Peruvian dishes failed so mightily to catch on this year that AllRecipes this week classified the cuisine as one of the year's "biggest industry prediction fails, " alongside insects, seaweed, moonshine and bitters.
"These may have made it onto a restaurant menu or two," a release allowed. "But they didn't make it into enough kitchens of home cooks to be considered a trend," a designation reserved for kale chips, mashed cauliflower and grilled bacon jalapeno wraps.
The general disregard for Peruvian cookery was apparent earlier this week at El Pique, a Burien restaurant that last year diversified a local Peruvian scene previously dominated by San Fernando Roasted Chicken's two locations.
El Pique's very much a party restaurant: The cavernous dining room's organized around a dance floor that's put to work from 6 p.m.-10 p.m. on Saturdays and 6 p.m.-2 a.m. on Sundays, when the restaurant hosts karaoke and live music. The bar makes pisco sours and tart margaritas with plenty of tequila, both of which are surely in high demand on the weekends. But when we visited El Pique this past Monday, my husband and I were the only people there who hadn't clocked in for a shift.
Lucrecia Villalobos Vallejos, El Pique's chef, is a Lima native who moved to Seattle in 2003. She served as chef at the defunct El Chalan in White Center, which drew adjectives such as "too crusty", "mild" and "lackluster" from the always even-handed Sara Dickerman, who in 2004 reviewed the restaurant for The Stranger. After El Chelan closed, Vallejos worked in Microsoft's cafe; she opened El Pique in early 2011.
Our meal at El Pique got off to a promising start. The toasted cancha, or corn nuts, were warm and crisp, and a reddish housemade salsa with a vinegary consistency brimmed with spicy pepper flavors. But the experience nosedived as soon as the snacks were cleared away.
Although I could see a rotisserie oven in the kitchen, and although my server seemed like a very nice guy, my repeated requests for a quarter-chicken to round out our entrees were ignored. But the server brought his favorite dish, a heap of deep-fried seafood with deep-fried yucca, and a chicken fried rice he strongly suggested when my husband tried to order a stew.
Of the two dishes, the fried rice was the less offensive, but only by virtue of being flavorless. The chicken was overcooked, and the rice was clumpy and dry. The jalea -- a tangle of mismatched seafood bits, marinated red onions, swollen white corn kernels and diced tomatoes, all soaked in oil and red wine vinegar -- looked very pretty on the plate, but the seafood was greasy, the vegetables were undersalted and the whole mess didn't have any of the kick that made the salsa so good.
It's always sad when a restaurant disappoints, but never more so than when its specialty is locally unique. Knowing that the lomo saltado and parihuela which look so enticing on the menu probably aren't worth another trip is disheartening. But I wouldn't hesitate to head back to El Pique on karaoke night.