El Chalan, in El Sobrante
We had an excellent meal at El Chalan tonight, a Peruvian restaurant . We'd been here several times (8-9 times?) before in the last 4 years or so, and were never wowed (in fact, I'm pretty sure I've steered people away from it here on CH), but our father likes it so we'd always return. Tonight, almost everything was delicious. I actually asked if they had a new chef, the food was so good (the answer was no).
Their hot sauces (one came with the bread - aji amarillo) were wonderfully flavorful, and very hot. They were so tasty that even my usually spicy-averse father and sister ate some. The bread was served hot and toasty, perfect for dunking in the salsa. We had the anticuchos, which were nearly perfect, especially paired with another one of their salsas (a green one). Meaty and not-too-organy at all, they were tender and very flavorful - not as good as the ones we had at Tumi (the now-closed Berkeley Peruvian restaurant), but close. The dish also came with a hunk of corn on the cob and sliced roasted potatoes. The only problem was you had to eat them quickly - as they cooled a bit they toughened up.
We also ordered the ceviche mixto - very fresh calamari rings, shrimp and some white fish, with a flavor of some herb i couldn't quite place - almost perfumey (i didn't ask a lot of questions, i admit). On the side were toasted corn kernels and a nice hunk of sweet potato. We also ordered fried plantains, which were a bit dry for my taste (just didn't have that overripe jelly-like quality i love), but they came with little cubes of a wonderfully delicious queso-fresco-type cheese.
We could have stopped right there, as we were pretty much full by now. But we'd already ordered our entrees.
my sister ordered the chupe de camarones, which once it cooled (they always serve this soup so blazingly hot!), had a good rich & deep shrimp flavor. It was thick with rice and egg, and she managed to eat maybe an eighth of it - portions are large. I had the special - milanesa and tallarines verdes (spaghetti and pesto). the meat was super tender and crispy. the pesto tasted very fresh - just needed a touch of salt. again, a full plate, most of it came home with us. my dad always gets tallarin saltado - a Peruvian/Chinese dish of spaghetti, sirloin strips, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, cooked with soy sauce. This dish always fails for me - the beef is always tough (except at the now-defunct Tumi - curses!), and all i ever taste are the bell peppers. This one was no different. The beef was tough even for me, so it was inedible for my father (dentures). But he loved the noodles. Most of that came home with us too.
The restaurant also has a full Italian menu, which I've never tried. Their two Peruvian wines - a chardonnay and a pinot noir - are terrible. they may have others, but i don't remember ever having good wine here. I think i'll call next time and ask if we can bring our own bottle for a corkage fee.
This is a family owned, very homey, home-cooked-food-type of place, nothing fancy, just solidly well prepared, tasty, and fresh.
We'll be back. They're supposed to have musical entertainment on Friday nights from 6-10 p.m.