Andina Good Only in Small Bites

When a place has a menu that is 2/3 tapas and 1/3 entrees and you order an entree you should consider yourself pre-warned. Perhaps the owners are strongly trying to suggest a smaller bite. In the case of Andina, a Peruvian styled restaurant located in Portland’s Pearl District, I apparently wasn’t paying attention to the telltale signs.

The place was packed, loud, brightly lit and bustling. Not the kind of place to have a romantic dinner but perfect to bring friends or business if you are in the mood to share. The tapas menu ranges from cheese stuffed yucca, to avocado stuffed with crab and prawns, or beef heart kabobs. There were also five house cebiches. All of the tapas can be ordered in small or medium sizes for one or two diners or feed the whole gang with a large plate.

Again, Andina’s is a place built around sharing. Too bad I wasn’t in the mood to share this particular evening.

andina_lamb_shankInstead of sticking with the tapas a tempting key set of words drew me in: “old family recipe”. From the entrée menu I ordered the Seco a la Norteña, which is a slow cooked braised lamb shank served with the braising vegetables. You see, I am a sucker for meat that falls of the bone. And the addition of ají Amarillo chilies coupled with a black beer sauce advertised a plate that sounded exactly like something I wouldn’t want to share.

And in a bad way, that’s what it turned out to be.

This is not to imply that the lamb was not impeccably cooked. It was and the meat did indeed fall off the bone. And the dish looked great with the black beer sauce looking and smelling similar to a mole. Problem was the flavor profile was flat. Where was the promised taste of cilantro, onion, garlic, much less the heat from the ají Amarillo chilies? Each bite tasted like the first. There was no depth to the flavor.

Not that I was there for the sides but frankly they didn’t help. The bean stew and the salsa were bland. And for goodness sakes if you are going to call your rice “garlic” rice have at least a hint of garlic in it.

But let’s return to the main course.  Some feel whether a steak or a burger, the meat should speak for itself; the fewer ingredients distracting from the flavor of the meat the better. I tend to agree. But the beer, chilies, herbs and spices were all things that should have enhanced the flavor of the lamb, not taken away from it.  Had they not been on the menu I would not have missed them.

Luckily desert mends all wounds. I had a chocolate ganache and crushed cocoa meringue topped with a lucuma (a traditional Peruvian fruit) and espresso mousse. It was damn fine and I even shared.

For a Hole-in-the-Wall, Akiko’s Knows its Sushi

In my lexicon the term “favorite dive” usually doesn’t extend to sushi restaurants. Often I forgo nondescript places for flashier well-lit places. akiko's sign San Francisco is chock-full of high flash sushi joints that a place like Akiko’s Sushi Bar is easily overlooked. Located on Bush Street, half-way between Grant and Kearny, Akiko’s looks less like a sushi mecca and more like a place you might pick up a bento box for lunch. Don’t be deceived.

Now despite the word “bar” in their title, if you are craving a large variety of saki, Akiko’s is not the place. If are seeking saki in San Francisco go to Ozumo’s. Ozumo’s is the perfect contrast to Akiko’s. Ozumo’s is a trendy, open-concept sushi joint. Someone hired both a PR team and an architect to put it together. The sushi, while good, is obviously not the top priority. It’s the kind of place designed for venture capitalist types to entertain for business.

On the other end – Akiko’s is solely about the sushi. The restaurant’s cramped interior would make a nice dinner for two or maybe four, it’s not the kind of place you could entertain, unless you were renting out the whole restaurant. Even then, the flow of conversation would be poor.

So enough about the ambiance –let’s get to the food.

The menu features several kinds of toro, belly commonly refers to tuna, including salmon and hamachi. Along with ordering one of each for the first course I also tried the masago, kanpachi and sawara. All were excellent cuts and very fresh. My only complaint about the initial course was that the miso was of the very forgettable out of the box variety.

volcano rollI had room for one roll for the second course which was their Volcano Roll (pictured to the left). Again the presentation was not pretty, not that my camera phone helped, but the taste was outstanding. The crunchy tempura bits had pieces of smoked salmon skin in them and were soaked in chili paste. The roll itself had well prepared spicy salmon, avacado, cumber, and thinly cut radish for an extra crunch, with a generous helping of tobiko and topped off with crab. The dish, like its namesake provided an excellent amount of heat while providing several layers of texture.

The service was very attentive, helpful with suggestions, and there was no attempt to rush us through the second bottle of house sake after we were done. If you want an inexpensive sushi joint that’s light on flash but heavy on freshness and taste, next time you are in San Francisco give Akiko’s a try.

UltimateFoodie welcomes Angel Djambazov to our contributor family

Abegl Djambazov headshotWe’re excited to announce that our friend Angel Djambazov will be contributing some restaurant reviews for UltimateFoodie. We spent some time yesterday on our inaugural podcast talking with Angel about Jones Soda, where he runs the online marketing initiatives, and we all had an amazing time. I’ve dined with Angel as well in the past and he has some great taste in food and restaurants and like me is a pretty adventurous eater.

Some may argue that adding someone to our staff with a relationship with a company like Jones would lead us to  “sell out”, to compromise our integrity to promote Jones because he is part of the team.    That speculation would be valid except for one important fact.   We planned to pimp Jones Soda well before Angel ever told us he was interested in joining UltimateFoodie as a contributor.

So there. Stay tuned for the UltimateFoodie Podcast #1 where Karen and I are joined by Angel and we talk about all things Jones Soda – It was a fun chat and we hope you enjoy it.

Angel – welcome to the family.

If you would be interested in contributing to UltimateFoodie, please send us an email with a sample article or review and we’ll chat.