The dog days of summer are the perfect times to have an ice-cold, refreshing glass of chicha morada, and Manos Peruanas is one of the only places, if not the only place, in town to find it.
The drink has a deep purple color and a slightly sweet, fruity flavor that should be a pleasant surprise to most American palates. It also is a surprise to learn how this national drink of Peru is made.
Manos Peruanas owners Cecilia and Felipe Enciso recently showed us some of the ingredients they use to make chicha morada. The main item is corn culli, or purple corn, grown in the Andes mountains.
“We boil the corn with apples, pineapple, cloves, cinnamon sticks and Peruvian lemon, then strain it and add sugar,” Felipe Enciso said. “I think you will enjoy it.”
He was correct, of course, and it went well with the menu dominated by Peruvian, Venezuelan and Colombian cuisine.
Two of our favorite dishes — to say my wife fell in love with them would be an understatement — were cold appetizers: causa ($11) and palta con camarones ($11). Either could pass as a full lunch or light dinner.
Causa included bottom and top layers of yellow-hued mashed potatoes, with a layer in between of avocado, onion, egg, aji amarillo (yellow pepper) and boiled shrimp, all topped with a slice of hard-boiled egg and a Peruvian olive. It was cool and inviting.
I don’t know if folks still get together for afternoon bridge or mahjong parties, but palta con camarones would be a sensation at such a gathering. It would beat the bejabbers out of chicken salad-stuffed tomatoes.
The dish included a whole avocado that had been peeled and pitted, then overstuffed with a tasty shrimp salad. It was covered in lime juice and a mellow mayo-based sauce and garnished with lettuce and sliced tomatoes. Ours were some of the prettiest tomatoes we’ve seen this summer.
Our entrees included a Peruvian dish, aji de gallina ($12), and a Venezuelan item, pabellon criollo ($15).
Aji de gallina was a slightly spicy chicken stew prepared with shredded chicken, aji amarillo peppers and spices in a rich, creamy sauce made with ground walnuts. It was served over rice and potatoes, and, like the causa, topped with an olive and a slice of hard-boiled egg.
Pabellon criollo was as close to an American diner plate of shredded roast beef as one can get. Our plate had a sizable mound of shredded beef cooked with strips of sweet onions and red and green bell peppers that gave the dish most of its flavor. It came with white rice, stewed black beans and some of the tastiest fried plantains we’ve had in a while.
We couldn’t resist the crema volteada ($5) to polish off the dinner. It did not originate in Peru but has been widely adopted as perhaps the country’s most popular dessert. It is Peru’s version of flan or crème caramel, and ours was flavorful and rich, though still creamy and light at the same time.
The menu has a good range of selections, including some of the better-known dishes such as empanadas, arepas, arroz con pollo and yucca.
A children’s menu included chicken nuggets with fries, macaroni and cheese with sliced ham or hot dog and salchipapas, a Peruvian fast-food dish with fried hot dogs and fries. Each item is $7.
Manos Peruanas also has an abbreviated lunch menu available from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. with nine items ranging from $9 to $12.
In addition to chicha morada, beverages include a variety of fruit drinks, plus Inca Kola, the most popular soda in Peru. I thought it tasted something like cream soda. World photographer Matt Barnard thought it was closer to Mountain Dew. Whatever, it’s worth a try.
Cecilia and Felipe purchased Mi Tierra in 2015 and basically cut the space in half. It now seats a cozy 35 diners at wall banquettes and tables. Walls include a large Peruvian flag and a number of Peruvian photos and artwork. Two televisions show Peruvian-themed videos, including some music videos.
Each table has a vase with three small flags. All have American flags. Others include those from Peru, Venezuela, Brazil, Honduras, Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica and Bolivia.
Felipe, a former tour guide in Peru, moved to the U.S. in 2002. He met Cecilia, also a native Peruvian, and over the years he gained U.S. citizenship. He said he also has a remodeling company that does a lot of commercial painting.
Since purchasing Mi Tierra, Felipe said they have overhauled the kitchen, restructured the menu and changed the name to Manos Peruanas.
“We work hard with our cooks to make sure everything today is consistent,” Felipe said.
The restaurant is located just east of Sheridan Road on 81st Street, next to Hungry Howie’s and across the parking lot from Chimi’s.