Serious Eats: New York
Date Night: Urubamba, Peruvian Cuisine in Jackson Heights
Named for a town in Peru's Sacred Valley, Urubamba is decorated in what can only be termed "Andean ski lodge." Dark wooden beams support the pure white ceiling; latticework covers some windows, shielding the view of Jackson Heights' garden apartments. Stony masks line the walls. We peered past families slurping soup to see if there might be a roaring fireplace in back, and half-expected someone to come in with a burst of cold air, beat a hat against a thigh, and exclaim, "Boy, it's really coming down out there."
We started with the choclo peruano con queso ($7.75), a plate of three seemingly disparate components: corn on the cob, slabs of queso fresco, and peanut sauce. We dunked the mild, milky cheese into the viscous sauce, and gnawed the corn, boasting the largest, carbiest kernels we'd ever seen. We tried the corn in peanut sauce, the cheese on the corn, the sauce on the corn and the cheese, and eventually concluded that everything was best on its own.
If our appetizer puzzled us, our first entrée disappointed us. The bistec encebollado ($13.25) featured steak covered in sweet onions that had been stewed in tomatoes, all resting on rice and beans. While we liked the sweetness of the vegetables and the meatiness of the rice, we simply couldn't get over the steak's nonstop chew. Well done is one thing, shoe leather is something else. Seafood is the thing to get at Urubamba.
Thankfully, the arroz con camarones ($15) tasted as bright as it looked. Covered pots always cause a beat or two of anxiety as we wonder what lies within. Here, though, the dented silver lid lifted to reveal yellows and reds and greens and pinks, shrimp enriched with much butter, garlic, and parsley. This is a dish we'd like to eat after coming off the slopes or scampering around 15th-century Inca ruins.
Made from purple corn, pineapple, and lime, the chicha morada ($6.75 for a half-pitcher) smelled like cider, with hints of cinnamon and clove. This sweet, fruity juice made our day. And we can see why people have been drinking some variation of this maize beverage for more than 1,000 years.
Across from us two teenagers held hands over slabs of corvina and fries, at one of the tables built for two, drinking Inca Kola from a can and falling in love. Someday they might bring in their kids to fatten them with rice and bore them with tales about how Mommy and Daddy had their first date right there. Urubamba is a restaurant to root for, with a clientele utterly devoted to its takes on traditional food. It's best for: a distinctive date.
86-20 37th Avenue, Jackson Heights NY 11372 (map)