You've got your Burlington Coat Factory and your RoomStore and your Pollos Inti and your Atlantic Tanning and your Party City and your Salon Sensational, all there in Sterling's Sugarland Crossing shopping center. Wait, let's back up to Pollos Inti.
What you get there is chicken, Peruvian style. Other things, too, such as pork and beef and trout, and we tried those, but the chicken is the calling card. "You can smell that aroma from the parking lot," said one in our party.
You can order a whole one -- pollo a la brasa -- which is marinated in a special sauce and broiled over charcoal. Or you can order a half one. Or a quarter. Either way, you get nicely charred and moist meat, with a smoky, piquant flavor.
The marinade is mysterious by choice and was devised by the family of owner Luis Pedemonte. It has 14 or 15 ingredients and is used in other family recipes on the menu. The restaurant has been in the shopping center, which is hard by Route 7, for six years.
A familiarity with Spanish helps at Pollos. The menu has English explanations of the dishes, but the wait staff seems to navigate better in Spanish. One gets an inkling of this on walking in. There is a bulletin board of sorts to the left of the door, and it's dotted with handwritten notices of available apartments and the like. All in Spanish.
The tables -- there are a couple dozen -- are covered in brightly-colored material reminiscent of woven Peruvian blankets under the glass tops. The same motif of primary colors is in the paintings.
Atop the drink cooler is a large, stuffed llama. While we were there, a soccer game was on TV, and Latin music was a constant backdrop.
Once seated, you are served tortilla chips and salsa, a suitable beginning. The salsa was tangy and vinegary, with shavings of carrots, peppers and onions flavoring the tomato base.
Among the beverages -- including a handful of Peruvian beers -- was something called Inca Kola. One in our party said she had seen the very same when she visited Peru.
An evolving rule on these occasions is that latecomers get the exotic stuff. The tardy one's verdict on the neon-yellow Inca Kola: "It tastes something like bubble gum. . . . Not as bad as Mello Yello."
We decided the best of the appetizers was the tamal peruano, a corn-flour roll stuffed with chicken, boiled egg, onions and olives. Some comments: "Earthy . . . a sense of grains . . . very nice texture . . . a good mix of tastes."
Also faring well was the seviche, pieces of raw fish marinated in lemon or lime juice. The acid in the juice "cooks" or cures the fish. The sharp, citrusy juice, bits of onion and the smooth texture of the fish proved a refreshing combination.
We ordered two kinds of pupusas, one filled with pork and cheese, the pupusa revuelta, the other with just cheese, the pupusa de queso. Both were serviceable, but the sauce with the revuelta put it ahead by a nose.
The papas a la huancaina -- sliced, cold, steamed potatoes in a creamy cheese and garlic sauce -- fell to the bottom of the list. The consensus was that it was too bland, although one or two had good words for the sauce.
We looked first to the chicken when entree time rolled around. We went with the pollo saltado, sliced chicken with onion, tomato, rice and cilantro. Sad to say, it didn't quite stack up to the pollo entero. The bland dish was rescued somewhat by the peppery french fries accompanying it.
Venturing further into the menu, we tried entrees that highlighted fish, steak and shrimp.
Opinion split modestly on the fish entree -- jalea -- fried trout with squid, yucca, red onions and tomatoes. It looked great coming out of the kitchen. It was colorful, and the squid was crisp yet tender. Alas, the fish was on the dry side.
A word here about the yucca. It was very dry. Exceedingly dry. Disturbingly dry, even. One in our party called for more green sauce, a melodious concoction of cilantro, jalapeno peppers, onions and milk, but it didn't do much to banish the dryness. We concluded that yucca, though a staple, is an acquired taste.
The carne asada, steak seasoned with Peruvian spices, was grilled and arrived with rice, beans and a salad. A little salty, some thought, but it disappeared quickly.
Finally, we tried camarones encebollados -- shrimp sauteed in the ever-present Peruvian spices, along with cilantro, garlic and peppers. Perhaps a little less time on the fire would have been in order; the shrimp was on the tough side. The onions, however, were very popular. They were well infused with seasoning and nicely presented with red peppers and rice.
We went for most of the desserts -- there are five -- and they pretty much met with acclaim. The crema volteada is a flan, smooth, rich and custardy with its accompanying dark, sweet sauce.
The ice cream comes in a paper cup with a lid, which has a label that says Sylvia makes it at home. It is, formally, helado de lucuma. Its flavor is a mystery, except perhaps to Peruvians. Some guesses: vanilla, pecan, an exotic Peruvian fruit, pumpkin.
We found out later that it was the lucuma fruit -- also known as eggfruit or canistel -- which is found mostly in the Amazon basin in Brazil and Peru. For our purposes, that would qualify it as an exotic Peruvian fruit. It was quite good.
The torta de manjarblanco is caramel cake. It was a touch dry.
Last was the alfajor, described as a Spanish cookie with candy in the middle and topped with powdered sugar. This was also somewhat mysterious, although we thought we detected shortbread and a caramel center. In all, a suitable ending to a broadening experience.
Pollos Inti, Sugarland Crossing Shopping Center, 47100 Community Plaza, Suite 122, Sterling, 703-421-9490. Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. Appetizers, $1.50-$9.99; entrees, $8.75-$14.99; sandwiches, $3.50-$5.49; desserts, $1.99-$2.99.
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