Whenever I pick a place to review, I always make the decision with you, my dedicated readers, in mind. Is it cheap enough? What’s the occasion? Is it in a location where Stevens’s students will easily find it? This time around, though, I decided I’d be completely self-indulgent and pick a place right in my neighborhood: El Rinkoncito Peruano, right on the corner of Central and Graham in Jersey City.
El Rinkoncito, aptly named, as you’ll find it on a corner, is a small, family-run Peruvian restaurant right in the heart of the Jersey City Heights. At first glance, it doesn’t look like much, and aside from the comparatively loud sign in front, you would assume it was just another average restaurant along Central Avenue. Even stepping in, it’s likely to leave you underwhelmed with its cramped, scarce interior that’s devoid of much color besides a row of Peruvian pictures along the wall. That being said, looks can be terribly deceiving.
I was fortunate enough to be joined graciously in my foray into Peruvian cuisine by a local expert, one of my good friends and colleagues in the Chem Bio department, who recommended I try the Ceviche de Pescado and pray it didn’t have tomato in it. I happily obliged, while they ordered the Anticuchos with Papa a la Huancaina, or cow heart kabobs with yellow potato, and a pitcher of Chicha Morada, or purple corn juice. Our waitress brought out the Chicha almost immediately, and it’s definitely a must-have if you’ve never tried it before. The closest thing I can compare it to is a cinnamon plum juice, but that wouldn’t do it justice: its sweet, cinnamony, clovey flavor is reminiscent of the deepest winter, yet it is more refreshing than a cool lemonade in summer. Our waitress also brought out some roasted corn kernels with ahi verde, green chili sauce, while we waited, which was incredibly refreshing, spicy, and slightly sweet all at the same time.
Once the main dishes arrived, I was delighted to find the Ceviche had no tomato in it, and it smelled wonderfully of lime, fresh fish, and onion. Its worth knowing that Ceviche is really more of a cured fish than a cooked dish, so if fresh fish is an issue, you’ve been warned. Biting into my first piece, I was blown away. How could I have been sleeping on this place for so long? The fish was incredibly savory and tasty in its own right, but it was enhanced even more so by the marinade of lime, chili, salt, and pepper that washed the dish. The lime and chili predominated, and despite how simple the flavors involved were, I honestly hadn’t had something quite this good in a while. The accompanying sweet potato and massively starchy corn provided a great counterpoint to the sharp flavors, while the onions were refreshing and crunchy. To end it all, I slurped up the remaining marinade colloquially known as the “leche de tigre,” and, boy is that name deserved! I was out of commission for at least five minutes afterwards, but it definitely is a part of the dish. If you don’t finish it, did you really have Ceviche? Finally, my friend’s dish was also incredibly tasty, and I was impressed in its simplicity yet again. I highly recommend both.
Overall, El Rinkoncito brings to mind one of my favorite lines from my mother: “Cooking doesn’t need to be complicated.” It brings to the table one of the rarest gifts in modern restaurants: the gift of making excellent food with simple flavors. If you’re looking to get cultured, or just go to a fantastic restaurant, take a short hike and bring an open mind to El Rinkoncito.