Brooklyn's Smith Street gained a dash of notoriety last year when one of its culinary inhabitants, The Grocery, nabbed one of the top spots in the Zagat survey. And it seems every week now, a new contender for next year's championship takes hold on this busy thoroughfare.
The latest, Cholita Bar & Grill, provides a fitting introduction to the pleasures of Peruvian cuisine. And even if the menu's many options sound unfamiliar, I suspect once its backyard patio is fully ready for customers, Cholita may become one of Smith's busiest restaurants. Even if you're not particularly hungry, you might want to take a seat at the attractive bar and indulge in Peru's national drink, the tart and tasty Pisco sour, while trying to restrain yourself from finishing basket after basket of the house's homemade sweet potato chips served with a warm black bean dip. Even so, don't overlook the starters, which range from a variety of ceviches to such unusual fare as crocante de langostinos, firm shrimp wrapped with a slice of bacon encased in a crispy, almond-studded batter called kichwa, and smothered in a creamy hollandaise-like sauce. (The kichwa also encases chicken, available in both appetizer and entrée dishes.)
Not surprisingly, seafood options abound, from an appetizer of grilled octopus to a main of seared tuna in an onion-soy sauce. While the filet of sea bass perched atop a mash of corn and mushroom looked a tad unorthodox, the resulting interplay of flavors is delicious. Equally satisfying are three chunks of tender strip steak covered with an "escabeche" sauce of grilled peppers, onion and assorted slices set atop "tacu tacu," a delicious blending of sautéed rice and black beans. Desserts favor those with a true sweet tooth, including arroz con leche, a rice pudding served over cinnamon sponge cake and dulce de leche, and suspire a la limena, a soft meringue. Whether or not they thrill you, you will still probably have a soft spot for Cholita