Creator! You who give life to all things and who has made men that they may live happy and multiply.
Multiply also the fruits of the earth, the potatoes and other food that you have
That men may not suffer from hunger and misery.
~Traditional Incan Prayer
As recently as 2010, Albuquerque–which rightfully takes great pride in its acceptance of cultural and culinary diversity–did not have a single Peruvian restaurant. Fast forward three years to March, 2013 and there are three restaurants showcasing to Duke City diners just a modicum of the tremendous diversity and deliciousness offered by Peruvian cuisine. Every one of the three is unique, each highlighting only a segment of the culinary offerings that make Peruvian cuisine one of the great cuisines of the world.
More than perhaps any of the world’s great cuisines, Peruvian food is impossible to pigeonhole or stereotype. It is the original fusion cuisine, having absorbed culinary influences from streams of immigrants encompassing every great culinary culture and melding them with indigenous ingredients and dishes, many with Incan roots. As a result of this cultural and culinary fusion, the Guinness Book of Records recognizes Peru as the nation with the most local plates, some 491 officially registered dishes in all.
With nearly five-hundred official dishes in the Peruvian culinary repertoire, the comparatively limited menus at Albuquerque’s three Peruvian restaurants barely scratch the surface in offering the cuisine The Wall Street Journal called “the next big thing” in 2012. It’s a fact not lost on peripatetic gastronomes about whom Frommers Travel Guide’s observed “travel all the way to Peru just to eat.”
Although most Duke City diners probably won’t travel to Peru to indulge in gastronomic greatness, most are just a few miles away from one of the city’s three Peruvian treasures. The antecedent for hopefully several other Peruvian restaurants is the highly acclaimed Pollito Con Papas which, thanks to the best rotisserie chicken in Albuquerque, had to triple its real-estate within a year of its 2011 launch. Eastsiders might argue that the best rotisserie chicken comes from Taste of Peru, a March, 2013 entry into the local culinary scene.
The most centrally-located of Albuquerque’s three Peruvian restaurants is Sara’s Pastries & Deli, ensconced in the increasingly familiar Journal Center Market Place, a strip mall quickly becoming a very popular dining destination. Sara’s neighbors include the nonpareil Torinos @ Home, El Pollo Picante, Twisters Burgers & Burritos and other restaurants. Launched in February, 2013, Sara’s Pastries & Deli fills a niche in offering the delectable and decadent dessert offerings of Peru.
There’s a venerable saying in Peru that translates to something like “Peruvians have two stomachs—one for food and another for dessert.” That idiom illustrates the passion with which Peruvians approach desserts, which, ironically were virtually unknown prior to the arrival of the Spanish. As with the entirety of Peruvian cuisine, desserts are heavily influenced by the streams of immigrants which settled in the country. The resultant cultural and culinary mix is why you shouldn’t be surprised if you see arroz con leche, pastel tres leches or even tiramisu on the dessert menu of a Peruvian restaurant.
You’ll find those sumptuous delicacies and so much more in the pastry case at Sara’s Pastries & Deli. Under glass, in fact, are some of the most artistic quality pastries you’ll ever see. Perhaps not coincidentally, the walls of the restaurant are festooned with large framed photographs of those pastries. Every pastry is a made-from-scratch masterpiece. So, too, are the alfajores showcased under a domed glass tray. Perhaps the most popular cookie in Peru, alfajores are butter cookies filled with dulce de leche and sprinkled with powdered sugar. They are absolutely addictive!
Owner Sara Correa, originally from Peru, is the petite whirling dervish in the kitchen responsible for the beautiful deliciousness in her eponymous operation. Visit on a weekend and you might be served by her dainty daughter or her two mesomorphic sons, both of whom can probably bench press the pastry case. All three are as personable and charming as can be with the ambassadorial qualities every restaurateur wants for the “front of the house.” You would never guess this is the first restaurant operation for this delightful family.
