QUSQO BISTRO & GALLERY
PERUVIAN CUISINE & ART JOIN FORCES ON THE WEST SIDE
Growing up in L.A., Latin food has always been a favorite cuisine of mine. Most people will think Los Angeles and associate Mexican food as being the top Latino fare that I have a love affair with you’d be wrong. Sure, it’s the closet to my heart but so is Central American food, both of which make up my ethnicity, but right alongside those two powerhouse cooking styles is the grub of Peru.
I don’t have any blood ties to Peru, just a few of amazing friends with Peruvian backgrounds, but I do hold a strong fondness for its cuisine. I grew up a fan of Mario’s in Hollywood and then discovered other fine Peruvian gems, most recently Qusqo Bistro & Gallery in Santa Monica.
Based on the premise of nurturing people’s lives with not only tantalizing Peruvian flavors but highly nutritious ingredients, Qusqo sources its ingredients from Peru; a basis for healthy living. The founder of Qusqo, Lucy Haro, follows a martial artist’s way of life and so food, she believes, must be the right fuel for an athlete, a worker or a teacher to be productive and strong. After traveling the world for teaching and promoting martial artists for professional fighters, Lucy found her family recipes and heritage to be the best method for nourishing her clients’ lives. Qusqo literally means “the belly of the world, the center of nourishment” and that’s the approach that Lucy takes with her menu.
During our recent visit for dinner, I was taken by the restaurant’s charm. It’s quaint and cozy and filled with artwork as the space also is a gallery that promotes local art. We started with an assortment of starters, which were perfect for sharing. The Palta Rellena, stuffed avocado with shrimp salad (you may also choose grilled veggie quinoa) was a fresh and delicious beginning.
Likewise, the Choclo con Queso—imported Peruvian jumbo corn with Monterey Jack and cheddar cheese sauce—is a winner to start. Other favorites that we enjoyed included the sautéed sweet plantains; yucca; and Camote—sweet potato fries.
For our entrees, the Saltados are a Peruvian staple. With your choice of Lomo (lean beef), free range chicken or mixed seafood, the dishes are served with sautéed onions, tomatoes, chilies and potatoes served with steamed rice and Peruvian soy aji sauce. We went with the classic Lomo Saltado and relished every amazing bite.
A new Peruvian dish to me was the Aji de Gallina—creamy walnut chicken tossed in a creamy aji (chili) walnut sauce with steamed rice—and instantly became a favorite. This is a wonderfully flavorful dish.
Not to be outdone, the Pescado a lo Macho lives up to its “macho” namesake. Alaskan cod topped with scallops, shrimp and calamari in tomato aji sauce served over rice, this is a hearty and pleasing dish—perfect for any seafood lover. I felt with the Lomo Saltado and the Macho seafood stew I had the best of both worlds—sensational sea and land dishes.
If you opt to eat family style and share dishes (the plates plentiful here) then you should have room for dessert, which is a good thing. The Alfajo—dulce de leche cookies with vanilla ice cream—is fantastic. And the Bomba—fantastically flavorful ice cream—is, well, the bomb.
Our meal at Qusqo just got it right on every level, from starters to entrees to desserts. There isn’t a proper cocktail menu (nobody’s perfect) but there is mocktails and beer and wine to choose from, but honestly, this meal was so good I didn’t even care about the booze and that’s saying something if you know me. Maybe there’s something to the fact that the ancient Incas didn’t value gold or wealth but instead celebrated by valuing food and art, and the proof is in the mouthwatering meal I enjoyed at Qusqo.
Qusqo Bistro & Gallery is located at 11633 Santa Monica Boulevard. Open Mon-Sat from 5:30pm to close. Call 310-312-3800.
Story by Jose Martinez
Photography Courtesy: Qusqo Bistro & Gallery