Aji Peruvian Restaurant – Taste The Unexpected

Friday, January 24, 2014 - by Willie Mae

Ol’ Lou and I finally got out for lunch last week when he told me about a Peruvian place in the Ooltewah/Apison area that he wanted to try. Lou is a round-about and travels quite often and had been to Peru before. We planned to meet there and I thought I would drive forever down Ooltewah-Ringgold Road before finding it, but I finally saw it past the school.

It was a quaint café-type place and we were seated at a booth. The place was very clean – even the ceiling fans (I notice that sort of thing). As we looked over the menu, I let Lou lead the way since he was the expert on this type of food.

We looked over the menu at the appetizers and Lou informed me that “Papa” meant potato. I saw the Papa/Yuca a la Huancaina appetizer for $4.50 and asked him what a Yuca was. “It’s a plant,” Lou said. The way he said that, I wasn’t sure he really knew either and was just trying to be a know-it-all.

We had a cute waitress with braces and dimples and I just wanted to put her in my pocket and take her home. She was young but so professional and sweet. We told her we would start off with the Fried Yuca appetizer. I got a diet coke and Lou asked for water and an Inca cola. He tried the same cola before in Peru and said it was a ginger-y flavor, but unlike root beer. It is made with lemon verbena.

He also said that in Peru, they automatically serve their Aguas Frescas (water) and if you want plain water you had to ask for ‘agua sin gas’ which is water without gas or carbonation. I guess it is sort of like asking for regular or unleaded.

When our little waitress brought Lou’s “plant” out to us, it looked like steak fries with honey mustard sauce on the side. Lou explained that the sauce was their Aji sauce and the French fry looking things were the Yuca.

I asked Mr. Know-it-all, “If these are the Yuca then where are the Papa?” The appetizer had both names in the title, but these looked like potato. He said, “You didn’t ask for the Papa, you asked for the Yuca,” It sounded like he was trying to cover for not really knowing, but then I realized that the description on the menu gave you a choice of Papa or Yuca.

We ordered our meals and Lou suggested I try the Sabor de Peru for $12.95 - a sampler that had three of their top dishes combined, but he said he was getting it and I wanted to try something different than what he ordered. It was a cold day so I liked the idea of the Seco Norteno –a traditional stew for $9.95.

Lou let me have the first taste of the Yuca. It was not a Papa (potato) because it had a more fibrous texture. It almost had a root texture, but whatever it was it was not a potato and, even though it was a bit bland, it was good. We over-salt things in our country anyway and we need to learn to like the flavor of the food itself. With the Aji sauce (which did not taste like honey mustard at all despite its appearance) the Yuca was not yuck. I really liked it and I liked the spices in the sauce.

The music overhead had a beautiful Indian flute playing a few songs I knew from church and then some other songs. It was beautiful and soothing.

When our meals arrived, they were both on plates – even my stew. Stew on a plate… that was not stew to me. I had to use a knife for my…stew. There was rice, and what they said were refried beans, but they looked like they were only fried once because they were still pretty whole and not mushy.

Our waitress asked if I wanted a dish of spicy sauce on the side and, of course, I said yes. It was green and looked like wasabi. I like surprises, so when I expect something to taste a certain way and it doesn’t, I like that it plays a trick on my taste buds. Instead of the wasabi-hot that travels up your sinuses, this green sauce was the pepper-hot that stays on your tongue. When I mentioned that, Lou grabbed his Inca and said, “Yes, it does stay on your tongue!”

The dishes were cute and the sauce dishes were shaped like teardrops (which was appropriate because the hot sauce made a few tears come).

Lou had tried two of the items on his plate when he was in Peru before, but one item was new to him. It was a “Papa” dish that had chicken and spices mixed in a sauce and placed over the Papa. It almost looked like chicken and dumplings’ but Lou insisted that it was not.

I learned that Peruvian food has a look of American food but it is never what you expect and I liked that. Quite a different flavor from the way we eat in America, but it was a very clean taste and delicious once you let your mind move away from our own culture and savor the flavors and texture of the Peruvian food.

Lou said that when he saw this place, he had wondered how authentic it was and he was really pleased with it.  

He asked how I liked the steak and I thought it tasted a little bit how the Greek restaurants cook their lamb for Gyros. I said, “Do you know how Greek restaurants cook their lamb? It tastes a little like that…” and Mr. Know-it-all said, “Yes, I have actually eaten lamb IN Greece.” I shot him a look and he just smiled triumphantly having gotten the reaction he wanted.

When the waitress asked if we wanted dessert, Lou chose the flan for $3.50 and I got the Alfajores – a shortbread cookie for $1.95. I don’t like the texture of flan, but the cookie was absolutely wonderful! It was heart shaped and had a creamy filling. The cookie had powdered sugar on top with a caramel drizzle across the plate. Without trying to copy a line from a children’s storybook, the cookie was fresh and ‘not too hard and not too soft’ – it was just right!

Peruvian food is an experience everyone should try at least once. I liked it enough that I would visit this place again and I enjoyed the whole experience. And …it is especially good if you take a know-it-all with you to explain everything.

Hours:

Monday - Thursday

Lunch 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Dinner  5 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Friday

11 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Open for Lunch Only

Closed Saturday

Open Sunday 12 p.m. - 8 p.m.



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