When we were in Portland a couple of weeks ago, I had so many restaurants on my list to visit, James suggested we try ‘em all, just for a taste. Not unlike feasting on Thanksgiving dinner at my Aunt Vicki’s house, where I dip fork in everything, filling up on bites. Except there’s no caramel cake in Portland, man. I wish I could give you a taste of that cake and you’d understand why I love it so.
One of the places on my list was Andina. I’d never even heard of it, much less seen it, until I read about it on urbanspoon. It’s consistently listed as one of the top spots to eat in Portland. After the Voodoo, of course. Yes, I’m a Voodoo fan and believe they’re some of the best doughnuts I’ve ever eaten. So that must mean the “novo Peruvian cuisine” they dish up at Andina must be fantastical, if the numbers hold true, right? Having never knowingly gone to a Peruvian specialty spot, I wondered if they keep their tortilla chips away from Kramer to avoid being seasoned with desiccant packs. Putumayo could have sold Peruvian sandals and salsa, right? Anyway. Andina ain’t got no tortilla chips, so the point is moot.
The restaurant is located “in The Pearl” section of Portland. The Pearl is similar to Seattle’s Pioneer Square, if you’re looking for a local likeness. Art houses, old buildings, outrageously priced lofts with zero parking. Ahhh, city life. The Pearl. That’s a fun name to call a place and I think I’ll say it as many times as possible for the rest of the day.
The walls in the entryway are covered with articles written about how successfully the Platt Rodriguez family has been with bringing Peruvian cuisine to the Pearl. The rest of the restaurant is decorated like a Martha Stewart dream house in Santa Fe. It’s not a bad thing.
The place is huge, with two levels of space. There are nooks and crannies designed to hide parties both large and small and the Peruvian decorations are lovely.
We arrived right as happy hour was about to start and were seated in the lounge area at a copper-topped table by a wall of windows. Even on the drearily cloudy day, the multi-colored napkins, the wood, the copper, and the bottles of prettily colored liquor all worked together to create a warm, comfortable atmosphere that begged people to sit around sipping sangria and sopping sauce with fantastical bread.
Sangria is $5 a glass, $19 a pitcher. Had I not been the only one drinking it, I could’ve easily gone for the pitcher. The cocktail on the left is the famous sacsayhuamán ($9.5). I wasn’t interested in trying the award-winning beverage based solely on the fact that I don’t drink cocktails that’s got the words “habanero” and “pepper” in the list of ingredients, no matter how sugary the rim may be.
I really enjoyed the fresh, fruity sangria and that surprised me because it wasn’t overly sweet. Highly recommend it and would sit around and sip that stuff for hours at $5/glass. Best deal in the joint, in my opinion.
Since they’re an upscale kind of place, Andina replaces ye ol’ tortilla chips with baskets of seedy bread and a trio of exotic sauces. Cue “fusion cuisine” music, Johnny. The tan sauce on the far right is a peanut garlic sauce that was more peanutty than garliccy to me, and reminded me of the sauce on a Thai dish I ate once back in 2007. My palate doesn’t have that specific of a memory, it’s merely the last time I tried authentic Thai cuisine. The middle, orange sauce is a passion fruit that wasn’t sweet enough for me (I know!), and the beautifully bright green? Jalapeño mint. They were interesting, and a nice something different, but not really something I’d crave to taste again in the future.
I had to try and snag a shot of the best server in Portland. Of course I can’t remember her name (I’m gonna fire that stenographer if it’s the last thing I do), but she not only patiently explained her favorites and the specials, but did so with an authentic accent. I don’t think she’s related to the family, but they should prolly marry her into it asap.
We tried a couple of small plates (just a taste). To continue to fuse the Thai gap, this was the wantan de mariscos ($9.5). These tasted like a simple shrimp eggroll and the Amarillo tamarind sauce was just ok.
The anticucho de corazón ($5), marinated beef heart kebobs, were deeelicious. The spicy salsa de rocoto that’s served with them is pretty tasty (I preferred it over the bread sauces, but not more than the tamarind). There are also octopus and chicken anticuchos, and I’d try each of them on a next visit. That little nugget underneath the kebob is a yucca fry, and I say don’t be so stingy with them next time, Andina. Just one fry? Please.
Overall, we enjoyed our fun taste of Andina and would probably go again for a full-blown dining experience if some friends suggested a visit. I’d probably hesitate on recommending to folks unless they were to tell me they were looking for a taste of something different. It’s a beautiful restaurant with a loverly, warm ambiance made all the better with a friendly staff and choice sangria. You gotta try that sangria, at least once.