It would be so easy to bypass the deli offerings and dig right into the desserts, but to do so would mean missing out on some pretty terrific sandwich options. It did my heart good not to see “proudly offering Boar’s Head products” displayed anywhere. There’s nothing wrong with Boar’s Head products, but because they’re so ubiquitous, there aren’t as many sandwich surprises in the Duke City as there otherwise might be with a greater variety of (or better still, homemade) cold cuts, cheeses and condiments.
Sara’s doesn’t rely on a megalithic corporate purveyor of meats for their sandwich offerings. The meats proffered at Sara’s are homemade fresh daily. It makes an amazing difference, one easily discernible on the roasted pork sandwich. The canvas for this towering meatfest is homemade French bread that has a nice crusty exterior and soft innards. A generous pile of tender and absolutely delicious pork is joined between bread by red onions and habanero peppers with your choice of a signature sauce (habanero, jalapeño or green chile). The piquant peppers lend qualities other than heat, all of them complementary. The sandwich is served with a side of Miss Vickie’s chips.
If, like me, you find egg salad sandwiches boring, you’ll be made a convert by the Triple (pronounced “treep-lay”) Sandwich. Four simple, but healthy ingredients: avocados, tomatoes, olive oil and hard-boiled eggs are layered between multi-grain bread (there’s an extra slice in the middle) with just a smear of mayonnaise. It’s a surprisingly moist and surprisingly delicious sandwich, layered in such a manner as to bring three times the joy to the hungry diner. The Triple Sandwich may sound unsophisticated, but it’s not a sandwich this worldly gastronome would ever turn down.
New Mexicans perusing the menu will likely become excited upon seeing Peruvian red tamales and Peruvian green tamales on the menu. Alas, red and green don’t mean the same thing in Peru as they mean in the Land of Enchantment. Red tamales are a traditional Peruvian dish enjoyed most often for Sunday breakfast. Sara’s rendition is very traditional, fashioned with steamed red Peruvian chile (very different from Hatch or Chimayo red chile) corn masa stuffed with chicken and black olives. The tamales are surprisingly moist, slightly piquant and imbued with an exotic flavor imparted by the banana leaves in which they are steamed
The Peruvian green tamales are made from steamed cilantro corn masa stuffed with chicken, black olives and Peruvian chile steamed in corn husks. The cilantro imparts an exotic quality to the corn masa while the Peruvian chile lends just enough piquancy to be noticed. Very noticeable is the sheer deliciousness of these tamales. Both the green and red tamales are served with a side of red onions laced with finely chopped habanero peppers. If you’re missing piquancy with your tamales, this is where you can get it.
Also quite dissimilar to the same named offering in New Mexico are Peruvian empanadas. Sara’s empanadas are baked in pastry dough stuffed with ground beef, onions, raisins and spices and sprinkled with powdered sugar. They’re mostly savory but are tinged with sweetness imparted by the raisins and powdered sugar. Your taste buds, however, will gravitate toward the exotic Peruvian spices which really give these empanadas their unique and wonderful flavor.
The dessert menu (nuestros dulces) is a tempting array of delicious treats that will have you making frequent return trips to Sara’s where you’ll find Black Forest Cake, Fruit Napoleon, Classic Peach Cake, Classic Strawberry Cake, Chocolate Mousse, New York Supreme Cheesecake and Tiramisu to name just a few as well as tarts, cookies and truffles. If the Tres Leches “My Way” is any indication, you’re in for a serious treat–as in some of the best in New Mexico treat. The tres leches cake, sponge cake soaked in a milk syrup made of three different kinds of milk: sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and whole milk (or cream) and topped with Italian meringue and sprinkled cinnamon, is in my Kim’s words, “the best I’ve ever had.” Who am I to argue, especially with my mouth full.
Sara’s Pastries & Deli is open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday from 7:00AM to 4:30PM. Sara’s is a restaurant which does Peru proud! You’ve read it here first–Sara’s will quickly ascend the ranks as one of Albuquerque’s very best dining and dessert destinations.
Sara’s Pastries & Deli
7600 Jefferson N.E., Suite C
Albuquerque, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 31 March 2013
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET:Roasted Pork Sandwich, Tripled Sandwich, Green Tamale, Red Tamale, Empanada, Tres Leches “My Way”, Alfajores