Dear Chavin Restaurant,
You don't need to hire a public relations consultant to get people interested in walking through your doors. With its pedimented entryway and stonework bearing the historic former tenant's name in sunken relief, your restaurant would stand out in Port Chester even if it wasn't situated in the middle of a busy intersection.
Walking into this landmark building (a former bank), you can't stop your eyes from involuntarily wandering to the high ceilings and Spanish artwork lining the walls. There was no need for a reservation on a week night, but when passing by during a Saturday evening, a mental note to call ahead was posted.
As my husband and I were happily greeted by the hostess, we listened for the upbeat music usually found in Peruvian restaurants. It wasn't there. Instead, the two televisions at either side of the restaurant -- which could have been playing highlights of the World Cup -- were tuned to a science fiction broadcast. Odd, but I quickly got over it as I continued my Peruvian experience.
Shortly after we were seated next to a window perfect for Main Street people-watching, our server placed a bowl of fried corn kernels on our table, accompanied by a creamy jalapeno dipping sauce. You sure do know how to make a first impression! This was the perfect complimentary snack while we turned to our menus.
For starters, we went with the classics. Papa a la huancaina, a salad of boiled potatoes dressed in "Peruvian sauce." This sauce is the Huanciana part of the title, a melding of white cheese (queso blanco), Peruvian peppers, milk, and crackers blended to a thick and smooth consistency. The salad is garnished with hard boiled eggs and black olives alongside Peru's version of potato salad.
We enjoyed your choclo con queso. I can honestly say I fell in love with your choclo. The large, sweet kernels played off the saltiness of the white cheese, making for a promising start.
Moving on to the main course, you, Chavin, serve a plate of ceviche that could easily surpass any other in New York. The ceviche mixto is a combination of both shellfish and fish marinated in lime juice and garlic. With the addition of Peruvian peppers (aji amarillo), this dish begins to spice up one's taste buds.
Your bisteck a lo probre knows how to manage its way into a young reviewer's heart with a culmination of flavors that seem to hit every spot on the tongue. All steaks are served fairly well-done; when we ordered, our server didn't ask us how we wanted the steaks cooked. I will leave this at your discretion Chavin, as I would like to keep my dining experience as authentic as possible. I can make my own determinations on how wonderful the forkfuls of beef, plantain, rice, and egg were with each bite. There was no need for any kind of sauce to heighten the meal. Each component shined on its own.
To end the ultimate Chavin experience, the dessert menu was calling my name. Instead of ordering all three items on the menu, we decided on a mix of mazamorra morada, a purple corn pudding with raisins, and arroz con leche, a sweet rice pudding. To top it all off, the alfajar. The sweet Peruvian sandwich cookie was one the flakiest pastries I've tried in recent memory. The filling, dulce de leche, is a caramel made from the reduction of sweetened condensed milk. In the future I will forgo the combinado and order two of the cookies.
I want to thank you, Chavin, for your Peruvian hospitality and for a dining experience I look forward to having again and again. Until we meet again…
Hailee Moore is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute. She is a professional cook by day and a food writer anytime in between. When Hailee is not cooking or writing, she can be found running or behind a book. Her favorite summer dish is anything that comes off of the grill.