My friend texted me recently to say she was stuck in Charlotte, N.C., traffic. Thinking of Price's Chicken Coop, I asked whether she planned to stop for fried chicken.
"No way!," my friend, a reformed vegetarian, texted back. "I'd rather eat pig. Chickens are filthy and carry diseases."
Same goes for lettuce, I reminded her. She wasn't swayed.
Chicken has a lowly reputation among food lovers, many of whom decline to order the bird in restaurants. It's frequently overcooked and nearly always dull.
But Peruvians solved that problem in the mid-20th century with pollo a la brasa, a roasted chicken seasoned with garlic and cumin. Done right, pollo a la brasa is a remarkably succulent bastion of big flavors.
Pollo a la brasa was the first request I received upon arriving in Seattle. "Oh, and if you would ever be willing to track down a definitive version of pollo a la brasa, I'd be ever-so grateful!," a reader e-mailed.
I haven't spent any time in Peru, so I hesitate to apply the word "definitive" to the pollo a la brasa at San Fernando on Rainier Avenue, the month-old second location of a popular Lynnwood chicken joint. But I'm very comfortable calling it terrific.
San Fernando offers a full menu of Peruvian specialties that I didn't try: I stuck with the quarter-chicken, accompanied by French fries (here's where you ought to reach for the squeeze bottle of mayonnaise) and shreds of iceberg lettuce. The chicken was tattooed with charcoal flavor and punctuated by plenty of black pepper. The meat beneath the shiny, fatty skin was juicy and garlicky. I regretted not ordering a larger portion.
Patrons who take their chicken to stay have their choice of two dipping sauces: a lush cilantro-based concoction that does wonders for the aforementioned mayo, and a chunky habanero sauce that's so spicy it registers first on the wary tongue as bitter. This pollo a la brasa doesn't need either of them.