Few restaurants in Portland command the type of loyalty that Andina does. This gastronomic trend-setter has been delighting palates and impressing visitors ever since it opened in 2003. It’s a restaurant that welcomes you with a modern Latin American vibe and treats you to Peruvian food the likes of which you’ve never had before.
Andina is owned by the Platt family. Operations are mainly run by son Peter Platt, with help from his mother Doris Rodriguez de Platt and father John Platt. Considering Andina’s huge success, one would be surprised to learn that running one of the most successful restaurants in Portland was never on the Platt’s radar.
The initial idea came from one of Peter’s Peruvian friends. After setting everything up and pouring his own money into the project, Peter’s partner pulled out, leaving him to figure out whether he could move forward or not. It was a nerve-wracking experience considering, as Peter tells it, he had “no management experience in this industry.”
“That’s when I approached my family and told them I would either pull the plug on the whole thing or move forward,” Peter explains. “I told them we were going to need some additional investments and that’s when they decided to jump in. We made mistakes, but we had a very forgiving public.”
Keeping this a family run operation with all hands on deck is important considering the breakneck pace at which their business has expanded. In 2012, the Platt’s bought the building housing their restaurant for a cool $3.8 million and have expanded it to several floors and private event spaces.
Owning the building comes with the headaches of an aging infrastructure. The 100 year-old structure is in some need of repair and, after meticulous planning, the Platts are ready to move forward with improvements.
“We’re going to pull the trigger on some big renovations,” Platt says. “We’re definitely going to gut some areas, change the plumbing, add new fixtures and redo some of the mechanical elements.”
Although the building certainly looks its age, you’d never tell there’s a need for renovation from Andina itself. The welcome assault on your senses begins as soon as you walk in the door. The smell of peppers and spices will spring a leak in your salivary glands as you wait for your seat.
Looking around, you’ll realize that the attention to detail consumes everything they do at Andina. The space is warm and inviting, with dim lighting and earthy, comfortable colors. You’ll find an interior that’s impeccably finished, from the authentic Peruvian art to the classy modernistic lighting fixtures. The pre-Columbian architecture offers an intimate and elegant experience.
Start your evening with one of their one-of-a-kind cocktails. The Sacsayhuamán is a drink named after an area near the old city of Cusco in southeastern Peru. It’s composed of habanero pepper-infused vodka, passion fruit and cane sugar that’s tossed with a vigor and then served up with a sugar rim and cilantro leaf garnish.
Not to be outdone by fantastic drinks, the food at Andina successfully showcases Peruvian fare with bright colors, interesting textures, and mouth-watering flavors. Keeping Portland’s discerning palates in mind, Platt goes out of his way to make sure Andina is delivering on the promise of exciting, but still authentic, Peruvian fare. “Being a Peruvian restaurant,” he explains, “we always have a strong contingent of Peruvian cooks to help us maintain the authenticity.”
Because of Andina’s fixed menu, Platt runs a kitchen that is more cuisine- than chef-centric. His kitchen is run by a kitchen manager and attendant chefs, all with Peruvian roots. ”This set up makes the food the star,” says Platt.
And star it does. Your meal begins with a basket of house-made quinoa bread. The accompanying ajíes (chili) dipping sauces provide you with a delicious taste of things to come. Each sauce offers a case-study of varying flavors. The ají de maracuya is a chili-infused passion fruit puree that perfectly straddles the line between sweet and heat. The ají de huacatay tickles your taste buds with toasted peanuts before introducing them to the huacatay itself, a delightful mint-like herb used in Peruvian cuisine.
Making sure you’re meal properly represents the tastes of Peru with a modern touch is de rigueur for Andina. “There are some dishes that we put a modern spin on,” Platt says. “Other small plates represent exactly what you would eat in Peru. Rather than create a derivative, we want to make sure we offer truly traditional dishes.”
These certainly are dishes that give contemporary nods to Peruvian traditions. The Causa Morada is a timbale of lime-scented potato puree with shredded chicken breast and ají amarillo pepper sandwiched between layers of Peruvian purple potato, atop which sits a tender olive couched in a fan of sculptured avocado slices. The contrast of the bright purple against the pale green will catch your eye before it catches your tongue.
Or perhaps the vegetarian in you would like to try the Quinotto. It’s a quinoa “risotto” combined with golden beets, local mushrooms and market fresh vegetables filled with Grana Padano cheese, drizzled in truffle oil, and lightly charred. Did someone say meat?
Knowing that what you’re eating is local and sustainable seems to just make it taste better, something Platt doesn’t overlook. “We source our proteins and big root crops locally and sustainably,” he says. “We’re also working directly with a subset of Peruvian farmers that farm organically and sustainably in Peru.” Combining the qualities of a responsible company with the epicurean mastery of a top-notch Portland restaurant is what Andina is all about.
As you progress through dinner, the artist’s final touch arrives at your table in the form of dessert. The mousse de valle y selva is a tiered semifreddo of creamy lúcuma and espresso mousses, manjar-blanco ganache and crushed cocoa nib meringue. Lines of chocolate ganache make an artistic pattern on a wedge of espresso shortbread that appealingly spears the layers of this unbridled culinary temptation. As if that weren’t enough, a burst of color from seasonal (and edible) flowers tops off this dessert to remember.
For those of you who might be intimidated by a menu written in a language you don’t understand, Andina’s wait staff is ready and willing to answer your questions and provide helpful suggestions. A sommelier is also on hand to assist with pairings from their extensive wine collection.
Now that Andina is over ten years old and arguably one of the busiest and best restaurants in Oregon, the Platt family wants to expand their status as Portland’s ambassadors of Peruvian food. “We’re looking at doing a fast casual restaurant based on Peruvian street food,” he says.
If Andina is any example, the Platt’s newest adventure should be a rousing success. But until then, if you’re looking for traditional Peruvian food served up with style, pay Andina a visit!
Andina is routinely packed, so reservations are strongly encouraged. They’re located at 1314 NW Glisan St. in Portland, Oregon, 97209. Lunch hours are daily from 11:30am – 2:30pm. Dinner hours are 5:00pm – 9:30pm and 10:30pm on Friday and Saturday. For reservation or menu information visit their website at www.andinarestaurant.com or give them a call at (503)228-9535.
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is an author, journalist and blogger who’s been writing professionally for over eleven years. When he isn’t writing or eating, then writing about eating, expect him to be outside enjoying the natural splendors of his home in the great Pacific Northwest.