Monday, July 22, 2013

Family lunch in Pachacámac

Yesterday the family headed out to Pachacámac for a lunch in the countryside, at one of the many restaurantes campestres that have set up shop in the area.

On the way we stopped at small roadside restaurant called "El Paso Obligado" -basically, the obligatory stop- that is known for breads and turnovers that it sells, which are made with a variety of fillings -olives, cheese, pastry cream, etc.- and baked in a wood-fired oven.

Jacho, Diego and I had thought of perhaps returning to La Casa de Don Cucho, but based on friends' reviews, we all headed instead to the nearby Chaxras restaurant. (The name "chacra" - the "x" is to be pronounced as a /k/- is a Qechua word that has been adopted into Peruvian Spanish, and refers to a small peasant farm field.) 

Chaxras bills itself as an "ecological" restaurant.   In Peru that term is used to denote that something is organically or sustainably grown, or simply less harmful for the environment -much as the term "green" is used in the US.  It is sometimes applied to vegetables grown hydroponically, although the "greenness" of water-intensive hydroponics in a desert can be questioned.

In Chaxras' case -according to the restaurant's website- the term refers to its use of recycled materials in its building, its organic garden, and its commitment to organic, locally-sourced produce.

In addition to the restaurant, Chaxras has games -as is usual for this sort of establishment- but also a small zoo, with rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, and a parrot that says hola!, whistles, and imitates cattle and horses.

The restaurant and its grounds are quite pleasant and present a modern, open, well-kept appearance.  There is a covered dining area, as well as tables set under ramadas on the lawn, a bar, open kitchen, and a cooking pit for the meats.

In the pit there were, when we arrived, some slabs of pork that had been slowly cooking over a low fire for four hourse, two smoker ovens for pork and chicken prepared al cilindro, and a pit holding a pachamanca.

A pachamanca is a traditional Andean way of cooking food for a crowd by constructing an earth oven by placing the foods in a pit with heated rocks, and covering the lot with soil to hold in the heat for a few hours.

We arrived in time to observe the staff opening up the pachamanca.

In the Andes usually green alfalfa or grass, combined with fresh aromatic herbs, are used, but in Chaxras' pachamanca the food was wrapped in bijao leaves.  Bijao is a jungle plant and its leaves are used to wrap foods in Amazonian cuisine, but its use and flavour are not part of the Andean spectrum.

The pachamanca was good for what it was, but it was not what a family of Ayacuchanos would expect, flavourwise, in a pachamanca, so some were disappointed with it.

I enjoyed mine, however.

Lechon al palo: spit-roasted pork
The other food was also competently prepared, but was not traditionally-prepared, but a more modern, novo/fusion sort of cuisine.  That is fine for an urban restaurant -in which context no one would likely have complained- but it is a far cry from what one expects and seeks from restaurantes campestres, which is traditional Andean or criollo dishes prepared and presented in the traditional way.  

On the other hand, Chaxras -fairly or not- also suffered from being judged in comparison to La Casa de Don Cucho, which is natural as we had passed up that establishment -which is half a block's distance before Chaxras on the same dirt road- to come there.

None of that is to say that we didn't like the place.   We all enjoyed a surprising cocktail they offered: the Chaxras chilcano.  A chilcano is a drink made of pisco, simple syrup, lime juice, and ginger ale.  The Chaxras house version ommitted the simple syrup, but added a touch of chicha de jora -Andean corn beer- and cooked red and white quinoa grains.

We all  also enjoyed the setting, which we thought was very attractive, and the kids had fun in the play area.   

Even the those off-put by the food might have been mollified if the service had been up to snuff.

Unfortunately, however, not only did some orders take overly long to come out, but the wait staff often appeared confused at where to deliver  plates and drinks brought to their stations by the runners, and dishes of food were left to sit at the wait station while they sorted things out -not a good thing under any circumstances, but less so when diners are eager to get warm food after sitting outdoors on a cold day.  They got some of our orders -specially drink orders- wrong.

Did we have a good time? Yes, overall we did ...

.... even if we did have to change a tire on one of the cars in order to get home, which was no one's fault.  But it is not likely we would return.  I doubt I would make the trip out to Pachacamac again to go to Chaxras.

However, if I had young kids, I would consider it.  There is lots to keep them occupied -climbing structures, trampolines, a zip line, carts, the mini-zoo, etc- and they can do most of it within sight of one's tables instead of off to the side or in the back as in most of these country restaurants, and on a warm day sitting under the canopies, sipping cocktails and artisanal beers could be quite nice.

Besides, that parrot and those chickens are pretty cool.

1 comment:

Anna said...

Thanks for your review! This restaurant has been on my "to try" list for a while, but now I'm not really sure if worth the ride (from Lima)...On a sunny day, perhaps? :)