidenced by the smiling, fat chicken bursting out of their logo. Confidential to Machu Picchu – I would like to request a tee-shirt with that guy on it.) We were visiting the grill primarily for the Parrilladas Machu Picchu – a mixed grill platter that includes pork ribs, gizzards, rachi (tripe), chorizo, anticuchos (beef heart, in this case), steak, and of course, pollo ala braza – the famous chicken!
However, that was the main course of our meal. We started out with some appetizers:
Some fried yucca! The starchy plant is similar to a potato, but more fibrous. The sauce in the middle was tasty, creamy with just a hint of spiciness. It’s called ocopa, and apparently includes chili pepper, peanuts, and mint among its ingredients!
We also had tamales:
These were unusual for containing egg and olives, along with the pork filling. Man, I really love tamales, pretty much no matter what you put in them, and these were no exception. I once tried to make them, and while they weren’t spectacular, it may be time to revisit that project. At the very least I know now how to get the right kind of corn flour…
But wait, there’s more! Empanadas:
Empanadas are another food that’s hard to mess up, based on my time-tested rule: Food that is made up of a filling surrounded by dough is amazing. Whether we’re talking about raviolis, dumplings, or corn dogs, this rule has yet to be broken. These empanadas, however, were actually even better than that. They were amazing – a dense, slightly sweet pastry surrounding perfumed meat.
Our final appetizer was the choclo Peruano con queso:
For those of you who aren’t up on your Peruvian Spanish, that’s corn with cheese! More specifically, choclo is a very large-grained type of corn from the Andes. It’s not as sweet as American corn – more chewy and nutty. The cheese is a mild, salty farmer’s cheese – like feta, but not as briny.
We also ordered chicha morada, purple corn drink, to start. The corn provides the amazing color of this beverage, but the flavor is more like a spiced juice:
It contains pineapple, clove, cinnamon, lemon, and sugar and is seriously tasty. I’m not usually a fan of a sugary drink with my food, but the spices balance this nicely.
Finally, the time came for the serious business of dinner, the mixed grill:
Truly it is an impressive pile! I also ordered a side of fried plantains, because I adore them:
We also had an extra order of chicken for the less adventurous:
And my sister ordered the el Peruanisimo, a sandwich of marinated pork and sweet potatoes:
The meat is prepared with a dry rub of “Peruvian spices” according to the menu. I’m not sure what was in the mix but it is incredible – salty and spicy without being overwhelming. In fact it greatly improved the items I was most nervous about, the tripe and the gizzards. I was concerned about the tripe because when I’ve eaten it in the past I haven’t really enjoyed it much, typically in pho. I’ve found it tasteless and chewy, like someone had sneaked a rubber band into my soup. This preparation is much more compelling – the honeycombs catch all the spice mix, and while it was still a bit chewy, it wasn’t unpleasantly so.
The gizzards I was concerned about primarily because those who’d been to the restaurant before didn’t seem to like them as much, describing them as “gristly.” They’re popular in the cuisines of most of the world, however, and I needed to try them. The truth is that – I LIKED the weird, slightly crunchy texture. They kind of pop in your teeth, a texture I enjoy. I can see why it’s not for everyone, however.
Everything else was outstanding – beef hearts are awesome, I think I like them better than steak – and I’ve never met a chorizo I didn’t like. The chicken was juicy and flavorful, and I can see why they built the restaurant around it.
There were enough of us eating that we had room for dessert, so we all split a torta tres leches – the cake of three milks:
The three milks are evaporated, condensed, and heavy cream. I’m not the world’s biggest cake fan, but it was nice and light.
All in all, the food was terrific, and very reasonably priced. If you’re looking for a change of pace from the typical Thai/Indian/Mexican fare, and you’re in the Union Square area, I recommend giving Machu Picchu a shot! Now if they’d just make me my tee-shirt…