Andy Ramos doesn't serve guinea pig. Not that he doesn't want to. The co-owner of Northeast Sandy Boulevard's new Peruvian restaurant, Nasca, says he checked with the health department and the Andes-native rodent, or cuy, which is a traditional Peruvian highland food, just isn't feasible. For starters, there isn't a local purveyor, and Ramos doesn't think the household pet would go over well with Portlanders' palates anyhow. Luckily, much of the rest of his menu will.
Ramos, who moved to Portland from Peru with his family in the late 1970s, and his wife—and native Portlander—Stacey, opened Nasca last August in the former space of Tibetan restaurant Lungta. Although you can still hear the rumble of kitchen and clean-up in the dining room just as you could at Lungta, Nasca is more polished than its predecessor. With a few warm coats of paint and some Peruvian art on the walls, Nasca's 26-seat dining room has a new lease on life.
At the moment the menu consists mainly of lowland cuisine (marinated and skewered meats, ceviche, meat and vegetable sautées), but in upcoming weeks, as days get cooler, the kitchen plans to incorporate Andean highland dishes such as hearty stews and corn- and tuber-rich entrees.
Nasca has one menu for lunch and dinner (dinner pricing included here) with slimmed portions and prices for lunch, and a side salad included with dinner. The steamy and tasty, powdered-sugar-dusted empanadas ($4.50) are filled with a blend of ground beef, peas, carrots and onions, and fried until golden. Another good starter is the yuca rellena ($5.50)—silky mashed yuca and gooey white cheese, rolled, fried and served with a mild aji amarillo chile sauce.
The only seafood on the menu (it would be nice if there were more, considering Peru's colossal coastline) is the tilapia ceviche ($7.50) racked with cilantro, lime juice and sliced onion, and served with boiled pieces of yam, potato and corn.
Nasca recently added a short bottled beer and wine list, but you can also sip on a bright yellow, carbonated Inca Kola, or a chicha morada—theirs is a blend of purple corn, apple and pineapple juices (both $2).
For entrees, the seco de carne ($11.50) is a great belly warmer with hunks of pot roastlike beef in an oniony cilantro sauce, served with rich and creamy pintos and rice. The aji de gallina ($11.50) works just as well with pulled chicken and thinly sliced yellow potatoes in a walnut cream sauce, topped with hardboiled egg and black olives and served with rice.
If Andy Ramos had his way, he'd have picarones ($4.50) for dessert every day. These sweet and sticky pumpkin-and-yam fritters are served with fig-infused molasses, made with figs from Ramos' father's tree. There are two other desserts (a purple corn pudding that tastes oddly medicinal, and a simple rice pudding—both $3.50), but the picarones win the blue ribbon. Truth be told: They're too good to share. Unless, of course, you're saving room for the guinea pig.