It’s a weekday night in downtown Dunellen, and parking is at a premium. That might be due to the confluence of folks taking out and dining in on copious quantities of food at Planet Chicken, located on the town’s main drag of North Washington Street.
If Planet Chicken sounds like another lotsa-bird-parts with-choice-of-sides joint, you can be forgiven for judging it on name only. That name does sound rather fast-casual, or some sort of 21st-century version of Boston Market. But Planet Chicken is a Peruvian restaurant, and the menu rides on mainstream eats from the South American country: chicken, yes; beef, yes, as well; the famous large-kernel corn; potatoes cooked and served in many ways; ceviches and other fishes dishes made with snapper. You’re not going to take a deep dive into Chifa, that cunning blend of Chinese-Cantonese and Peruvian elements, ingredients and techniques, nor will you encounter anything cutting-edge or even vaguely modern. Planet Chicken is about simple, entry-level Peruvian served in big-portion fashion.
It might hit the spot on any given night.
Take the quintessential Peruvian starter of sliced boiled potatoes smothered with a creamy cheese sauce: It’s simple and basic here, potatoes without seasoning and a sauce made with the mildest of cheeses. It’s topped with a half a hard-cooked egg and a couple of olives and laid out on sheets of iceberg lettuce. It’s 1962 again!
The boiled Peruvian corn comes cut into four pieces of cob set among four logs of fresh queso—again, a cheese that takes mild to new levels.
So how does an eater who likes foods with a little zing and zest cope? By putting the indispensable creamy Peruvian Green Sauce on everything. Everything. Consider it salsa. (Or what ketchup was to mid-century dining.) You get a little dish of the pale green sauce, which here is strong on garlic, given a lift by a one-two punch of cilantro and jalapenos, then fortified by aji amarillo paste. We worked it like aioli—dipping corn and egg, fries and even queso into it.
And of course we used it to bump up the flavor of the signature Planet Chicken Special Combo, in which a whole cut-up chicken is splayed on a platter and served with side platters of fries and a limp iceberg salad topped by an avocado. The chicken is pretty much along the lines of the rotisserie birds we all pick up at the supermarket on need-it-now nights, though the skin might have a shake more paprika than its brethren.
I even noticed one of my dining companions dipping a strip of the seemingly unseasoned beef into the green sauce. Talk about all-purpose.
Meanwhile, our ceviche was terrific, with chunks of fresh, blue snapper tingling with lemon and lime juices and loving the bite brought on by slivers of red onion. It was invigorating.
We tried to score an order of a classic Peruvian dessert of dried purple corn and fruits, as well as a traditional rice pudding. Not available. Our server advised us to order the factory-made frozen sweets. No, thanks. We settled on a kind of caramel custard that was pie-shaped, dense and held hints of coconut. Well, it was made-in-house, we were told.
Green sauce, I thought as I drove home. Gotta have that green sauce.
Planet Chicken, 107 North Washington Avenue in Dunellen. Open daily, except Tuesdays, for lunch and dinner. 732-424-3424; planetchickenrestaurant.com.Click here to leave a comment