Los Balcones del Peru reopened last Thursday after a makeover that kept it closed for five weeks. Walk in now and you could just as well be in Lima. A giant photo of the city's historic downtown square covers the back wall. The cathedral is in the center, and vintage buildings on either side show off the balcones (balconies) that give the restaurant its name.
Stripping off layers of paint and concrete revealed a handsome brick wall behind the bar. The new bar counter is wide so that you can sit there and eat comfortably, which may be necessary. The reopening took place without fanfare, but by the second night, the place was crowded.
On the opposite wall, an outsize blackboard could hold the whole menu, but that's not the idea. A changing parade of dishes will be listed there, described so you know what makes them special.
The old menu has been trimmed and updated. Oddly, the celebrated camarones a la piedra (a sort of warm ceviche) raved about by Jonathan Gold has been dumped. It was time to give it a rest, says Jorge Rodriguez, who owns the restaurant with his brothers, Walter, who is the chef, and Eduardo. They are from Ica in southern Peru.
What's new includes a quinoa salad with asparagus, a maracuya (passion fruit) vinaigrette and a poached egg that you're supposed to cut up into the salad. Asparagus isn't a California touch. It thrives in southern Peru, says Rodriguez, who runs the front of the house.
Causa trio divides the usual single large potato cake into three small mounds, each with a different topping and sauce. One is vegetarian with roasted cherry tomatoes and garlic on top and a rocoto pepper sauce. Another has chicken and huancaína sauce. The third combines octopus, shrimp and mussels with olive sauce.
The food at Los Balcones is mainly coastal Peruvian, meaning heavy on seafood. One of the new dishes is tiradito, a sea bass carpaccio blanketed with an eye-popping yellow sauce. The color comes from the Peruvian ají amarillo (yellow chile). Only three of the former ceviches survived the cuts.
Old seafood standbys that remain include sudado de pescado, a Peruvian style cioppino given its oomph by concentrated fish stock. Chupe de camarones (shrimp chowder) is red with panca chile and gets substance from rice, choclo (giant Peruvian corn) and a poached egg. This dish is from Arequipa in the south.
But there's more than seafood. One of the newcomers is seco de carne, short ribs braised with beer, ají amarillo and cilantro until as tender as butter.
Plans are to add a bar menu of small plates, more regional food and introduce pachamanca, an Inca dish that honors the earth mother Pachamama. This combination of meats and vegetables should be cooked in the ground with hot stones, but Los Balcones will find another way to get the same effect. The meat will be lamb.
Also coming up is duck ceviche and a fruity wine drink from the south called chavela. Don't ask for a pisco sour because Los Balcones does not yet have a liquor license.
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For now, the restaurant serves dinner only, but lunch will start in a few weeks.
Los Balcones del Peru: 1360 Vine Street, Los Angeles; (323) 871-9600.