REVAMPED PERUVIAN FAVE WITH NEW, FULL BAR
For years now, pisco, a grape brandy produced in winemaking regions of Peru and Chile, has been the rage in cocktail circles, partially to the rise in popularity of the Pisco Sour—the Peruvian national cocktail prepared with pisco, egg white, lime juice, simple syrup, and bitters (the Chilean version doesn’t use bitters). So it’s no surprise that Peruvian cuisine has also become a foodie fascination. The newly revamped Los Balcones in Hollywood is a favorite for fare and drinks.
The Rodriguez Brothers (Jorge, Eduardo and Walter), the founders of the original
Los Balcones del Perú, which opened well over a decade ago, have redone their restaurant, which is now going by the simpler Los Balcones name. Besides the moniker change and new dapper look, they’ve also acquired a full liquor license, and hired craft cocktail consultant men-about-town Marcos Tello and Garrett McKechnie from the Hospitality Collective to create a brand new cocktail program.
The new drinks at Los Balcones give a proud shout out to Peru in two ways: Classics are classic cocktails made with Pisco, and Originals are made with Peruvian ingredients.
“With Balcones,” explains Tello, “you meet the owners, Jorge, Eduardo and Walter, and they are Peru. When I went to Peru, it was so family oriented and welcoming, and when you walk into Balcones, you can feel that warm. And I really wanted that with the bar program. It inspired me not to just explore pisco, which is a classic Peruvian drink, but also Peruvian ingredients in general. I was exposed to all of these amazing flavors while I was there, and all I could think was, ‘Why isn’t anyone playing with this?’ It’s truly amazing stuff that intrigued me and allowed me to explore this whole other world through cocktails.”
Los Balcones is an interesting mix among Peruvian establishments in town. It’s right down the street on Vine from Mario’s Peruvian & Seafood, a favorite of mine but a restaurant without a full bar, and not as trendy or daring as Picca, which has given way to Mo-Chica, and most recently Paiche. Los Balcones is a little more traditional than the nouveau wave of Peruvian cuisine (and also cheaper), yet not as homey with oversized portions as Mario’s, but then again, you can drink (and drink well) at Los Balcones.
During our recent visit for dinner, we sat in the middle of the darkened dining room and took in the lively energy of the packed room, along with the hustle and bustle outside on Vine Street, and started with the delicious Huancaina–fingerling potato with hardboiled egg. It’s a great little starter item.
While I love a good Pisco Sour, I must say I’m hardly a pisco expert and found it a little difficult to build my own, which is an option at Los Balcones. Apparently it’s not too difficult to Build Your Own Pisco Sour; you pick your pisco and bitters and they’ll mix in the rest. But I still preferred to let them choose. Likewise, I tried a Pisco Flight—they suggested a Non Aromatic, Mosto Verde (Green Must), Aromatic, and Acholado (multivarietal)—and the only thing I really learned is that I don’t like pisco straight. It’s definitely something I’d rather have mixed into a drink.
From the Balcones Classics drink menu, we had the Canario, a Peruvian take on a Screwdriver made with pisco, mandarins and pineapple. This one is great for outdoor drinking. Come early, sit outside and enjoy.
Looking for other quick bites to share (they call them Rapiditos), we went with the Wantán—fried chicken wontons with char siu roast pork, sweet and sour, and picked daikon, which was outrageously flavorful and fantastic. The Choritos, a mouthwatering mix of mussels, shrimp, squid, olive oil, chocio, lime, and cilantro, is also a great go-to dish that’s light and fresh and very tasty.
Looking for a good Ceviche? You can’t go wrong with the Clasico—striped bass, choclo (Peruvian corn), sweet potato, lime, and cilantro. This one is also light and fresh and a great option for anyone who can’t eat shellfish, but otherwise just damn flavorful.
Keeping the light Peruvian sashimi (known as Tiraditos) good times going, we ordered the Striped Bass, served with aji Amarillo, lime, and olive oil; and the Seared Albacore served with salsa madre, green onion, cilantro, and wantán, think of this as killer nachos! It’s a must have item.
