Jarana has opened at the American Dream Mall in East Rutherford, adding a Peruvian spot to the mall’s ever-growing selection of eateries. Owned and operated by the restaurant group of Peruvian celebrity chef Gastón Acurio, Jarana is a Peruvian term for “celebration.”
The kitchen is led by executive chef Jesus Delgado, who draws inspiration from his upbringing in Peru and the recipes of his grandmother. “Homemade is what we’re about at Jarana,” he says. “We’re interested in good, home food.”
Stepping into the restaurant, your eyes are drawn to the multicolored basket lamps hanging from the ceiling and the colorful, attention-grabbing mural by Peruvian artist Fefa Cox.
Jarana offers traditional Peruvian cocktails, such as the pisco sour (made with pisco, simple syrup, lime juice and egg white). Sweet yet acidic, it was garnished with powdered cinnamon, a perfect slightly spicy contrast. Another cocktail, the chilcano, comprises pisco, ginger ale and lime. Our server called it “pretty much a pisco mule.” Indeed, it tasted like a Moscow mule but with vodka, resulting in a bit of a smoother taste.
Our night started with classic ceviche (raw fish marinated in lime juice) and causa limeña (a kind of casserole containing chicken salad, potatoes, chopped hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes and yellow huancaina cheese sauce). Anticuchos—grilled beef heart skewers—were some of the most tender and perfectly cooked I’ve ever had. Most distinctive of the starters were the aji de gallina croquettes: shredded chicken in a creamy yellow chili sauce, breaded and fried. They were crispy on the outside; warm and packed with chili flavor inside.
For entrées, the “poderoso” (“powerful” in Spanish) featured classic Peruvian-style fried rice, rotisserie chicken, plantains and fries. The seco limeño, a cilantro beef stew slow-cooked for four hours, was so tender that we easily cut through it with a spoon. Apanado bachiche is composed of tallarines verdes (green spaghetti with spinach-pesto cream sauce), a breaded pan-fried steak and papas a la huancaina, boiled potatoes in the huancaina cheese sauce.
The final entrée was tacu macho, the seafood catch of the day—in this case, flounder. It was accompanied by calamari and tacu tacu, a dish of rice and beans that have been mashed together and fried.
For dessert, tres leches cake was moist and delicious, and the chocolate cake with a cream made from lucuma (a pulpy fruit from the Andean region of South America) was quite pleasing. Alfajores, sandwich cookies filled with dulce de leche and dusted with powdered sugar, are normally bite-size, but Jarana’s are the biggest I’ve seen—nearly the size of a human hand, yet still crispy and sweet.
We concluded with a combinado—a small pot of rice pudding and a mazamorra morada, a pudding made from chicha morada, the popular Peruvian purple corn and fruit beverage. The creamy, cinnamon-flavored rice pudding contrasts so well with the fruity, gelatin-like mazamorra morada that you can’t help but want to mix the two together.
While Peruvian restaurants are by no means unknown in North Jersey, especially in nearby Paterson, they have yet to become mainstream. With its prime location at the American Dream Mall and its delicious food, Jarana just might change that.
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