The Rotisserie Chicken Only Scratches the Peruvian Surface at D'Candela
D'Candela is widely regarded for its Peruvian rotisserie chicken, so much so that many people trek up to Irving Park and order it with tunnel vision. This is a mistake. I'm just as likely to stick to a place's specialty as anyone, but in D'Candela's case, you'd be well served to dig a little deeper.
The meal begins with a basket of Warm Bread (on the house). Skip the individually wrapped butter pats; putting a knife to these tender loaves would tear them to bits. Instead, dab ripped pieces into the pea-green Aji (not pictured), which sports a bracing garlicky spice that hits just above the throat and won't quit. The sauce enhances everything, though, so resist the urge to fill up early on bread.
The Ceviche Mixto ($16.00) was a curve ball that Nick suggested, and one that bears repeating on subsequent visits. The shrimp, squid, octopus, and tilapia jumble is pickled just enough, which means no rubberiness. And unlike curly parsley sprigs or those carrot and radish stars at some Thai places, the sweet potato, white potato, and Peruvian white corn are garnishes actually worth eating.
I was expecting the milk and rice based Chupe de Camarones ($16.00) to be the Peruvian answer to clam chowder, but the thin, briny broth was anything but. Tight curled shrimp skating the overcooked line and eggs hard cooked in the soup itself combine for a strange, yet somehow satisfying, bowl of soup.
If you've been reared on oily, soy-black carryout Chinese fried rice, consider the Arroz Chaufa de Camarones ($15.50) your chance to make amends with the dish. It tastes as bright as it looks and is easily the best fried rice I've had in memory. I'll never say no to shrimp, but given how much crunch and flavor the other greaseless components retain, I'd be just as happy with the vegetable version.
After the rather, ahem, disappointing rotisserie chicken last week, I was looking for a slow spinning palate cleanser. The Pollo A Las Brasas ($9.25 for a 1/2 chicken with two sides) is that dish. Assertively marinated, everything from the breast to the thigh is surprisingly moist and flavorful. Instead of reheating it to order, the kitchen does it right by starting a bird or two every twenty minutes, ensuring that each plateful is hot, crisp skinned, and fresh.
For sides, I went simple. The bias-cut Plantains are heavily burnished, but don't be fooled: they're sweet and custardy moist inside.
The Yuca eats like woody steak fries: the hard fried stalks aren't bad, but they seem engineered to take up space more than anything else.
The jury is still out on the Combinado ($4.25), a side by side dessert of arroz con leche and mazamorra morada (purple corn syrup). The rice side has appealing cinnamon flavor and the plump raisins are nice, but the baby food thin consistency is off-putting. Stranger still is the purple corn syrup, which tastes of corn starch, and little else. Next time, I may just set a few plantains aside if I want something sweet to round out the meal.
Recently renovated and BYOB, D'Candela would work equally well as an off the beaten path date night or destination for friends. The chicken is bound to satisfy tablewide, but next time, try ordering with the blinders off for a change.