Andes mountain high
Waffle King/Koricancha2751 Fulton Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95821
The Waffle King restaurant on Fulton seems to have something of an identity crisis, but it’s a productive one—especially if you’re interested in exploring the flavors of Peruvian food. You didn’t know that the waffle was a Peruvian specialty? Well, it isn’t. But in addition to waffles and a standard diner-breakfast menu, Waffle King offers tiraditos and tacu-tacu (mashed beans with rice) and lomo salteado (beef stew), and the wall proclaims its name to be not Waffle King, but Koricancha Fine Peruvian Cuisine.
I asked the server which it was when I was paying up. “It can be either,” she said. “The official name is Waffle King, but a lot of people call us Koricancha.” OK, then. Clear as mud. There are also three (at least) variants of the menu: the American one with all the waffles, a Peruvian version that’s in Spanish only, and a translated Peruvian one with helpful descriptions of fare that may be unfamiliar.
I have nothing against a nice waffle, but I was going for Peruvian food and stuck to that menu. If you don’t know the cuisine, it’s on the starchy and meaty side—with the exception of its brightly flavored ceviches and other raw-fish dishes from the coast. And the fare hews closely to native South American foods: the potato, corn and unusual, flavorful chilies. At Waffle King, there’s a nice lineup of ceviches and tiraditos—the latter offer thinly sliced fish with characteristic Peruvian chilies, mild aji amarillo, or hotter, red rocoto, accompanied by a thick slice of sweet potato and big, smooth, starchy corn kernels. The aji amarillo tiradito looked like a flat, yellowish plate of raw fish—in other words, like not much—but the flavors absolutely sparkled with a lime-juice tartness complementing the fruity flavor of the chili and the fresh, clean taste of the fish.
Our other appetizer, causa with chicken, was a little weirder but also tasty. It’s a layered cake of smooth mashed potatoes with a slightly spicy, finely chopped chicken salad in the middle, served cold and decorated with squiggles of mayo and a sprig of parsley. It looked festive, like a mini birthday cake, and—except for the mayo, which I could have happily dispensed with—tasted like the best thing to do with Thanksgiving leftovers, ever. I liked the peppery spice of the chicken salad and the buttery-yellow, very potato-y layers. (It was a hit with our toddler, too.)
I tried the tacu-tacu, a big pan-fried cake of creamy mashed beans and rice, fried until golden and faintly crunchy on the outside. It had a deep garlicky flavor, a hint of complex spicing and a texture that made me think there was probably lard somewhere in those beans. (I mean that as a compliment.) That on its own seemed like dinner to me, but it also came with a giant flat steak, cooked to medium-rare and with a nicely spiced outer crust. It was chewy in texture with a strong beefy flavor, but I like that in a steak.
My husband chose the parihuela de mariscos, a traditional Peruvian seafood stew with lots of spicy red chilies. It was deep, dark red and quite fiery, but with earthy, smoky nuances. I thought a squirt of lime juice would have rounded out the flavors of the broth, but the seafood itself—tentacled, tender little octopus, flaky white fish, shrimp, mussels, rings of squid and some other little oceanic friends that had me stumped—was well cooked and permeated just enough by the hot broth.
There’s a longish dessert menu propped on one wall, but not everything was available the night we were there. Always on offer, it seems, are alfajores: crumbly shortbread cookies sandwiching dense dulce de leche. Here, both the cookies and the caramel were thick and buttery, the cookies topped with a dusting of powdered sugar that made them as messy as they were rewarding to eat. I also liked the leche asada, a little ramekin that our server described as being “like flan.” It had the caramel, cinnamon and citrus flavors you might find in flan, yet the sauce permeated the pudding, and instead of a silky custard texture, it was baked to rough curdiness. The rustic feel didn’t bother me, but I’m not sure how a classically trained pastry chef would feel about it. With the check came what seemed like a final (and rather witty) Peruvian touch: Andes mints.
The restaurant was largely deserted when we were there on a Saturday night, with the exception of what appeared to be two cooks, sitting at a table and putting away Coronas and Bud Lights with impressive dispatch. (As for other drinks: there are the beers, plus Peruvian soft drinks like Inka Kola, but alas, no Pisco sours that I could see.) It seems the identity confusion may be confusing potential customers as well, but if you’re interested in discovering a cuisine that’s hard to find in Sacramento, head on over (and skip the waffles).