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Peruvian Viagra

Bring Your Own Pisco in Corona

Recently I sang the praises of Ecuador's soupy ceviches, which immerse ingredients like black clam, shrimp, octopus, and a Pacific equatorial fish called corvina in a giant bowl of broth made from lime juice and sour oranges. Its southern neighbor also claims to have invented ceviche, though the Peruvian product is more like a seafood salad than a cold soup. In the interest of fairness, I figured Peru deserved equal time.

While Peruvian chicken joints abound in certain Queens and Brooklyn neighborhoods, most offer a tired ceviche or two as an afterthought. La Pollada de Laura specializes in it. Of the eight varieties listed on the menu, all but one is served salad style. The exception is leche de tigre ($6), an elegant wine glass brimming with a marinade of lemon, coconut milk, and hot chiles. A hacked crab flails its pincers over the edge, and additional crabmeat lurks in the depths, plus a couple of substantial shrimp.

Traditionally the solid parts are eaten first, then a South American brandy called pisco is added to help knock back the marinade. Since La Pollada has no liquor license, you'd better bring your own pisco. As you may have guessed, "tiger's milk" is one of those products aimed at erectile enhancement, hence the nickname "viagra peruano."

Emily is also part of the brood at Laura's Peruvian ceviche specialist.
photo: Tara Engberg
Emily is also part of the brood at Laura's Peruvian ceviche specialist.

Details

La Pollada De Laura
102-03 Northern Boulevard,
Queens,
718-426-7818.
Open Monday through Thursday noon to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday noon to 1 a.m, Sunday 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Major credit cards.
Wheelchair accessible with assistance.

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While Ecuadoran ceviches marinate overnight in the refrigerator, the Peruvian article is often dressed and served immediately. This places an even greater emphasis on fish freshness, and ceviche pundits often credit the Japanese presence in Peru with raising the raw fish bar. Ceviche mixto ($10.25) is a good introduction, loaded with octopus, squid, shrimp, conch, and fish in a puckering dressing dotted with raw garlic and heaped with pickled purple onions. In contrast to leche de tigre, ceviche mixto is intended as a complete meal, since a hunk of orange sweet potato, a small salad, and a surreally huge ear of corn are served on the side. Known as a choclo peruano, this corn boasts kernels so big they must be pulled off and eaten individually.

The tastiest ceviche is slightly atypical—pulpo al olivio ($7), which dresses tender octopus tentacles with pungent olive oil. If you're sitting on the fence as far as ceviche is concerned, combinado is recommended, an oblong plate split down the middle, one-half devoted to a praiseworthy fried calamari, sent into orbit by the hot sauce called aji, and the other featuring a clean-tasting white-fish ceviche in a simple lemon dressing.

As the name suggests, La Pollada de Laura ("Laura's Brood"— referring to chicks, I suppose) has a co-specialty of chicken. While the rotisserie chicken isn't the best in town, it's pretty damn good, though the coating is more spice rub than paste, leaving the bird a little less moist. The stupendous fried chicken is best experienced in pollada de Laura ($6.45), a signature combination featuring a fried half chicken hot from the fat and a cold potato salad swimming in a yellow sauce that's based on the famous potatoes à La Huancaina, named after an Andean town. Laura has tinkered with the formula, though, and now the sauce is something like spicy thousand-island dressing, but delectable nonetheless. If you're not into ceviche or chicken, there's still hope—the menu is heavy with voluminous fried seafood assortments. King is jalea ("personal," $9; "grande," $15), crispy fish, squid, and shrimp mounted on a platform of fried yuca and tendered with a creole dipping sauce. Even the personal size is enough to choke a horse. Don't own a horse? Bring some friends if you want to finish it.

 
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