New chef Michelangelo Aliaga shines at Los Balcones in Hollywood, where he incorporates proteins with Peruvian staple ingredients like corn, potatoes, peppers, quinoa, rice and beans to create authentic and hearty South American fare.
Raised in Peru by Italian parents, Aliaga was inspired by his grandfather to become a chef. After training and working in Spain and Italy, he came to California where he has worked in kitchens such as Cecconi’s in West Hollywood and Primo Italia in the South Bay before he joined the team at Los Balcones.
The Hollywood restaurant features a cozy and dark space with close tables and walls lined with bold yellow and red Inca symbols painted on top of reclaimed wood panels. Packed with people the night I dined, it also offers a fun atmosphere. Los Balcones is connected to The Parker Room, which pays homage to Billy Berg’s, one of the most iconic jazz clubs in Hollywood. This small and lively lounge gets its name from the 1940s jazz saxophonist and composer Charlie Parker, and is a great place to meet friends, enjoy a cocktail and bar menu items before a night in Hollywood or seeing a moving at the nearby Cinerama Dome and ArcLight complex.
Sitting inside the main dining room, I noticed almost everyone was drinking the Peruvian national cocktail, a pisco sour. At Los Balcones, they make it with Caravedo pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, a pour of Angostura bitters and frothy egg whites. The restaurant also offers a maracuyá sour made with the same ingredients plus passion fruit juice. While ordering one of each drink, our server delivered a bowl of crispy plantain chips with a pleasing garlic verde dip to enjoy with our drinks.
We started with a bright mixto ceviche bowl with marinated striped bass, shrimp, octopus, squid, sliced purple onions, choclo (Peruvian corn) and flavorful chopped Peruvian rocoto pepper.
For guests eager to try some Peruvian anticuchos, or grilled street food, Los Balcones offers a tasting plate with choice of five different proteins. The beef heart is perfect for adventurous diners. We enjoyed the smoky Peruvian panca pepper-marinated chicken with balsamic-glazed portobello mushrooms, grilled sea bass belly, sliced green onions and sesame.
For entrées, our first dish, the arroz con pollo, arrived on a plate with cilantro rice, peas, carrots and corn alongside salsa criolla (onion relish). Yellow streaks of huancaína, a Peruvian staple made from boiled yellow potatoes, provide a creamy and slightly spicy sauce that pairs nicely with the crispy baked chicken leg and thigh.
Next, we tried the plate of seco de carne which featured a thick and tender piece of slow-cooked short rib in a cilantro beer broth. Peruvian lima beans with sliced purple onions and peppers tucked under the meat rounded out the dish.
We also enjoyed the lamb shank on a bed of polenta with crispy green beans and cilantro, a new menu item created by Aliaga.
Desserts, however, were not quite my cup of tea. I found the picarones, or Peruvian sweet potato beignets, a bit greasy. The tropical passion fruit syrup poured on top was cloying. I did, however, like the flavor of the lucuma ice cream imported from Peru. The fruit looks like an avocado, but has yellow flesh similar to a sweet potato. Its flavor offers a maple syrup-like essence, but the dish is not as creamy as regular ice cream and has almost the consistency of cooked egg yolk.
There’s more coming to Los Balcones as well – within the next few weeks, Aliaga plans to add dishes on the dinner and brunch menus. There’s also the recently opened restaurant location in Studio City, which hosts a different chef, menu and atmosphere.
The hours at the Hollywood location are Monday through Thursday noon to 11 p.m. The restaurant stays open until midnight on Friday and Saturday, and until 10 p.m. on Sunday. $$ 1360 Vine St., Los Angeles, (323)871-9600.