The rotisserie chicken is the star of the show at Mistura, a casual new Peruvian eatery serving lunch and dinner on Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue.
Chef Daniel Luna is turning out beautifully bronzed birds, brined for 24 hours or more in dark beer laced with plenty of cumin, and then roasted over an open flame — they are certainly a far cry from their grocery store cousins that may or may not have been sitting hot in their plastic shells for hours on end.
The Mary’s free-range birds, juicy and well-seasoned, come with your choice of two sides and sauces; a quarter chicken can be had for $9, a half for $14, and a whole for $22.
Given that a rotisserie chicken place is found in every neighborhood in Peru, Luna — an Oakland native whose father is Peruvian — thought Piedmont Avenue could use one too. After all, he says, it already has plenty of burgers and cuisines from a number of other countries.
A Berkeley High graduate, Luna said he’s always loved to eat, and he grew up traveling to Lima quite a bit to visit his father’s family. “I fell in love with the food there, and often I’d help my grandma. Often that meant just eating her food, not actually making it,” he said.
Luna said that Peru is consistently ranked as a country to visit for culinary tourism, and he’s also noticed it’s a cuisine not so well represented in his hometown.
Given Peru’s influx of people from other countries who brought their own food traditions with them, and that Peru has numerous regions, there is a lot of diversity in the cuisine.
“On the coast they eat a lot of seafood, fish, crab, mussels, abalone, everything from the ocean,” he said. “In the Andes Mountains, they eat heartier fare, like soups and potatoes and pork in an adobo kind of sauce. In the jungle, they eat worms, but we’re not serving those” or guinea pig, either, even though it is often eaten there.
While Luna has worked in a number of fields, including several years at PG&E, this is his first chef job, and his first restaurant. He took culinary classes at Diablo Valley College. He also learned about Peruvian cuisine from a master: his grandmother.
The restaurant used to house Piedmont Fabrics, which recently moved, and Luna and his father spent 18 months building it out to become a restaurant. They did most of the work themselves.
Mistura means mixture, and it’s also the name of a food festival in Lima, where one can taste food from all the various regions of the country.
Luna treated NOSH to a taste of some of the menu’s highlights.
While the chicken is the must-have item on the menu, we also really enjoyed the causas, an appetizer made of whipped yellow potatoes layered with avocado, hard boiled egg, black olives, minced chicken and huancaina, a yellow pepper sauce ($8). A $7 vegetarian version is also available. The causas were not only beautiful to look at, but also offered an interesting mix of flavors, especially since the avocado had a good dose of lime added to it. One member of our group, however, found the dish’s texture to be a bit boring.
We enjoyed our chicken with sides of white rice and Peruvian Canario beans, which were like larger, creamier pintos. They were expertly seasoned with a bit of – vegetarians beware – bacon and garlic.
The signature chicken is wonderfully flavorful on its own, but the sauces really make it sing. There are four on offer, including the huancaina.
We also tried the chicken with rocoto, a fiery sauce made from Peruvian red peppers. While we give Luna credit for not dumbing his food down for gringo palates, damn, this sauce was spicier than [insert your own expletive here].
Also available is a queso fresco rocoto aioli, which blends the rocoto with cheese and mayonnaise. The extra fat brought the heat down to a tolerable level, and tasted to us not unlike a chipotle mayo. The final sauce combined rocoto and huacatay — a Peruvian mint-like herb that is grown in one of Mistura’s chef’s own garden. A bit floral and completely unusual, it was our favorite of them all.
We also were given a try of the lomo saltado, a dish that was brought to Peru by Chinese immigrants. Large pieces of either filet-mignon ($22) or sirloin ($16) are stir-fried with tomatoes, red onion and a dash of soy sauce, and served with white rice and French fries (Peruvian cuisine is not for the carb-averse). While there was nothing wrong with this dish, we found it far less interesting than anything else we tried. If someone eating there must have his steak, it’s not a bad way to eat it.
Another entrée soon to be on offer is a coastal dish, jalea, which features crispy fish with calamari, shrimp and yucca ($14), and seco de cordero, a lamb stew cooked in cilantro sauce ($16).
The menu is rounded out with other sides like plantains and yucca, sweet potato fries, and ceviche ($13). The salads include one with quinoa — a must, since the grain originates from Peru, though the treatment of it, with corn, dried cranberries, cucumber and tomato is decidedly un-Peruvian ($8) — and one with spinach with feta. Both have the option to add chicken ($3) or beef ($4). Luna explained that he put them on the menu since people often want salads, but that Peru is not much of a salad-eating culture.
While Pisco lovers will have to get their fill of the national spirit (the restaurant doesn’t have a full liquor license), there are plenty of wines — local and non — on offer. Mistura mostly serves whites to go with the spicy flavors, plus sangria, three local draft beers on tap (including Linden Street Brewery and Line 51), and one Peruvian beer, Cusqueña, in the bottle.
In the non-alcoholic section, there is Inca Kola, organic Peruvian coffee and Chicha Morada, a vibrant purple cold drink made by boiling purple corn with pineapple, and flavored with lime, cinnamon and cloves ($3.50).
Desserts include Coconut Crema Volteada, a coconut cream caramel ($6), and Alfajores, a butter cookie with dulce de leche ($3.50), whose sugar quotient can be amped up by adding vanilla ice cream ($6).
While Luna said of his own chicken, “It’s amazing. Am I allowed to say that about my own food?”
We say yes, he is allowed. Mistura not only adds something new to the international options on Piedmont Avenue, but it’s also certainly worth making a detour for that rotisserie chicken with its accompanying sides and sauces, rather than buying the pale comparison at your grocery store.
Mistura is at 3858 Piedmont Ave. (at Rio Vista Avenue), Oakland. Lunch is from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and dinner is from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily. (510) 652-1439. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook.
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