Mon 24 Aug 2009
When it comes to pollo a la brasa, it seems like the Washington area is second only to Lima in terms of options. Once you cross over into Northern Virginia, the concentration of Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken establishments is through the roof – each neighborhood has its own, and everyone swears that they know the “single best place” to find brined, spice-rubbed, coal-fired chicken.
Even though we live inside the District, we still head out to Arlington to eat fairly regularly, meeting MrMikesDad for dinner when he’s in town for work. Since we still haven’t found a suitable substitute for our formerly regular sushi fix, we’ve been trying some of the other options in the nearby area. Last week, that led us to Crisp & Juicy.
This being our first experience with Peruvian chicken (other than a volunteer trip to Cuzco we took through GlobeAware), we weren’t quite sure what to expect. But the name kind of established our expectations for us. With a name like Crisp & Juicy, you’d better be prepared to deliver on texture and tenderness. And with the number of competitors nearby, you’re going to have to bring the flavor, as well. At this point, there are seven locations in the Crisp & Juicy empire; we figured that was a pretty good sign.
We walked up to the restaurant, located in the same colorful shopping plaza as Arrowine, and prepared to be blown away. Crisp & Juicy is about the bird, first and foremost. Like their competitors, they offer quarter-, half- and whole-roasted chickens cooked on a rotisserie until charbroiled. To ensure that the chicken is uniformly cooked through, two techniques are brought into play.
First, the chicken is brined in a solution of salt water and spices. This allows the bird to absorb a significant amount of water through its pores, adding weight and flavor while protecting the meat from drying out. It’s a tactic we use at home when we’re roasting our chicken, and we can attest to the positive impact it has (especially on white meat).
Second, they rub the skin of the chicken with an additional spice blend and skewer the chickens onto a rotisserie they refer to as a “Spedio.” The birds are cooked low-and-slow while turning constantly over open flames that come - at least in part – from good, old-fashioned lump charcoal. The skin crisps up nicely, but the meat stays tender and juicy…hooray for truth in advertising!
But Crisp & Juicy doesn’t just do Peruvian chicken – they also serve up an Argentine steak and sausage, which you can get together with a quarter chicken and some fries (potato or yucca…your choice) for the low-low price of $10.25. I knew what I was getting as soon as I saw this brilliant combo platter, appropriately named the “Grill Combination Platter.” What better way to find out how the kitchen handles a variety of meats at the same time? The sausage (described as “chorizo” on the menu) was a sausage link with average spice and a nice, coarse texture…it definitely reminded me of Argentine sausage. The steak was a bit less impressive, though still juicy and flavorful. The fact that Crisp & Juicy offers only plastic utensils (they’re primarily a carry out) didn’t make it any easier to cut into the beef.
Elizabeth and my father were a bit more reserved, with their orders, each opting for one of the chicken breast sandwiches on the menu. Elizabeth went with a Latino Chicken Breast topped with marinated onions, lettuce, tomato and hot sauce. For MrMikesDad, a Gruyere Chicken Breast featuring Swiss cheese, Dijon mustard and grilled onions. At $5.25 and $6.15, respectively, these were some impressively filling sandwiches. We were impressed that the chicken was still moist and tender on the sandwiches, as well – something that doesn’t always happen when a restaurant offers up a chicken sandwich.
Beyond the main courses, we found some hits and misses among Crisp & Juicy’s sides. We had read about the yucca fries, thick like the potato wedges that traditionally come on a platter of fish and chips but more dense. They lived up to the hype, with a crisp exterior giving way to an almost creamy interior. Unfortunately, the rice and beans were just so-so, without enough flavor to warrant cleaning the plate. Ditto the cole slaw, which was fresh and crunchy but otherwise forgettable. The potato salad was a better choice, with a firm texture and a pleasantly surprising bite of green olives.
Craving even more spice? Crisp & Juicy offers three kinds of dipping sauce to accompany your meal. Don’t be alarmed by their less-than-natural looking colors (or do, but try them anyway). The yellow sauce offers a medium tang, while the pinkish-red delivers a concentrated punch of heat. Looking for flavor without the burn? The green sauce is a mild option with plenty of garlic throughout. Each has its adherents, but I found the spicy pink sauce to be a perfect complement for my almost-sweet yucca fries.
To drink, Crisp & Juicy stays true to their Peruvian roots. Inka Cola, that bright yellow, bubble-gum flavored soda so popular in the Andes, is just one of the indigenous beverages on the menu. Elizabeth tried something called Solmaya, billed as a canned horchata beverage. Unfortunately, it didn’t really taste like a true horchata, but it was still interesting to try. My father went with an iced tea brewed in part from Mate leaves, which he seemed to enjoy.
For a first experience, Crisp & Juicy definitely set the bar pretty high. We’re looking forward to trying some of the other heavy hitters (El Pollo Rico and Super Pollo, we’re looking at you) to find our own favorite among the field. And as luck would have it, Alex at Brightest Young Things tipped us off two days after we ate at the Arlington location to this thread at Chow, which indicates that Crisp & Juicy will be opening its first location within the District soon. Bring on the Peruvian chicken – just leave some of those other Peruvian delicacies like cuy at home!