La Huaca brings the tastes of Peru to Granite BayBy: Toby Lewis, Granite Bay View correspondent
La Huaca Restaurant
What: Peruvian cuisine
Where: 9213 Sierra College Blvd., Suite 140, Roseville
Info: (916) 771-2558; www.lahuacarestaurant.com
Toby Lewis is a freelance writer with almost 30 years experience in the restaurant industry. Look to each month’s Dining View for his thoughts, insights and opinions about dining in and around Granite Bay. Follow him on Twitter @TobLewis.
When it comes to restaurants, I am always on the lookout for hidden gems.
You know the place — your favorite restaurant, the dive down the street, the one that nobody knows about … yet.
I recently found such a gem in a little Peruvian place on the corner of Eureka Road and Sierra College Boulevard called La Huaca Restaurant.
Nestled in a strip mall among boutique salons, a frozen yogurt shop, jewelry stores and the like, the restaurant might be easy to pass up if you’re not looking for it.
It also might be easy to pass up if you don’t know anything about Peruvian food, which incidentally if you don’t, you’re not alone.
One thing I immediately learned on my recent visit to La Huaca is that Peruvians know food, and foodies are going to like this place.
For starters, regular readers of this column know that I am a sucker for ceviche.
When I opened up the menu, I was happy to see that La Huaca offers seven different types of ceviche, each one unique and likely as good as the rest.
We opted for the Ceviche Clasico ($14.95) to start us off. The dish had all the familiar notes that a good ceviche should have — fresh mahi mahi cured in a light citrus marinade — but with a Peruvian twist.
The dish had a hint of coconut and was served with red onion, Peruvian corn, sweet potato and fried corn kernels, making for a perfectly balanced dish with the right amount of heat, acid, salt and crunch.
More adventurous ceviche lovers might want to try the Ceviche de Rocoto ($14.95), fresh fish cured in citrus and covered in a creamy pepper sauce; or the Ceviche de Aji Amarillo ($14.95), served with a Peruvian yellow pepper sauce.
We found the staff to be impressively knowledgeable about the food, and they don’t mind guiding you through the menu.
Our server, Andra, explained each dish we asked about in great detail, including the cooking process, with a professional and non-pretentious demeanor.
For our next course, Andra suggested we try the causas, a traditional Peruvian small-plate dish made up of mashed yellow potatoes, topped with various meats and seasoned with aji pepper sauce.
Aji is a Peruvian pepper that can be spicy or mild. La Huaca chefs boil the pepper for several hours to cut some of the spice and use it as a key ingredient in many dishes at the restaurant, Andra explained.
La Huaca offers six types of causas, and we decided to try the Festival de Causas ($12.95) to get a variety of tastes.
The sampler was served with four different causas, individually topped with chicken, shrimp, fried chicken and octopus. Each causa was served cold, to our surprise, and the potatoes had a texture almost like a soft polenta. Delicioso.
Both my wife and I commented on the appropriate portion sizes for our first two courses, unaware that our next course, the entrée course, would be a little bit more than we could handle.
Andra recommended the Lomo Saltado ($19.95) for me: marinated filet mignon tips cooked in a Pisco liquor sauce and served with stewed tomatoes, cilantro, white rice and “pappas fritas” (French fries).
Pisco is a type of grape brandy made only in the winemaking regions of Peru and some parts of Chile, and, I found out, is a popular ingredient in Peruvian cooking.
I found my dish to be perfectly cooked and seasoned, tender and juicy, but the combination of rice and potatoes made it a bit heavy on the starch.
My wife ordered the Pescado a lo Macho ($22.95): Fresh white fish marinated in aji pepper sauce with sautéed calamari, shrimp and grilled asparagus, served with white rice.
Each entrée item came with a suggested wine pairing on the menu, but I was a little surprised to see that many of the suggested pairings are not offered by the glass.
For example, the menu suggested I pair with my entree a pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon or carmenere, but only a Woodbridge Cabernet ($5.95 or $8.95) was offered by the glass.
The bottle list is filled with many gems, however, mostly from Chile, Argentina and Spain. There is also a nice selection of Peruvian wine, both in the bottle and by the glass.
I like to think I know a little bit about wine, at least enough to know that I really don’t know much about wine at all. There is always more to learn.
That being said, I had never heard of the tannat grape before, but since it was a Peruvian wine served in a Peruvian restaurant, I thought it would pair well with my meal and ordered a glass ($9.95).
I was right. I am now a fan of tannat, a dry red wine with hints of ripe fruit that, in my opinion, is similar to syrah, but not as bold or jammy.
My wife ordered a Peruvian sauvignon blanc ($9.95), which she said paired nicely with her fish.
When we simply could not stomach any more, Andra took our plates to be boxed up and explained to us the dessert menu.
La Huaca offers many desserts made with Peruvian fruits and delicious sauces. We decided to try the Helado Peruano de Lúcuma ($7.95), homemade ice cream made from the lúcuma fruit.
Lúcumais a tropical fruit native to Peru with a delicate flavor and best when it is fresh, but it is only available outside of Peru frozen or in a powder.
The dessert was basically a Peruvian ice cream sundae with pineapple, strawberries, chocolate and whipped cream — the perfect end to a wonderful meal.
La Huaca also happens to be situated a few doors down from another one of my new favorite places, Final Gravity Taproom & Bottleshop, which makes for a nice stopping-off point if you want a pre-dinner pint or a night cap.
As my wife and I did just that, we must have heard half a dozen people say they want to try the “new Peruvian place next door,” but have yet to do so.
My advice: Don’t hesitate. Try it. You won’t be disappointed.