Where Mexico meets Peru

With a new Old Mill location, Hola! defines nuevo Latino cuisine

John Gottberg Anderson / For The Bulletin /

Published Feb 12, 2010 at 04:00AM

When Hola! introduced Peruvian cuisine to Central Oregon in 2007, in a small space at the Forum Shopping Center on Bend’s east side, no one really knew how the population would respond.

Executive chef and co-owner Marcos Rodriguez offered a Latin hybrid menu, combining Mexican and South American dishes. Rodriguez, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, was assisted by his brother, Alberto, and chef Jose Rivas, who was raised in Los Angeles by Peruvian and Brazilian parents.

The exotic menu — call it “nuevo Latino” — made Hola! one of the most talked-about restaurants in the region. But the cafe’s location didn’t allow it maximum exposure to potential patrons. So last July, a second Hola!, dubbed Hola 2!, opened next to Regal Cinemas in the Old Mill District. Now, it seems, everyone has a chance to sample lomo saltado and ceviche Mexicano.

Corn and potatoes

Hola 2! occupies a storefront immediately west of the entrance to Central Oregon’s largest theater complex. Very friendly and casual, the cafe is colorfully painted in tones that reflect its festive ambience.

Just inside the door are a tile-topped bar and a small area where patrons can wait to be seated. Beyond, tall tables allow nibblers to watch Latin American soccer on a couple of flat-screen televisions; more traditional seats nestle beneath large mirrors that give the restaurant a greater sense of spaciousness. Large windows face the Old Mill parking area.

A mid-winter makeover of the ample menu reflects Marcos Rodriguez’s desire to offer more healthy foods, even while reaffirming the dual-cuisine approach.

“In Mexico, we use corn and a lot of different peppers,” Rodriguez said. “Peru is more widely influenced from different countries, both in Europe and Asia. The food in Peru is all about the potatoes and bread, not tortillas as in Mexico.”

Peru is also the homeland of quinoa, an Andean plant widely regarded as “the healthiest grain there is,” according to Rodriguez. “We are serving it with a garlicky cilantro oil.”

Hola! is not doing away with its complimentary basket of tortilla chips, offered to every table with spicy green and red salsas, but house-made potato chips now share the basket with corn chips. Guacamole dip, made tableside, is an Hola! favorite; every server has been trained to mash fresh avocado with tomato, onion, lime, cilantro and salt as a perfect match for the chips.

Starting out

On the appetizer side of the menu, both ceviches — one Peruvian, one Mexican — are wonderful. Peruvian ceviche, made with fresh ahi tuna, is marinated in three citrus juices with aji amarillo (yellow chiles) and served with dried corn kernels, sweet yams and a Creole salsa (salsa criolla). In the Mexican ceviche, halibut is poached and marinated in lime juice, then presented with onions, cilantro, tomatoes and avocado.

Lovers of Japanese sushi may be delighted, as I am, by the tiraditos: sliced raw ahi served with avocado, a citrus-based ponzu sauce and a truffle vinaigrette infusion.

A trio of causitas, or chilled potato cakes, are new to the menu. My favorite of the threesome is the tuna tartare, served on an avocado-potato mash with cilantro cream sauce. Smoked trout is offered on a purple potato mash with a green onion-chipotle cream, while wild prawns are presented on an aji amarillo mash with cream sauce.

Tequeños are Peru’s answer to Chinese egg rolls. Sauteed sirloin is wrapped with red onions, peppers and cilantro in a phyllo dough roll, deep-fried and served with salsa criolla.

And then there is anticucho, skewered flank steak char-grilled with vinegar, cumin and paprika and served with sliced sweet potatoes. “This is usually made with beef heart,” chef Rivas said. “We’d like to do more with heart and tongue, but a lot of people in this town aren’t ready for that. We have to keep things reeled in a little.”

Great entrees

The selection of small plates is certainly sufficient for a meal in itself, but Hola! has a full roster of entree-sized meals as well.