If you want drinks a little out of the ordinary, and not your typical Manhattan and Old Fashioned, which I’m getting bored of these days, there are plenty of interesting libations abound. From the Balcones Originals menu, drinks made with Peruvian ingredients mixed with spirits from around the world, there’s the Cacao-Fashioned, a Peruvian take on the “old-fashioned whiskey cocktail” utiizing Cacao, which is used to make chocolate, along with cacao butter fat-washed bourbon, Yacon Syrup, and aromatic bitters. It’s strong and chocolaty but a little blah.
Meanwhile, the Pichuberry Caipirissima, aka The Pichuberry or “Cape Gooseberry” as it is more popularly known, is high in antioxidants and made with rum, pichuberries and lime. Personally I thought there was way too much ice in this drink, which was refreshing even though it went down too quick.
If you want stiffer cocktails, the Taramind & Smoke, a refreshing smoky cooler, made with El Silencio Mezcal, tamarind syrup, lime, and tamarind soda, is a good way to go, as is the Martini del Peru (Pisco Martini) made with Peruvian olive oil infused Humani Pisco, Blanco Vermouth, and six drops of ice cold water.
Going for more classic Peruvian fare, the Parrilla or Peruvian grilled meats are a must. The Pulpo—octopus with Peruvian olives, fingerling potatoes, chimichuri, and aji panca (Peruvian chile) is a winner, but the absolute must-have is the Anticucho—Cristal marinated beef heart with choclo, potato, rocoto chile sauce. I absolutely love the spicy sauce. This is one you just can’t get enough of.
Before moving onto the Big Plates, it was time for one more drink and we opted for our server’s favorite actually, the Guanabana Swizzle, named so because it’s just fun to say “Won-A-Bon-A.” According to Marcos Tello, this tropical punch tastes a bit like banana and strawberries. It’s made with Jamaican rum, cognac, Guanabana syrup, and Allspice. Personally, I thought it had too much ice (again) and the edible flower is absolutely gross. Don’t eat it! Actually, you might want to pass on this one altogether.
If you’re hungry at Balcones, the Carapulcra from the Favoritos De Cocina—culinary treats generally reserved for the cooks—is pork spare rib served with stewed Peruvian potatoes, huacatay (mint-like herb), and chimichuri. This dish is hearty and gets the job done.
Balcones Grande dishes, think Big Plates, are the most well known and loved, along with the Anticucho, and they include the Lomo Saltado—sautéed beef tender loin with onion, tomato, and fries (apparently they love fries in Peru). This dish is another must.
Another favorite is the Pescado Chorrillano—crispy skinned branzino, kobocha puree, and chorrillano sauce. I’m a big fan of sea bass and I absolutely love branzino. This one screams for a nice glass of white wine. Meat lovers may want to go with the Seco de Carne, Los Balcones’ famous short rib served with lima beans, baby carot, and criolla.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of liquid dessert and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better dessert than the Butter Scotch, made with scotch, honey, and lacuma-vanilla cream (lacuma is considered a “super food” with nuances of caramel custard and pumpkin). It tastes like spiked eggnog and is just plain delicious.
With so many great options these days for Peruvian cuisine, Los Balcones is a great choice if you’re in Hollywood and want a more festive, upscale setting and you want to drink. While I didn’t love all of their specialty cocktails, there is a full bar program trained by Marcos Tello so at least you can rest assured you’re in capable hands. That’s reassuring, and of course the Peruvian food will definitely satisfy.
And look for the restaurant to expand shortly to offer savory bites and Peruvian sangria known as chavela. Can’t wait!
Los Balcones is located at 1360 Vine Street. Hours: Mon-Thurs 4-11pm; Friday and Saturday 4pm to 12am; and Sunday 1pm to 9pm. Call (323) 871-9600.
Photo #1: Los Balcones Interior Photos
Photo Credit: Michael Ryan Photography
Photo #2: Wantán
Photo Credit: Acuna-Hansen
Story by Jose Martinez
Photography courtesy of Los Balcones