Monday, January 11, 2010

Oh! Calamares Peruvian Restaurant

peruvian food mosaic

My wife and son weren't interested in the black mint sauce, ceviche, squid or rabbit. Before I could order the braised tripe, she asked for a small sample. We were looking over the adventurous menu at Oh! Calamares, a Peruvian restaurant in Kearny, and trying to put together a meal on Saturday night, our one dinner out last week.

The menu listed dishes I had never seen at our favorite Peruvian restaurants, including Pollos El Chevere in the city of Passaic and Jaimito's in Clifton. The former is owned by Japanese-Peruvians, the latter by Chinese-Peruvians. Italians also influenced the cooking of Peru.

My wife and son insisted on ordering chicken soup ($8.50), and the bowl was so big, they not only couldn't finish it, but they had room for little else. Each bowl contained a quarter of a big, boiled chicken in one piece and fat, Chinese-style noodles that were falling apart.

I ordered chicharron de pescado ($10.50) as an appetizer -- fried chunks of breaded grouper fillet, fried yuca and tartar sauce. We ignored the tartar sauce and doused the fish and yuca with the pale-green hot sauce we got when we sat down with a separate dish of addictive, popped and salted corn kernels. The fish-yuca appetizer was great.

Our entrees were cau-cau ($9) -- braised tripe and potatoes with peas, served with white rice -- and tallarin saltado ($15) -- thick, Chinese-style spaghetti with shrimp. I did my best, but we took about half of each home. We drizzled hot sauce on the mild, toothsome tripe and potatoes. The shrimp snapped.

So there are lots of dishes left to try, probably when I go alone for lunch: grilled, marinated veal-heart kebabs; sliced, boiled potatoes in a black mint sauce; oven-roasted rabbit; spicy, braised duck, black-conch ceviche, and more.

The articulate, young man who showed us to our table said the restaurant, once located in North Bergen, was named after his father's onetime favorite place in Peru. He is a second-generation restaurateur. The building looks modern outside and traditional on the three levels inside. Tables are bare. The atmosphere was marred by a poor quality DVD of a concert that was playing at high volume on flat-screen TVs in the two-level dining room.

Kearny Avenue, once solely a destination for Scottish fish and chips, now is home to several ethnic restaurants besides Oh! Calamares (that's "Oh! Squid" in English).

Oh! Calamares Restaurant, 102 Kearny Ave., Kearny;
201-998-4111. Peruvian beer and wine available.
Municipal parking lot across the street.
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