Pisco, a new restaurant in the Gateway Overlook shopping center nestled on the boundary of Columbia and Elkridge opened in late July of 2014. It offers Peruvian cuisine and a cerviche bar. In front of the restaurant is a fenced area for outdoor dining (which unfortunately the patio offers only a view of the adjacent large parking lot!). We were curious about the name and discovered with some quick internet research that “Pisco” is the name of a special amber colored brandy that originates from Peru and Chile.
While it has taken over the space not that long ago occupied by Mama Lucia’s, it became quickly apparent that the owners of Pisco (who reportedly are also the owners of the popular Italian Facci restaurants) had obviously gutted the space and created a whole new, very different dining environment which is visually striking. The dining area is dominated by a 20 foot tall wall mural of the Machu Pichu.
Closer to the wall sized front windows (screened from the outside by hundreds of cobalt blue bottles on glass shelves!) is a very attractive bar area (currently limited perhaps to just serving cerviche because Pisco does not yet have a liquor license!)
When we sat down, our server brought us an attractive chilled light green bottle of water with lemon and a wire container with roasted corn kernels and toasted plantain. (We both found the roasted corn kernels to be very dry and we were glad of the water to clear our mouth and throast! By comparison, the plantain made for an interesting snack!)
Pisco’s menu offers a dozen appetizers ($9-$13), two entree soups ($14-$17, three entree salads ($8-$13), ten different presentations of cerviche ($13-$18), a dozen seafood and meat entrees ($16-$19). Another popular entree is the “Pollos A La Brasa” (charbroiled chicken) available with two sides of your choice with 1/4 chicken ($8) or 1/2 chicken ($10). The two of us decided to share an appetizer, Papa Rellena ($9) The deep fried mashed potato shell stuffed with ground beef, egg, raisins and black olives accompanied by a special salsa criollo with onioins, tomato and fresh cilantro marinated in lime juice. The stuffing wasn’t particularly flavorful but thankfully the salsa criollo was bursting with flavor. Both Jerry and I felt though that the serving was less than what we would have expected for the $9 price.
For our main course, Jerry decided on the Chuleta en Chicha Morada ($16 – pork chop with purple corn sauce and jardinera rice) while John opted for the traditional Peruvian Lomo Saltado (beef sirloin stir fry with onions and tomatoes typically served on a bed of french fries.Jerry’s extra thick chop arrive covered in the tasty purple corn sauce and was cooked medium well as he requested. The presentation of the dish was as eye catching as the restaurant interior.
John’s Lomo Saltado was a bit of a disappointment. He expected the stir fry to be on top of a bed of french fries. Instead, the machine cut, too evenly matched french fries were artfully piled in the french fry equivalent of a log cabin! (The french fries seemed as if they hadn’t been cooked enough – John ended up leaving more than half of them uneaten) Instead of the jardinera rice that Jerry had with his dish, a plain scoop of white rice sat next to the fries. While the mix of beef tips, strips of tomato and onion were tasty, this version of Lomo Saltado just didn’t seem to measure up to the dish that John had heard about and looked forward to trying. (Later, we talked with the manager who explained that Pisco chefs deliberately avoided the more traditional presentation with the the stir fry piled on top of the fries because “Americans don’t like soggy fries” – John felt like adding “Americans don’t like like half cooked french fries either!” but didn’t and managed a weak smile). Curiously, the manager mentioned that he was aware of the presence of another Peruvian restaurant just a couple miles east on Rte. 175 which did serve the traditional Lomo Saltado – Jerry and I did a little post dinner googling and found the place that the manager referred to and couldn’t help but noticing that if the other restaurant was fast food style and lacking in Pisco’s eye glamor, its traditional version of Lomo Saltado was also $5 less expensive – by the next day, both of us were thinking about doing some comparative evaluating! <Smile>)
Our experience at Pisco seemed a mixed bag. Perhaps part of that can be attributed to the fact that they have only been open for a month and perhaps the kitchen is still evolving (perhaps equally true of the newbie hostesses who lowered the lights in the dining room by almost half about 45 minutes into our meal – leaving us feeling like we were finishing our meal eating in the shadows!). If we awarded “Thumbs Ups!” to dining rooms, Pisco would certainly deserve it. If only the food at Pisco that we tried though had been as memorable as the restaurant interior! In contrast to the $10 Pollos A La Brasa which the couple at the table next to us ordered and reported that they were really delighted with it, we left Pisco less than thrilled with what we ordered and feeling that our $50 dinner for two with tip wasn’t the best value. Service overall was good – though in a less than crowded dining room on a Thursday evening, our server seem to disappear at times. It will be interesting to see how Pisco evolves!
FACTS: PISCO – Elkridge; 6630 Marie Curie Drive; 410-312-4888; http://www.piscorestaurante.com/ (But heads up! The web site at this point is only an empty shell that has yet to have any content or online menu added to it!); Open 7 days a week for dinner only from 5 pm; No alcohol yet!; Vegetarian options; adjacent large free parking lot (and a short walk from a near-by Trader Joe’s!)