How can I improve on the menu’s lavish description of its own ceviche: “A healthy, yet dazzling explosion of flavor, excellent as an appetizer, or even as a main course.” The menu’s right. The profuse ceviche mixto ($13) features mussels and clams on the half shell, scrumptious squid, good-size deveined shrimp, and snatches of corvina, a firm-fleshed South American fish in the sea bass family. Interspersed with the biomass are purple onions, and everything swims in chile-laced lime juice, which, in the Peruvian fashion, is supposed to be drunk when you’ve finished the ceviche. Alongside comes a yellowish stump of sweet potato and a choclo—a piece of corn cob with shovel-shaped kernels as big as your thumb. Yikes!
The fish and crustacean ceviches come in myriad permutations, but every bit as good is pulpo al olivio ($14). It sails in on a Delft-blue, fish-shaped platter, a hillock of tiny octopus tentacles tossed with bigger ones cut into delicate flakes. The dressing emulsifies olive oil with sharp-tasting olives, generating an outlandish purple mayo. I’ve never tasted anything like it. Flexing its muscle as Peru’s most popular fish, corvina can be ordered grilled, stuffed, fried, or sauced. One of my favorite presentations, corvina sudada ($12), braises the fish with potatoes and tomatoes in a flavorful stock that will remind you of bouillabaisse.
Woodhaven’s El Anzuelo Fino (“The Fine Fishhook”) lurks beneath the corroded J train’s tracks, from which rust flakes rain down on a stunning diversity of working-class stores and restaurants. The awning shows a smirking corvina wearing a red bow tie, standing on his tail fin and serving a tray of corvina, giving the drawing a certain Hannibal Lecter quality. The interior would be inviting if it weren’t for the projection TV and its predilection for Marc Anthony concert footage. At one point in our first meal, a beaming Rosie O’Donnell jumped up from the audience to receive a blown kiss. We almost threw up.
El Anzuelo Fino styles itself as a Peruvian seafood restaurant, and besides corvina, the choices run to red snapper, salmon, trout, squid, and shrimp. These occur in combination in a variety of fried platters and seafood soups. But there’s an upland side to the menu, too, comprising such Andean peasant delicacies as papas a la Huancaina ($6), potatoes in a yellow cheese sauce named after the Central Andean city of Huancayo. By the way, the conquistadors introduced cheese to Peru, making papas a la Huancaina possible. Anzuelo also specializes in the kind of spice-rubbed rotisserie chickens made famous by Pio-Pio and other Queens Peruvian chicken joints. At $8, the entire chicken is quite a bargain.
Other upland treats include cabrito a la Nortena ($11), a goat shank doused with cilantro gravy, served with creamy white beans and well-oiled white rice; and aji de gallina, a lumpy chicken-potato sludge. Aji refers to the hot canary-yellow chiles preferred by Peruvians. According to legend, aji is also the sound of you screaming when you bite in to one. Unfortunately, Anzuelo’s rendition of the dish is bland enough to convince you the cook used no chiles at all, although a friend praised it by saying, “This tastes like the chicken à la king with the little red pimentos they used to serve over rice in my high school.” She hit the nail on the head.