Chicken Little Flavor
The roast chicken of my dreams is sexy, not spartan -- bursting with juice, tender yet firm, and very important, served splendidly dressed in its own succulent skin rather than cruelly stripped of this tasty protective covering by cooks whose claims to health consciousness fool only the most gullible or most desperate calorie-counters. Anyone who'd throw an uninsulated chicken into the ovens is training for a career as a prison camp commander, not a chef.
Where I've most often found this paragon of poultryhood is in France, where it's common to see gorgeous golden chickens turning on a spit in a rotisserie oven. The blistering air moving constantly around the bird ensures even roasting and moist meat inside crisp skin; French tastes ensure cooking, not overcooking à la all-American fast-food chicken. But chicken cooked on a rotating spit, in an oven, or à la brasa, is a fast-food phenomenon in many Latin American countries, too, notably Peru. And the ads for new Beach Chicken Peruvian Rotisserie looked promising, the pictured piece of poultry clearly clothed rather than stripped skinless/fatless/tasteless.
Sorry. Although no rotisserie is evident, birds are indeed, according to a server, rotisserie-cooked, but the half-chicken I was served was the driest I've encountered in, perhaps, my entire life. I realize that Latin tastes tend toward longer-cooked chicken than French or U.S. tastes, but my meat wasn't merely falling-off-the-bone tender, rather than firm. It was nearly jerky. Just a tad longer on the fire and I could've worn my Beach chicken as beach sandals. And even the thighs were leatherlike; what I assume was skin more closely resembled a sheet of polyurethane, and the fat underneath had melted into grease. On a second visit, my chicken was better but unimpressive.
Chicken plates come with rice or salad, the latter an unappealing pile of iceberg lettuce (though romaine is pictured in front window photos) in watery vinegar dressing, topped with a few slices of cucumber, onion, and unripe tomato. Surprisingly, though, the disappointing chicken's two accompanying sauces -- a smoothly hot yellow aji amarillo purée, and a super-fresh Inca sauce (minced tomato, peppers, onion, and cilantro in lime juice) -- were terrific.
So were many other items I tried; the menu, fortunately, features much aside from roast chicken -- like Ceviche Mixto. In a fast-food chicken joint, raw seafood might seem an invitation to food poisoning. But as a food critic, that's an invitation I always accept, and at Beach Chicken I got lucky. The mix of diced fish and shellfish was impeccably fresh, the mild marinade's vinegar just enough to pickle the seafood without puckering the mouth. For $9.99, though, the appetizer-sized portion was pricey. So was a side of Peruvian corn in Huancaina sauce, which turned out to be not big kernels of Peruvian choclo but regular American sweet corn; the chili-spiked cream sauce, here more creamy than cheesy, was pleasant, but the corn was overcooked and, at $4.95 for a single ear, way overpriced. A $2.50 tag for two tiny bundles of pork-studded steamed cornmeal may also seem stiff, but Beach's tamal en hojas was worth it, the pork succulently rich, the fine-ground filling nicely spiced and not soggy as tamals tend to be.
And aguadito de pollo was a bargain at $3.50. The big bowl of cilantro-spiked broth was somewhat starch-heavy, containing a ton of rice (and veggies were potatoes and peas), but also containing an entire quarter-chicken -- that was, though only humble boiled chicken, tender, juicy, and, I hope, available to give lessons to its more prestigious yet petrified rotisserie-model sisters.
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