To the right kind of eyes, no more enticing pair of words can be printed on a menu than "beef heart." There's a savage appeal to ingesting a bloody symbol of another animal's vitality, which by its very name seems so much closer to the lusty, violent truth of carnivorousness than most of the disembodied cuts we encounter. Plus, it tastes like really good steak.
At del Inti, Northeast Alberta Street's new Peruvian-Northwest restaurant, the heart ($7) comes sliced, skewered and seasoned with a chile-heavy rub. Grilled rare and dressed with citrusy salsa criolla, this dish is reason enough to book a ticket to Lima. But del Inti isn't the only Portland restaurant that has beef heart on the menu, and since comparisons between the two—heart and otherwise—are inevitable, let's get it over with.
Andina, the Pearl District restaurant that introduced Portland to Peruvian fusion and wowed critics when it opened in 2003, is a tempting model to judge del Inti against. After all, before Ignacio del Solar opened del Inti with his wife, Erin, this September, he was Andina's chef de cuisine. But while these restaurants' geographical and professional roots are intertwined, del Inti's aims are more modest.
Far from the glitz of the Pearl, del Inti is nestled in Alberta Arts, a neighborhood of lower key and lower rents, though just as lively in its own way. Its blue-and-silver exterior is modern and a bit tinny—not immediately inviting. But the fire pit hints at what waits within: a warm, amber-lit space of cork floors, plush booths and earthy Peruvian art. This is prime date territory.
Del Inti's preparations and presentations are simpler than Andina's, and its average entrée costs $10 or less, but the flavors remain bold and vibrant. Scallops ($18), seared to a buttery rare and drizzled with balsamic reduction, surround a hearty lentil "tacu tacu" patty piled with wilted spinach. Rotating ceviches ($10-$11) dress prawns, mahi mahi and halibut with the requisite bite of lime and red onion, but are also studded with yam and sweet potato. The petite hanger steak ($20) looks less impressive than it tastes, laid next to a pile of what appear to be home fries, but are in fact perrullade papas—creamy mashed potatoes patted into cubes and fried crisp. Side dishes of fingerling potatoes and mushroom crostini ($5) seem like concessions to hearty eaters and wind up being just that—filler, bland and disappointing.
Any shortfalls are redeemed by dessert: this time, decadent profiteroles ($7) and dark coffee. And maybe one more round of beef heart.
Del Inti, 2315 NE Alberta St., 288-8191, delinti.com. Happy hour 4-6 pm and dinner 5-10 pm Wednesday-Sunday; brunch 10 am-2 pm Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday. $-$$ Inexpensive-moderate.