This sure ain’t County 7 dude. After months of fly-over state restaurants, Mago Guide was more than ready for the type of urban foodie experience that Portland has been shamelessly monetizing for at least a decade. Stingy and expensive pours? Who cares? ‘Tizers for the cost of an entrée? Bring them on. Menus designed to take bi-lingual speed-readers a half hour to complete? Oh you betcha!!
Editor’s translation: County 7 is Flathead County Montana. The 7 is the license plate designation for that county and a fond nickname that we have for our Montana love shack.
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Rostra rating: 3.5
Two hours after Amtrak deposited Team Mago (amazingly on time) in the City of Roses, we were seated in Andina drinking Chilean beer and Oregon pinot while listening to our earnest waiter describe three different dipping condiments that came with the restaurant’s whole wheat and quinoa bread.
It marked the start of a very nice lunch. The bread was light, airy, and just slightly chewy. Each dip was not only very nice by itself, but the sum was greater than the parts as they provided distinct contrasts. The jalapeno and mint puree (on the left) sported a very decent hit of heat that played nicely against the mango dip’s refreshing acidity. Perhaps the most interesting condiment, however, was a rocoto (on the right, a Peruvian pepper that provided subtle heat in addition to an interesting flavor profile) and peanut sauce thickened with breadcrumbs.
My previous encounters with Peruvian cuisine stretch back a couple decades to El Polo Rico, a roasted chicken franchise that took Northern Virginia by storm in the 90s. Their repertoire consisted of fairly good rotisserie chicken, steak fries, rice, and coleslaw served with jalapeno and mayonnaise sauces. None of this food was particularly Peruvian, but the price was right and the staff spoke Spanish (although I suspect most of them came from Mexico and Central America along with the rest of just about every commercial kitchen in the US). So I never felt the siren call of this incredible cuisine, until the 2014 Winter Tour rolled into the Portland.
Andina serves authentic traditional and novo-andean Peruvian dishes that are from a completely different universe wherein the laws of culinary physics simply do not apply to cut rate rotisserie chicken purveyors that can be found in most of the world these days. The extensive Sunday brunch menu listed 34 tapas and 13 entrees. We never got past the tapas, which can be ordered in small, medium, or large portions. We found that four small portions were a perfect lunch for two people.
Our bill of fare consisted of the following:
Solterito: a version of causa, which is a timbale of pureed potato mixed with other ingredients and served cold with avocado slices. The solterito was made with Yukon Gold potatoes as well as diced green beans, fresh corn, cotija cheese, and tomatoes. The dish proved to be a nice contrast in flavor as well as texture. Slightly pickled vegetables and salty sheep’s cheese nicely offset the creamy potatoes and rich avocado. Application of any or all of the bread condiments (as suggested by our waiter) took the dish up another level.
Yuca croquetas stuffed with mozzarella and cotija cheese, served over huancaína sauce was the weakest of the dishes we sampled. The yucca-to-stuffing ratio was way off, leading to a bland one-dimensional flavor profile. I could not detect the mozzarella at all and the role played by the cotija cheese in the timbale was absent due to the overly large yuca tubes masquerading as croquettes. The dish needed salt, acid, and heat–all of which were supplied by the dipping sauces but large amounts of those condiments were needed to get the dish back into balance.
Those dipping sauce once again came to the rescue of wantanes de mariscos or fried seafood wontons. This time in the guise of an ají amarillo-tamarind sauce served with the wontons, whose thick wrappers made it difficult to taste the shrimp and Dungeness crab stuffing. The tamarind sauce, however, was dynamite–delivering layers of heat with a bittersweet finish. The small pile of pickled daikon was far more than a garnish, providing an acidic crunch that refreshed the palate for more tamarind emersion so that the sauce did not become cloying. Thinner wrappers and this dish would have been killer.
Team Mago finished up with grilled octopus kebobs served with a chimichurri garnish and a caper majado de papa (that would be mashed taters, precious). I am an octopus addict. As long as it is cooked correctly, I will travel many miles to eat a bilaterally symmetric cephalopod mollusk. This dish consisted of a perfectly parboiled and then roasted tentacle served atop a mound of mashies incorporating crispy fried capers. The accompanying chimichurri garnish was very spritely indeed, but the faux tentacle of chili sauce, while artistic, was way too mild. Bread condiments to the rescue one more time. As anyone who has eaten in Galicia knows, octopus and taters are very complimentary, and I found the Peruvian approach to be superior to the classic Pulpo a la Galicia.
In addition to the food, Andina is a very inviting place to spend a few hours getting to know authentic Peruvian cuisine. The space is very bright and welcoming with yellow, red, and orange pastel walls and lots of light wood. The tables settings are simple yet elegant.
I particularly liked the paper coverings over the table linens that made it easy to take notes during our meal and tear them off for retrieval at the end. The bar area looks very convivial and the mixologists specialize in traditional and novo Latin cocktails. The wine list is eclectic and impressive with many offerings from South America.
We will definitely be back to try more of the tapas, sample the entrees, and check out the deserts. But we might have to wait until next spring since there are so many food venues in Portland and so little time in the Winter Tour.