It was the same with me and my husband since we had planned—all week long—to make Friday the day to finally try a relatively new Peruvian restaurant in Stamford. We had only seen Chavin from the outside, but there was something about that slightly quirky blinking “OPEN” sign that intrigued us, even if it did border on being cheesy.
We were assured by telephone just a few minutes before going out that, yes, they were indeed open, but as we walked inside, I had my doubts. There was no one in sight. An electronic bell chimed above the door as we entered, but no one immediately came out to greet us, and all kinds of stupid thoughts were running through my head (they were being burglarized in the back and were, at that very moment, being bound and gagged by the perpetrators; everyone had fallen asleep; the entire staff decided to walk out in protest, etc.). To make matters more suspicious, there wasn’t a single customer in sight.
I looked at Maarten as he craned his neck to try and see all the way towards the back of the restaurant. We got nothin’. We were about to turn around and leave when a gentleman rushed from the back like he was going to tackle us at the ankles if we dared to depart the premises.
“Two for dinner?” he asked hopefully.
We nodded, had our choice of seating preferences (since, after all, we weren’t in danger of sitting on anyone else’s lap), and hoped and prayed this would be a meal worth eating. The lighting inside Chavin was very low; I’m talking serious-romantic-mood-lighting low, and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to read the menu without my glasses and a flood light.
I ordered a glass of 2007 Weingut Groiss Gruner Veltliner, which I had never tried before and which turned out to be an excellent choice. The wine was smooth and was lacking in an abundance of acidity which can sometimes make for a mouth-puckering aftertaste. I think I’ll add this varietal to my list of wines to favor.
It didn’t take long for me to decide on an appetizer. As soon as I realized scallops and cheese were an integral part of the same dish, my mind was made up. I selected the Conchitas a la Parmesana. Maarten chose the Choclo Con Queso, a dish that he had never before tried. We were both fairly excited to discover what the food at Chavin tasted like, especially given that neither of us had ever had the pleasure of dining on Peruvian cuisine before.
While we awaited the arrival of our starters, I glanced around the restaurant. Chavin is not a very large place, but I loved the use of color which lent a festive feel to the room. I surely didn’t feel as if I was sitting in a restaurant in Stamford, but rather I had been magically transported miles away to an unfamiliar but friendly place. One wall was painted a vibrant violet hue, and on other walls were brightly colored cloth shawls.
We had arrived at Chavin relatively early, 7:45 p.m. on a Friday night, so in retrospect we should not have been too surprised that we were the only people there, especially given the culture’s affinity for having dinner a little later than most Americans tend to. However, before long, the dining room’s tables were slowly filling with others as hungry as we were for a delicious Peruvian meal.
So far, things were shaping up rather nicely for our first Peruvian meal, and I was relieved that we hadn’t left before experiencing it. But by this point, my taste buds were on a serious code-red level of high alert. Too often a restaurant will whip up a magnificent appetizer but then, sadly, fall far short of my expectations with the entrée . . . or vice versa.
Ironically, we didn’t have long to wait to find out just how good—or how bad—the remainder of the meal would be. No sooner had the waiter picked up the discarded appetizer plates when another waiter brought out the much-anticipated main course. Once again, the aroma was almost enough to induce me to close my eyes, levitate off the ground, and float through the air right along with the enticing plume of smoke coming off the dishes.
It’s a damn good thing looks can, indeed, be deceiving.
That flat, down-trodden butterflied piece of poultry was impeccably tender, bursting with flavor, and retained an astonishing amount of juiciness and moistness that was unexpected for such a thinly pounded cut of meat. The crispy outer edge, which was leaner than the center, held even more flavor than the rest of the chicken. The pollo a la parillo was so pleasant, I almost didn’t need the rice, which, by the by, was yummy in its own right.
Not only was I enjoying my food and, occasionally reaching across the table with my fork to enjoy Maarten’s as well, I was secretly craving the plates of other diners. There were all manner of appetizing dishes coming from the kitchen and I wished I could sample each one of them. And just looking at the menu is enough to induce fits of salivating madness.
As of late, my husband and I have been begging off of after-dinner desserts in a bid to retain our slim and svelte physiques. However, that tiny little voice of reason tucked in the recesses of my subconscious told me I would be remiss if I failed to at least try something . . . just this once. So putting all shame aside and mentally making a note to do forty extra minutes of cardio at my next workout, we each ordered the Alfajor, a Peruvian cookie with dulce de leche.
I will sum it up in one word: Mmmmm.
My apologies to readers of this blog; we tore into our cookies so quickly, I never had a chance to take pictures. Each treat consisted of two soft cookies with confectioners sugar on top and a thin layer of dulce de leche in the center. So simple, yet so spectacular. If I could have distracted the waiter long enough to sneak into the kitchen and pilfer all of the cookies, I surely would have. Yes, they were that good.
What a surprising and extraordinary experience. My first Peruvian meal definitely would not be my last. And a return trip to Chavin is all but guaranteed; they helped to seal the deal with their mouth-watering food that not only put a smile on my face but, if it’s possible, in my tummy.
It Chavin recommended? Absolutely! If you are a lover of ethnic food (and even for those who aren’t) you’ll find this charming little restaurant well worth the trip.
Is Chavin a good value or do you need to take out a loan to eat here? Chavin is affordably priced, with nothing on the menu over $19.00 (Pescado Frelleno de Camarones). Appetizers range from a mere $5.00 (Tamales) to $15.00 (Shrimp Ceviche). Along with the beef, chicken and fish & seafood dishes, they serve a small selection of vegetarian dishes as well.
What about atmosphere and ambience? Although the music is a little loud at times, and the tile floor wreaks havoc on the acoustics which, with a full house would make it nearly impossible not to shout to be heard, Chavin has a comfortable and cheerful feel. It’s a charming space with lots of appeal. But I do wish they would get rid of that flashing “Open” sign out front.
NOTE: To see a more modest version of a review of Chavin, please read my Fairfield County Restaurant Examiner column (which, due to restrictions on Examiner.com, I was only able to attribute full star values to as opposed to the 4½ forks given here).
Chavin Peruvian Bistro
21 Atlantic Street
Stamford, CT 06901