The South knows chicken, and Charlotte is no exception. While the argument rages whether deep fried chicken or skillet fried is better, another contender has entered the field. This chicken hails from the South, too, but a lot further south -- as in Peru, South America. While the American South has become known for chicken soaked in buttermilk, dredged in flour and then transformed via hot oil into a shimmering golden hue, the culinarians of Peru have perfected darkly crispy charcoal rotisserie chicken.
Peruvian rotisserie chickens are not the same-old, sometimes hours-old, rotisserie chicken of your local grocer. These fresh, typically organic birds are rotated for 60 minutes or more, above glowing hardwood charcoal. The result is meat moist and tender, imbued with smokiness, while the skin is often bacon-crisp, a faultless meld of sweet and char.
As with good Carolina barbecue eateries, the sign of a true Peruvian rotisserie shop is the billow of white smoke above the rooftop. This plume of smoke guided me to the 50-seat Genaro's Rotisserie, which opened last March in a newly built shopping center in Indian Trail. Chef-owner, and Lima, Peru native, Duilio Macchivello is a Charlotte restaurant veteran. He was the opening chef at Cantina 1511, and also did stints in the kitchens of Miro, Mama Ricotta, Ole Ole, and was co-owner with his brothers Geno and Bruno at Lo Speido.
Macchivello wanted to open a Peruvian-styled charcoal rotisserie shop for some time. And it almost took that long to get NSF (the international organization that sets product standards for health and safety) approval of the charcoal rotisserie he imported from Peru -- and that was difficult to obtain since this piece of restaurant equipment had never been used in North Carolina. Most chicken rotisseries are gas or electric, but just as atavistic backyard grillers prefer carbonized meat a la The Big Green Egg, such is the distinction of Peruvian chicken.
"Twenty people from Winston Salem came down last weekend just for the chicken," my server said. "All the way from Winston." Charcoal rotisserie chicken already has its devotees in New York, Miami and D.C.: news of Genaro's has spread quickly.
Macchivello chose Indian Trail due to the burgeoning Latino community in nearby Monroe: Peruvian food has always enjoyed a following among Latinos and gourmands. The celebrated 20th century French food writer and chef Auguste Escoffier declared Peruvian cuisine to be the third "best" in the world, following French, of course, and Chinese.
Corn and potatoes are staples of the Peruvian diet, and Aji Amarillo, a yellow chile, is commonly used. The potato, which flourishes in Peru's high altitudes, has been a crop since prehistoric times. While more than 100 varieties of potatoes are grown in Peru, seafood, tropical fruit and roots are also essential ingredients in this cuisine. Peruvian dishes are a synthesis of native, European and Asian techniques.
Genaro's dining room is functional and welcoming, filled with Peruvian iconic art and bare top tables. The rotisserie is to the right of the front door, as it would be in Peru, so customers can see the hardwood embers and smell the chicken. Genaro's, named for Macchivello's father, offers dishes beyond the rotisserie. Aji de Gallina, a creamy chicken dish and Lomo Saltado, grilled beef on rice are among those offerings. Papa a la Huancaina was a smooth tasting tangy rendering, with cold sliced boiled potatoes and a soft ripened cow's milk Andean cheese sauce with Aji Amarillo. Huancaina sauce, often a closely guarded family secret recipe, is a sort of South American aioli without the garlic. This sauce is used on potatoes, corn and as a general dipping sauce. Also on the starter list is the national dish from the Incas. Two additional sauces arrive with the Pollos a la Brasa, the rotisserie chicken. The mustardesque smooth Aji Amarillo has a back bite, while the piquant green sauce is a blend of chilies, cilantro, parley, and mint.
The Bandeja Genaro, a gargantuan platter for two, has the char-perfect tender chicken, a link of mellow Spanish sausage, a spicy blood sausage, and a toughened piece of pork (even if wonderfully flavored with annatto). The Inca national dish, Anticucho de Corazon (beef heart brochettes), is among the appetizers. Sides include sautéed plantains, fries, yucca fries, black beans and Peruvian giant corn kernels, reminiscent of survivors of a 1950's B movie nuclear disaster aftermath. These gigantic kernels explode with starch.
Beverages include soft drinks, including imported South American editions, lemonade and chicha morada, a sweet purple maize drink.
To finish, the chef offers his aunt's rendition of the classic Tres Leche and a creamy Flan which has a calming effect on the palate. For true Peruvian cuisine aficionados, mazamorra morada, a jelled harmonious purple corn mixture studded with bits of fruit, is often on the evening roster.
You can have quite a meal at Genaro's and leave your wallet intact. Entrees are priced from $6.75 to $9.25. A whole organic rotisserie chicken is $8.75. Genaro's Rotisserie is a great food find that won't get lost in translation.
April 14 marked the kick-off charity event of the 2008 Charlotte Wine & Food which raised $100,000 for the Allegro Foundation, Charlotte Symphony, Hospitality House of Charlotte, a scholarship fund at Johnson & Wales University, and KinderMourn. The event catered by Taverna 100 in Founders Hall in the Bank of America building signals the return of this biennial event to downtown Charlotte. For more information on the April 2008 events visit: www.charlottewineandfood.com.
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