Out on the streets of Roswell, the beloved Freakin Incan food truck still slings papa rellenas and empanadas into cardboard trays. But, at the Freakin Incan storefront, which opened this past spring, chef-owner Mikiel Arnold has brought his street food in from the cold and classed up the presentation in a big way.
The crisp and airy yucca fritas, for instance, are stacked Lincoln Log-style on a gleaming white square plate, complete with a three-compartment porcelain dish for the spicy sauces. A sumptuous mound of mahi ceviche also arrives on shiny, minimalist porcelain, edged by foamed lime juice and artful piles of corn, some kernels crisp and others tender.
Maybe this simple, modern beauty shouldn’t make a difference in my enjoyment of the food, but it does. Because in every lovingly assembled dish, you can feel Arnold’s exuberance. Bursting out of the confines of his trailer means this chef — who interned at Lima’s Astrid y Gaston — gets to stretch, literally and figuratively.
He does so most successfully in small plates like causa de camaron, three quenelles of lime-spiked mashed potatoes each topped with a flawless slice of avocado, a perfectly-cooked cold shrimp and drizzles of green aji sauce dotted with red pepper bits. Each little package is lovely — a crunchy-creamy-shrimpy sum of fresh and sunny parts.
A massive empanada, stuffed with a creamy stew of chicken and parmesan sauce, then fried until its skin is bubbled, is wonderfully steamy and savory. Its very flaky, flavorful crust deserves respect, even if, as Arnold confided to me, it came from a box.
Also in the simple-yet-elegant-and-irresistible category: the cilantro-infused, green bean-flecked sopa de pollo. Forget matzo balls, I want this bright yet comforting chicken soup the next time I get sick.
Not so much Arnold’s version of a Peruvian perennial, lomo saltado — a stir fry of steak and onions flanked by rice and french fries. The fried petite filet was well-executed, with a streak of pink inside each beef sliver, but it had a Chinese take-out aroma and lacked the zest of the small plates.
Even some of those — like the papa rellena, a puff of fried potato stuffed with a slim stripe of ground beef — only get their zip from a yolk-colored drizzle of aji amarillo sauce.
Of course, this sauce — concocted from gorgeous, golden chile peppers — cures a lot of ills. Arnold makes it two ways, one with garlic, the other with onion. They’re both crazy edible — sultry and velvety, with a long, pleasant afterburn. They make every item they touch dance.
A perfect chaser for all that aji is the cool, jammy mazarorra morada, which is pretty much chicha morada — the clove-flavored, purple corn beverage — thickened with potato starch and dotted with pineapple bits.
And, true to Freakin Incan’s indoor custom, the pudding is spiffed up with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Good looks don’t count for much when it comes to street food. But, since Freakin Incan is delivering it along with a whole lot of deliciousness, I’ll gladly take it.
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