Machu Picchu offers vast array of tasty Peruvian dishes
307 Somerville Ave., Somerville
Hours: Monday-Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Thursday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. - 1 a.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. - 1 a.m., Sunday, 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Major credit cards accepted; Handicapped accessible
Peruvians have the potato down pat, which is no surprise given that nearly 4,000 varieties grow there, and Peru is widely considered to be the birthplace of all things tuber. But the potato is just one player in a varied cuisine. The tastes of Peru reflect the country's stark geographical contrasts, from miles of coastline to Andean slopes. Diners can sample it all at Machu Picchu in Somerville.
A hefty, leather-bound menu invites patrons to try a broad, almost bewildering array of regional dishes. There are hot and cold appetizers, soups and stews and salads, chicken and beef and pork entrées, plenty of seafood, and six different types of ceviche. On both of my visits, my dining companions and I had an attack of what I call menu anxiety: how to choose from the embarrassment of riches? Luckily, our waiters were more than happy to help us navigate.
Perhaps in anticipation of all the perusing and choosing, Machu Picchu offers an amuse-bouche of toasted corn kernels with a spicy green pepper sauce. The nutty, crunchy corn is delicious, but don't ask for seconds as the dishes here are large.
The hot and cold appetizers at Machu Picchu are enticing and give the entrées a good run for their money. We enjoyed the papa rellena ($7), a mashed, fried potato filled with hard-boiled egg, raisins, and beef. The potato was fluffy and light, and the sweet raisins offered a nice complement to the salty beef. Fried yuca ($7), or cassava root, is a popular South American snack. It came served with huancaína dipping sauce, made of yellow chili peppers and farmer's cheese. The piquant sauce gave a nice kick to the simple, crisp yucca.
Our favorite appetizer was the causa machupicchu ($9). The chilled dish featured a seafood salad of tuna, diced shrimp, purple onion, and celery layered between mashed potato. The taste was potato-salad-meets-tuna-salad, which met with great approval. The dish was fresh and summery, a perfect start to a meal at this time of year.
Standout entrées included seco de carne a la norteña ($11), a slow-cooked side of beef simmered with cilantro and served alongside canary beans and rice. The meat in this hearty dish was tender and very well prepared. The ceviche mixto ($14), a mound of raw seafood "cooked" in lime sauce, won acclaim for its tangy, fresh taste. Two types of corn and slices of sweet potato accompanied the generous portion of ceviche, providing an earthy contrast to the salty seafood.
We enjoyed the smoky taste of the aji de gallina ($11), pulled chicken in chili pepper sauce. The portion size was generous and included piles of rice and potatoes, but I felt the dish had too little chicken. Eager to try one of Machu Picchu's many fish options, on one visit I ordered the grilled pescado a la chorillana ($14). It can be prepared with either haddock or tilapia. While the fish was tender and flaky, I was not partial to the salty tomato and onion sauce that smothered it.
There are many tempting dessert options. We devoured spoonful after spoonful of the leche asada ($3.50), a baked custard with a crackly crust and rich caramel taste. I liked the crumbly alfajores ($6.50), shortbread sandwich cookies filled with dulce de leche and dusted with powdered sugar.
Machu Picchu is run by a Peruvian expatriate who established the restaurant after becoming homesick for the flavors of her native country. The service is relaxed, so don't head here if you are in a hurry. Aside from a massive photo of Machu Picchu above the bar, the décor is simple. A few photos of Lima adorn the walls and handicrafts are scattered throughout. On Friday nights, Peruvian musicians treat diners to the sounds of the Andes, and it's easy to pretend, while sipping a light, frothy Pisco Sour ($7), that you've traveled thousands of miles south of Somerville.