New chef Michelangelo Aliaga at Los Balcones in Hollywood incorporates proteins with Peruvian staple ingredients – corn, potatoes, peppers, quinoa, rice and beans to create authentic and hearty South American fare.
Raised in Peru by Italian parents who immigrated to South America, I learned that Chef Michelangelo’s grandfather inspired him to become a chef. After training and working in Spain and Italy, he came to California and worked in a variety of kitchens including Cecconi’s in West Hollywood and Primo Italia in the South Bay.
What makes this restaurant unique, is that it’s attached to one of the most iconic jazz clubs in Hollywood – The Parker Room LA. This small and lively lounge is a great place to meet friends, enjoy a cocktail and some bar menu items before a night in Hollywood or seeing a moving at the nearby Cinerama Dome and ArcLight complex.
It gets its name from the 1940s iconic bebop pioneer, saxophonist, and composer, Charlie Parker. He played here when it was one of the first jazz clubs in the country to have black and white musicians playing together on the same stage.
Sitting inside the main dining room, I noticed almost everyone was drinking the Peruvian national cocktail, a Pisco Sour. At Los Balcones they serve it in a short Old Fashioned glass. It’s made with La Caravedo by Porton pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, and a pour of angostura bitter in a pretty design on the frothy egg whites. They also make a Maracuya Sour made with the same ingredients plus passion fruit juice. Pisco is a colorless brandy produced in the winemaking regions of Peru by distilling fermented grape juice into a high-proof spirit. While ordering one of each, our server delivered a bowl of crispy plantain chips with a pleasing garlic verde dip to enjoy with our drinks.
Looking around the dark room, the tables are close together and the walls are lined with bold yellow and red Inca symbols painted on top of reclaimed wood panels. It offers a fun atmosphere and was packed with people the night I dined.
We started with a mixto bowl of ceviche that had cubes of sashimi grade marinated striped bass, shrimp, octopus and squid with sliced purple onions, choclo (Peruvian corn) and chopped bright and flavorful Peruvian rococo pepper.
Peru is known for their popular anticuchos grilled street food. On the Los Balcones menu, you can order a tasting plate by choosing three different proteins. For those more adventurous, order the most popular is beef heart. We chose the smokey deep red Peruvian panca pepper marinated chicken; balsamic glazed portobello mushrooms, and tender grilled sea bass belly with sliced green onion and sesame.
For entrees the Arroz con pollo arrives on a plate with cilantro rice that has peas, carrots and corn alongside salsa criollo (onion relish). Yellow streaks of huancaina, a Peruvian staple made from boiled yellow potatoes, provides a creamy and slightly spicy sauce to enhance the crispy baked chicken leg and thigh.
Next a plate of Seco de Carne had a thick and tender piece of slow cooked short rib in a cilantro beer broth. It was on top of Peruvian lima beans with sliced purple onions, and peppers.
Desserts are the weakest items on the menu. We found the picarones (Peruvian sweet potato beignets) too greasy. The aftertaste of the tropical passion fruit syrup poured on top stayed with me for hours. I did like the flavor of the Lucuma (imported from Peru) ice cream. Lucuma looks like an avocado, yet has yellow flesh that is similar to a sweet potato. It’s flavor offers the essence of maple syrup, yet it’s not as creamy as regular ice cream and almost has the consistency of cooked egg yolk.
Chef Michelangelo came out of the kitchen to deliver to us a new menu item he created, a lamb shank on a bed of polenta with crispy green beans and cilantro. He told us that he is so excited to be at Los Balcones and hopes to recreate many of the dishes that he loved to eat while living in Peru. Within in the few weeks, this talented chef will add additional dishes on the dinner and brunch menu. As the weather warms up, the restaurant offers al fresco dining on the front patio.
A new Los Balcones just opened in Studio City at the former Girasol location with a different chef, menu, and atmosphere.
The hours at the Hollywood location are Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. The restaurant stays open until midnight on Friday and Saturday and until 10 p.m. on Sunday. Brunch is available on the weekends starting at 10 a.m. $$ 1358 Vine St. (323)871-9600.
This review was also featured in the Beverly Press on March 21, 2019 – Los Balcones.