Baby Brasa at 173 Seventh Avenue South is a stunning example of classic Peruvian cooking with some Modern American and Asian flourishes thrown in here and there. While you can get some of the finest organic Peruvian rotisserie chicken in town, you can also get gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free and vegan cuisine. The accommodating kitchen staff are able to alter their recipes to customers’ needs, which is only one reason Baby Brasa has lines coming out the front door on many nights. I indulged in seven different dishes during my first visit to Baby Brasa last week and loved every bite! Let me add right here that Baby Brasa is owned by Franco Noriega, a 29-year-old Peruvian native who gained a lot of fame as a model (he is best-known as “The Face Of Dolce & Gabbana”) but he gained a love of the restaurant business thanks to family members who owned eateries while he was growing up. This restaurant’s staff is full of models or people good-looking enough to be models–but service is down-to-earth and friendly. Baby Brasa is strictly a no-attitude kind of place. The interior is modern and airy with plenty of cool art and photography on the walls including one of Andy Warhol holding up pineapples at a book signing in the late 80s (taken by well-known New York photographer Jill Lynne).
My dining partner Gail and I started off with empanadas simply because they are the must-have appetizer in any Peruvian eatery. The portion is generous–there are two five-inch golden brown empanadas that makes it perfect for a dining duo to share. Now here’s where the Asian influence comes in–they get to that perfectly brown color by being stir fried in a wok as opposed to deep-fried in a pan. Inside is chunks of white meat rotisserie chicken and lots of Peruvian seasoning. The chicken is so incredibly juicy and the crust is perfectly tender yet crisp. It’s served with a delightfully oddball Peruvian mustard sauce that gives off an earthy and slightly tart taste and is perfect against the sweetness of the empanadas’ outer crust.
Gail and I then shared a lovely quinoa salad made with baby kale, red quinoa, avocado, sunflower seeds and plantains–then topped with rocoto vinaigrette. This dressing has a slight kick due to red pepper flakes but it is not truly “hot” in the least. The sunflowers seeds give a nice crunch when you bite on the tender, organic baby kale leaves. It’s a beautiful contrast. This salad is very large and two people can easily share this and get full fast! It’s one of those rare good-for-you dishes that is also full of spice and crunch. Needless to say, it is a super popular menu selection.
We then shared the arroz con pollo made with Baby Brasa’s famous organic rotisserie chicken (which is automatically the most popular item in any Peruvian restaurant. Peruvians are legendary for marinating their chicken in dozens of spices as well as various sauces–the classic recipe usually includes EVOO, fresh lime juice, chopped garlic cloves, paprika and kosher salt, and chefs often add in the local spices that they favor). We got a full half chicken–breast, wing, leg and thigh–and it was golden brown on the outside. But best of all, it was sitting on Baby Brasa’s fragrant Jasmine rice with cilantro sauce. The chicken meat was so juicy that you saw the juice pour out when you stuck your fork in it. I will definitely go back to Baby Brasa just for this–crispy rotisserie chicken skin is my dream food and the chicken in the arroz con pollo was perfectly crispy brown, just like I want it to be!
As a side to our chicken, we had the wonderful fried sweet plantains with salsa criolla. I have never had freshly made salsa on top of fried sweet plantains before but the combo was a perfect blend of crunchy, sweet and slightly sour coming together. The tomatoes used were so juicy and their juices blending with the sweet caramelized plantains totally rocked our taste buds.
Our second shared entree was the amazing classic Peruvian dish Lomo Saltado (yoi can also get a Vegan Saltado made with portobello mushrooms and crisp vegetables if that is your preference). The Lomo Saltado is a dish that has always intrigued me–I had never had it before but I liked that it combined meet and French Fries! This traditional entree is made with marinated strips of sirloin steak, onions, tomatoes french fries and rice. It was perfectly seasoned just to be slightly spicy and I almost felt like ordering extra rice to use up all that delicious brown sauce. This is a wonderful intro to Peruvian food for people who have never had it before (along with rotisserie chicken, of course).
We concluded our meal with two desserts that complimented each other perfectly. The first was divine dulche de leche cookies, which were classic powder sugar cookies (much like the ones used for Linzer tarts) but filled with gooey homemade dulche de leche. You get three in a serving and while they are normal size cookies, they are very filling. I guarantee that you will be thinking about these cookies for a full week after you eat them (they are THAT good)!
We teamed the dulce de leche cookies with a wonderful dairy-free totally vegan mango “ice cream”–of course, it cannot be really called ice cream without dairy. This deliciously frozen tofu-based concoction is very healthy but it’s hard to believe that because it’s creamy and gets your sugar tooth satisfied. It’s nice that Baby Brasa has such a huge amount of high quality farm-fresh dishes for vegans–none of which are not short on flavor. The lentils with olive oil and salsa and jasmine rosemary rice with peruvian corn are great examples of this.
Baby Brasa is ideal for large parties because trays for 10 people wanting to dine family styles are created at a very good price. For instance, a large platter of organic rotisserie chicken for 10 is $75 You can create a whole dinner of rotisserie chicken, yucca fries and quinoa salad for ten people for a grand total of $180. If that isn’t a great deal for a restaurant of this quality, nothing is. Reservations are recommended but not necessary and there is Spanish-flavored live music on weekends that might just make you want to get up and do some “dirty dancing” in the aisles. For more info, go to www.babybrasa.com.