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Sangria Grille: from Palouse to Peru

Daniel Anderson | Evergreen food columnist

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Winter break of my sophomore year of high school, I took a trip to Peru with my family. This would lead to grand adventures among mountains, deserts, grasslands and provincial and metropolitan lands of the like.

The greatest adventure in all of this was the hunting for great familiar foods, and even more so, the undiscovered.

Little did I know, I’d be booking a flight to Peru nearly two years later, except much closer to home.

I certainly did not expect the restaurant to be unceremoniously plopped wide open in a parking lot, unassuming and almost easy to miss. Its location and proximity to places like Panda Express and Applebee’s belies its competence. Then again, just about everything was unexpected in the best possible way.

The frenzy of Mom’s Weekend presents a challenge for any restaurant. Even with reservations, prompt service and amicable action may not always be a given in restaurants of delirium.

The staff of Sangria Grille were composed and fluid, like dancers amidst the chaos. No wasted movements, and more importantly, never a waning warm smile.

The menu was to the point, but the dishes were inscrutable. This is not a bad thing, but rather a verification of authenticity. Even with my experience in Peru, almost every dish ordered had to be explicated, but this left me more dazzled than dazed.

Seco de cordero norteno (Braised Lamb Shank) for example and its other ingredients like chichi de jora (Inca corn beer), canario beans and sarza criolla (salsa) might require a Rosetta stone for some. The flavors were inviting and comforting, much like the Peruvian people’s hospitality as I trekked in their foreign lands.

Lamb melted at the touch leaving only the bare bone by the end. Canario bean was expertly used in a cozy cassoulet and the fluffy rice acted as a sturdy sponge for all the liquids.

Stars of the evening that were more recognizable to the general public were dishes like ceviche and empanadas.

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Pieces of meaty halibut swam in a pond of vivacious citrus and Lilly pads of sweet potato flanked it. The sweet potato desperately wanted to help out the acidity, but was neutralized and came in too late as an afterthought.

Droplets of corn nuts were a superfluous addition and crowded the pool. Fat crescent moons of empanadas were initial small bites for man, rabid bites for the table shortly after.

The serrano lime sauce on the side took it to another galaxy.

As those appetizers landed, the crew gave the table a fastidious tutorial on exactly what we were eating-and just what that neon green sauce may be.

Whether they were staff in training, or just rays of sunshine matching those outside, I don’t know, but I appreciated this gesture. The green sauce (Aji sauce) is a Peruvian condiment of sorts and is served with just about everything. It is made of lettuce, cilantro and other spices and is as bright on the inside as it is on the out.

Our destination was Peru, but layovers were made in China, Japan, Italy, France, Germany, Spain and North Africa. Peru is incredible in this regard. Not only does it have an abundance of varied indigenous flavors, it has influences from around the world after a history of exploration and conquest. That’s why the menu is diversified with pastas, spices and stir fry’s.

Peru houses restaurants called Chifa, which is their fusion of Peruvian and Cantonese cuisines. This should not be confused with the restaurant’s dish called Chufa, a rift on this concept. I was not too surprised when my traditionally Spanish dish, paella, was more akin to a masterful fried rice. The paella was garbed in a suave dark soy sauce with sour slivers of red onion giving stark contrast, bringing to a mind a well-chosen tie. Charred and crispy bits of rice gave texture and liveliness. The dish was accessorized with a spicy and smoky sublimely cooked mixture of seafood.

Paella’s Italian contemporary risotto also made an impressive showing. Perfectly cooked risotto became a cradle for tender cylinders of fried banana and the soft pillows of beans bracketed bits of overshadowed chicken.

Sweet potato crème brulee was a nice twist on a classic. The chef seemed to channel Caravaggio with the glassy chiaroscuro sheet. Cracking underneath, one will be delighted to find an eye popping creamy orange mash with nuanced sweetness, and next to it rich velvet maroon berries.

As the desserts signaled the cessation of our meal, only then did I look up and notice the dimly lit sparks encased in cubes; an urban starry skyline making me forget where I was. It all took me back to a land so far away.

I’ll be booking another flight soon.

Address: 2124 W Pullman Rd, Moscow, ID 83843

Hours: Mon-Thurs: 4:30-10:00 p.m. Fri-Sat: 11:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday: 12:00-10:00 p.m.

Atmosphere: Romantic elements and high energy

Sound Level: Moderate to loud

Dress Code: Casual

Reservations: Yes

Delivery: No

Good for Groups

Rating: ★★★★

Ratings range from zero to five stars. Zero is poor. One star, is fair or satisfactory. Two stars, good. Three stars, very good. Four stars, excellent. Five stars is extraordinary or outstanding.

 

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Sangria Grille: from Palouse to Peru