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Bolivian Restaurant
Comfort food from the Andes

dining out
(401) 521-0000
1040 Chalkstone Ave., Providence
Open Mon and Wed, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.; Thurs-Sun, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk access

Though they do not constitute one of the larger Latino populations in Rhode Island, Bolivian-Americans in Providence are making a big splash at the modestly named Bolivian Restaurant. Not only are Eduardo and Maria Curi, and their son, Cesin, turning out authentic dishes from the heart of the Andes, the warmth of their service makes you feel you've been invited into their home back in Cocachamba.

Decor is simple, with South American textiles, wooden artifacts, and a few images of Bolivian mountains hanging on the walls. Four booths along the street-side windows and another dozen tables quickly filled with Spanish-speaking families on a recent Sunday evening, and our waiter told us that customers have come from as far away as Boston and New York. Any part of the menu might be drawing them in: the unusual beverages; the homemade meat pies and soups; the fancy cakes and simple puddings, also homemade; and the gamut of beef and pork dishes, from steaks and tongue to tripe and pig's feet.

Our first journey through this intriguing list was short but memorable. We chose appetizers, the chicken/rice soup, and a generous slice of the layer cake moist with fresh fruit filling. The soup ($2.99) was deliciously herby, with an entire chicken quarter in it and plenty of steamed yucca chunks to add to the broth. The beef and chicken empanadas ($1.50 each) had a flaky pastry and a moderately spicy filling, with bits of olives, boiled egg, and peas tucked in with the meat. The cunape ($1.50), a popover-like square made from yucca with melted cheese inside, was mild and soothing.

The same could be said for the api ($1.50) I was sipping, a warm, thick drink made from ground purple corn, with plenty of cinnamon and a hint of lemon. On our second visit, Bill tried the cold drink made from soaking dried peaches (moco chinchi, $1.25), and I had my favorite mango juice ($1), while our waiter told us a colorful story about the mango tree of his childhood. He knew when the fruit was ripe because the birds would gather in the branches, and the tree produced so much fruit, he would carry mangos to all his neighbors.

Other drinks at Bolivian Restaurant include popular fruit shakes (banana, strawberry, peach, and melon), and the refreshing cold beverages of zomo, made from ground white corn and cinnamon, and chicha de mani, from ground, roasted peanuts.

Boiled peanuts create the slightly sweet broth for a meat-and-potatoes soup called mani ($2.99) that Bill loved, though he had to take most of it home with him since the portions are so generous at Bolivian Restaurant and because he was distracted by the empanadas and the sonso ($2), mashed yucca with butter and queso blanco grated on top. I was enjoying my ensalada estilo Bolivian Restaurant ($6), made up of mixed greens, tomatoes, cukes, grated cheese, and an entire sliced avocado.

Those first two visits were just tantalizing introductions to the real meat, as it were, of the menu. Dinner entrees are accompanied by salads, Bill's a tossed green one and mine a Russian salad, with diced potatoes, mixed vegetables, and lettuce dressed in mayo, a cross-cultural dish introduced by European immigrants to the Latin America. It was a nice accompaniment to my grilled swordfish with mashed potatoes ($9.99), once again a deceptively large portion.

But there was no mistaking the amazing amount of food that Bill got when he ordered one of the house specialties, parrillada ($13.99), a huge chafing dish of grilled steak, sausage, one long rib, a grilled chicken breast, and steamed yucca, accompanied by a heaping side portion of "cheesy rice," creamy with more of the white cheese. Our waiter, who had quickly taken to calling us "my friends," also brought some house-made salsa, which had a fiery kick to it. Bill used it with the flank steak (though he could only finish half of it), which he loved, and the sausage, which he pronounced, "tasty but a bit dry." He lived on his leftovers for three days.

Meanwhile, I was studying the dessert case again. I loved the cakes, with their varied fillings and thick boiled frostings, so similar to the ones made by my Southern relatives. But the rice pudding, the flan, and another pudding-like creation called leche nevada ($3), were also alluring. This turned out to be a delectable milk-and-corn concoction, heavy on vanilla and light on cardamom.

As astounded as we were by our portions, the prices were even more of a stunner. Meat dishes range from spiced hen, beef jerky, or pig's feet at $5.99 to grilled T-bone at $9.99. Two of the three specials are $13.99 (for the adventurous diner, the parrillada Boliviana offers ribs, pork chops, sausage, and tripe), and that's as high as it goes. These are obviously family meals, intended to be shared, and they are served with such a welcoming air that you want to invent a large family and bring them every Sunday. Certainly, there's so much to explore at Bolivian Restaurant that we'll be back for many more visits.

Issue Date: November 8 - 14, 2002