No, I have no idea what kind of name that is either.
I had hoped to open this new blog with some rum postings, but my injuries put me a bit behind, so my notes on trying Temptryst Cherrywoood and converting various souls to the Way of the Rum will be posted later.
However, I felt compelled to post about a restaurant that has been hiding in plain sight a scant half mile from my front door: La Pizza Grotto.
Now, from the name, you might expect this to be some neighborhood pizza joint, possibly some good pies, but other than that, nothing all that special…and this is where you would be sadly mistaken. The “Pizza” part of “La Pizza Grotto” is nothing but a facade, hiding the delightful fact that here is an authentic, incredibly good Peruvian restaurant right down the street from the Anaheim Resort.
Immediately upon walking in to the hopelessly malnamed restaurant, I knew I was in for a treat. The furnishings may not be anything to write home about, but the scents that assault you are the kind that you normally only find when you actually travel to Latin America and enter a restaurant. It’s hard to describe, but having grown up spending a lot of time in Mexicali, San Felipe, and Rosarito, it’s an aroma that I recognized right away. This was going to not only be good, but authentic (disclaimer: I’ve never actually been to Peru, so I could be completely off-base here…some time in the near future I’ll take my cousin, who backpacked all through South America, and he can confirm or debunk my statements about authenticity).
The interior design isn’t anything special. The furniture is very “neighborhood Mexican/Pizza/InsertOtherFoodType here”…some old plastic tables, a few older booths and so on. There’s a long counter, behind which you can see the pizza-making paraphernalia, along with advertisements for Cusqueno beer from Peru.
Across from the bar is an area that looks like it’s set up for karaoke, and this is where the live entertainment for the evening is provided. On the evening of my visit, there was a man there that sang to the diners, using the karaoke machine as his background. My Spanish is a little to rusty to say what songs he was singing, but he had a good voice and while the volume was a little high, the quality was much better than you often get in a hole-in-the-wall place that might be blasting music over a small boom-box. At various times during the meal, the man I assume is the owner of the restaurant got up and either joined our singer for a duet or even took the stage solo.
All in all, the atmosphere was friendly and inviting, albeit a little loud at times.
The food, of course, is the most important part of any restaurant experience, and it is here that La Pizza Grotto really shines. While there is, of course, pizza on the menu, no one in my party had any…we were far too interested in the various dishes of beef or mariscos to care about pizza. I had had pizza before…I had never had lomo saltado. Now, having had lomo saltado, I don’t know that I really care if I ever do get to try La Pizza Grotto’s namesake dish.
The lomo saltado is strips of lean beef, sauteed with onions and tomatoes and served with potatoes (french fries in this case, but don’t hold that against them) that get mixed in to the delicious sauce created by the sauteed beef, and a side of white rice. The flavor was outstanding. Tangy citrus and garlic both seem to jump out at you, begging you to send your fork back for some more. The onions provide a hint of sweetness, and while there isn’t any of the spice that I had been looking for (not that I know whether or not there was supposed to be any), there was no let-down of blandness that often plagues restaurants near the Anaheim Resort. The beef was very lean but not dry, and the mixture of the lean beef and the juice-soaked fries made for a very nice balance of textures.
In addition to the lomo, we tried the bistek a lo pobre (thin, lean steak topped with a fried egg, and served with rice and plantains). The bistek was every bit as good as the lomo. It was thin and juicy and full of flavor. The real stand-out in this dish (to me at least) was the plantains, which were cooked in the maduras fashion (almost caramelized). These plantains were cooked to perfection and made it impossible to not close your eyes and feel the warm air of the tropics around you. They were sweet and soft, without being reduced entirely to mush…just enough firmness in the center to keep them solid.
We also ordered 2 appetizer plates of empanadas. We ordered 2 plates because the waiter had explained that there was only 1 empanada per order. Next time I think we’ll stick to 1 empanada per 3 people. The empanadas were quite large, and quite delicious. The interior was meaty and rich and we quickly devoured the first one before asking for a box for the second (my only real complaint about the entire visit was the fact that our empanadas came out AFTER our entrees had been delivered).
All in all, this was a fantastic meal, and I cannot wait to go back. If you’re in the Anaheim Resort area and looking for some good food with real flavor and history instead of the bland dullness of most of the touristy fair that you can find in the area, definitely stop by La Pizza Grotto for a meal that you’ll be telling others about for quite a while.
Dood’s Rating: 4 Bottles of Rum Out of 5