Papa Rellena con Harto Relleno – Stuffed Potato with Minced Meat, Eggs, and Olives served with Criolla Salsa and Aji Cream
Pan con Jamon de Lechon – Suckling Pig, Red Onions, Lettuce, Herb Aioli
Pan con Huevera Frita – Fried Bonito Egg Sandwich, Salsa Criolla
Cau Cau con Sangrecita – Tripe and Potato Stew with Aji Pepper, Turmeric and Black Mint served with Blood Sausage Stew and Rice
Tallarin Saltado a la Criolla – Stir fry Spaghetti, Tenderloin, Tomatoes, Red Onion
Arroz Zambito – Warm Rice Pudding with Cinnamon
Manjar Blanco Pudding – Chantilly Cream
Only open since 2015, though little including pickled Peppers used as decorations seem nearly so new, it was for dinner that two guests stopped at Isolina on Friday night, the unlikely sensation from Chef José del Castillo once again completely committed both upstairs as well as down and soon to get busy with a global population of diners ranging from locals to Americans to a sizable group of visitors from Amsterdam.
Located in Lima’s trendy Barranco neighborhood, an area full of fashion, art and youth seemingly the last place one might go looking for Cuisine that dates back to Colonial times, Isolina focuses on a type of cooking called Criollo and although far less celebrated than dishes such as Ceviche or Lomo Saltado the former Food of slaves has found new life at Isolina much like Offal has captured the attention of diners stateside in recent years.
Born out of del Castillo’s childhood memories of family-style dishes cooked by Mothers or Grandmothers, a hand-written and photocopied menu joined by daily specials served in heaping portions, it is quickly after sitting down at closely-packed tables that diners will find a collection of items ranging from Brains to Kidneys to Stomach offered, the Cocktail list equally diverse though ‘safe’ choices exist on both.
Thankfully publishing an English-friendly Menu with more lengthy descriptions of dishes, the staff sporadically bilingual but usually too busy navigating the room with enormous plates to be bothered, it was with bottled Water and a particularly foamy Pisco Sour in hand that an order was placed with allowance for “half-portions,” though a quick glance at the softball-sized Potato stuffed with Beef, Eggs and Olives with their Pits will quickly make most aware of what is coming.
As much a Tavern as a member of Latin America’s “50 Best” list, several guests just stopping in for drinks or a quick bite en route to somewhere else, it was also from a list of Starters that two full-size Sandwiches arrived for just 15 Sol each, the one topped in Suckling Pig not dissimilar to Porchetta while its cousin doubled down on texture and umami by deep-frying an Omelet fortified with Fish Eggs and placing it on crispy Bread with sliced Onions and Peppers.
Told by servers that Cau-Cau is something of an Isolina signature, José’s recipe said to date back hundreds of years, it was alongside the more typical Tallarin Saltado that a steaming skillet of Tripe arrived with a perfume of Turmeric, each bite rich and tender while the yin to its yang was exactly as funky as one might expect from pan-seared Chicken and Pig’s blood loaded with Aji Peppers and Garlic.
Unable to single-handedly conquer such a rich dish, a less adventurous tablemate perfectly content with her Stir-fry, it was with much of the Blood Sausage and Rice returned that more Arroz arrived, this time a much less aggressive portion cooked with Cream, Sugar and a pinch of Cinnamon that tasted fine but not nearly as delicious as Caramel Pudding that is stick-a-spoon-up-straight thick beneath a layer of Chantilly Cream.