Review: Pisco Latin Kitchen offers impressive showcase of Peruvian cuisine

Credit: Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

Tucked in the corner of a strip mall in Sandy Springs, Pisco Latin Kitchen’s humble exterior belies its impressively rich menu.

The busy little Peruvian restaurant is an excellent place to explore a different perspective on Latin cuisine, though its blemishes appear when it seems to be trying a little too hard.

The menu has multiple sections, but the listings of Peruvian wok selections and ceviches feature the must-order dishes.

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Three different ceviches are offered, but you can’t go wrong with the tradicionale. While the menu says only that it’s a fish ceviche, that fish typically is grouper, Pisco owner Joseph Rosales said.

Credit: Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

Each time we tried it, the grouper was mild, clean-tasting and toothsome, with an almost velvety texture after soaking in the restaurant’s signature leche de tigre, the citrus marinade that cures the fish. In Peruvian cuisine, ceviches traditionally are served with slices of cooked sweet potato and toasted corn nuts, called cancha. When we ordered the ceviche mixto, with mussels, shrimp, calamari and octopus, we couldn’t help hunting through the other seafood for more grouper.

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The Peruvian wok dishes also are winners, and not just because they can feed most people at least twice. Peru saw an influx of Chinese immigrants in the late 1800s, and Chinese cuisine was adapted to Peruvian tastes and ingredients over the years. Chinese food is extremely popular in Peru — so much so that lomo saltado, a steak stir-fry dish usually prepared in a wok, is the national dish. The savory stir-fry is served with rice and also, ingeniously, on top of a bed of french fries, to soak up the extra sauce.

Credit: Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

Pisco’s lomo saltado was straightforward and satisfying, with tender chunks of beef and fire-kissed vegetables, hot from the wok. The lo mein struck the same notes, with thick noodles that were cooked and sauced expertly. Those dishes, as well as chaufa (a Peruvian version of fried rice), are available with steak and chicken, and the chaufa can be made vegetarian, or with seafood.

All of the ceviches and wok dishes are served in very generous portions, and at reasonable prices.

Pisco has lighter fare, as well. The guacamole is good, and the Cuban sandwich is excellent, highlighted by fabulous crusty bread that Rosales gets from a Latin bakery in Tampa. Hidden in the soup and salad section of the menu is an excellent chowder called chupe, made with your choice of fish or shrimp in a hearty, creamy broth.

Credit: Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

There also is a large menu of margaritas and cocktails that are capably made, including Peru’s most famous cocktail, the pisco sour. A passion fruit sour is a fun riff on the original, served in a sunny shade of yellow.

Those cocktails could take a few minutes at Pisco. As you wait, you might realize the whole restaurant is being served by just one or two waiters. Like many other restaurants around the country, Rosales said Pisco has struggled to hire enough waitstaff. The servers themselves sometimes are tasked with making the cocktails, and that can delay service even more.

Considering the staffing challenges, it’s impressive how the kitchen churns out so much food as quickly and consistently as it does. In the future, even more might be added: Rosales said he is working with the landlord to add a small patio, and he plans to bring in a Peruvian sushi chef.

Credit: Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

More raw fish on the menu sounds like a great idea, but a shorter cocktail list and removing a few menu items — some of which are a bit repetitive — might allow the kitchen staff to refine some flavors or add a bit more creative flair, and would aid servers who are trying to keep several tables happy at once.

However, any missteps at Pisco tend to be minor, and they don’t overshadow the positives.

In recent years, the dining scene in Lima, the capital of Peru, has gained global recognition, and Peruvian food long has been popular worldwide. Pisco captures the Peruvian spirit, in punching above its weight class, and provides high-quality, approachable food that is irresistible.

PISCO LATIN KITCHEN

Food: Peruvian, with Chinese and Japanese influences

Service: friendly, but occasionally slow

Best dishes: lomo saltado, ceviche tradicionale, chupe chowder, pollo a la plancha, lo mein, Cuban sandwich, guacamole molcajete

Vegetarian dishes: patatas bravas, guacamole molcajete, vegetable chaufas, paella vegitariana, black bean soup, house green salad, caprese salad, several side dishes

Alcohol: full bar

Price range: $$

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 12-9 p.m. Sundays

Parking: shopping center parking lot

MARTA station: no

Reservations: yes

Outdoor dining: no

Takeout: yes

Address, phone: 5975 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs. 404-205-5750

Website: piscolk.com

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