One of my favorites is costillitas de puerco con aji. The meat on these grilled baby back ribs, covered in a sweet-and-sour aji amarillo sauce and served with salsa criolla, is so tender that it falls off the bone. But I’m not particularly fond of the causa with which it’s served; the cold potato cake, infused with key lime, doesn’t thrill me.

Lomo saltado has been one of the most popular Peruvian items on the menu since Hola! opened, and now it’s made with tenderloin steak instead of sirloin. Simmered in smoky aji panca chile sauce with peppers, onions and tomatoes, it’s tossed with fried potatoes and served with rice.

The lomo de puerco atomatado is a wonderful new dish, a flavorful slab of pork stewed with onions, tomatoes and (surprise!) Coca-Cola. The soft drink tenderizes the meat and gives it a sweet finish.

On my last visit, my dining companion and I opted for seafood meals. She fell in love with the ahi chile relleno. A roasted poblano chile was stuffed with seared tuna in a sauce of house-made white queso cheese. It was served on a light red-chile sauce, drizzled with a guava-balsamic reduction, and presented with pico de gallo, wild rice and black beans.

I was intrigued by the shrimp al tequila, and my curiosity paid off in another wonderful, exotic dish. Wild prawns were wrapped with sliced fresh bananas, portobello mushrooms and red onions in banana leaves, then baked with chipotle chiles and a splash of aged tequila. Like the chile relleno, the entree was served with rice and beans.

Creativity at the bar

Hospitality at Hola! begins at the bar, where one of Central Oregon’s best selections of tequilas — margaritas run the gamut from the traditional to creative, including hibiscus, tamarind and red-cactus varieties — is accented by other Latin American beverages.

Pisco, made from distilled grapes, is Peru’s favorite spirit; the pisco sour, made with lime juice and egg whites, is the national alcoholic beverage of choice. Likewise, caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail, a sweet drink made with rum or cachaca. Both spirits are offered at Hola!, along with Cristal, a Peruvian lager beer, and numerous Mexican beers.

The east-side Hola!, meanwhile, continues to go strong, with Alberto Rodriguez as manager. It presents the same menu as the Old Mill location, as Rivas alternates between both cafes to assure consistency in food preparation.

“The east side is a little more mellow than the new restaurant,” said Marcos Rodriguez. “You don’t see the big days there. Here on the west side, next to the theaters, we have some of the busiest walk-in traffic in town. Four-day weekends spoil us.”

SMALL BITES

Two Madras eateries, located virtually back-to-back at the south end of town, have closed. Both the Apple Peddler Restaurant , at 1495 S.W. U.S. Highway 97, and the Silverado Saloon and Eatery , at 1543 S.W. U.S. Highway 97, have closed their doors. Commercial realtors are advertising both spaces as available for rent or purchase.

Baldy’s Barbeque is observing its five-year anniversary with $5 food-and-drink specials through Saturday night. The casual west-side restaurant celebrates Baldyfest from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday with a pig roast, prizes and giveaways, and live music from the Boxcar String Band. 235 S.W. Century Drive, Bend; 541-350-8518.

RECENT REVIEWS

The Gallery (C): A three-decade institution on Sisters’ main street, this bastion of Old West flavor has mediocre cuisine and less-than-attentive service. The best food choice may be the halibut fish-and-chips. Open 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 171 W. Cascade St. (U.S. Highway 20), Sisters; 541-549-2631, www.gallery restaurantandbar.com.

Old Mill Bistro (B): Despite a difficult location in an off-the-beaten-track office building, this little restaurant offers good Northwest-inspired food and professional service at moderate prices. Try the house-made seafood chowder. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. 384 S.W. Upper Terrace Drive, Bend; 541-389-3060, www.oldmillbistro.com.

Nancy P’s Baking Co. (A-): A little hard to find, perhaps, but well worth it, Nancy P’s offers wonderful baked goods and excellent sandwiches, soups and salads. Prices are reasonable, and a patio offers outdoor seating during the summer months. Open 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. 1054 N.W. Milwaukie Ave., Bend; 541-322-8778; www .nancypsbakingcompany.com.

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