Review: Culantro celebrates Peruvian cuisine
Another country heard from. Peru adds its colorful tapestry to the ethnic variety locally with this attractive Ferndale storefront brightened with Peruvian textiles and artifacts, thanks to a transplant from that South American country. Betty Shuell, whose maiden name was Manuyama-Portocarro, recently was able to bring the small Peruvian community in Michigan a taste of their native cuisine, something she has dreamed of doing for years.
When a storefront space opened in Ferndale three months ago, she jumped at the chance, feeling this diverse community was exactly the right place.
The name Culantro is that of an herb that is a close relative of the more familiar cilantro, and cilantro is used in many of the dishes. The premise is that diners first peruse the menu, available on paper and also chalked on a blackboard behind the counter, make their choices, then take a table.
Food is brought by one of the helpful staff, and since many of the diners are not familiar with Peruvian cuisine, that is crucial. The single page list starts with Pollo a la Brasa, marinated chicken cooked in a charcoal rotisserie oven brought from Peru. It is literally the best chicken I have had in recent memory, moist, tender, juicy and utterly delicious.
It comes with dipping sauces, aji verde, aji amarillo and the spiciest of the sauces, aji rocoto. Each is made with a particular blend of peppers.
The chicken may be had in quarter ($7.50), half ($13) and whole ($20) portions. The price includes a choice of two among fries, rice, salad or black beans. It is the most popular entrée, followed by a sandwich of pork shoulder (chicharron) topped with slices of sweet potato atop a French roll, and lomo saltado, marinated strips of beef stir-fried with onions, tomatoes and soy sauce.
Almost all the entrees include beef, pork or chicken in some form, but there is something too for vegans and vegetarians, vegetable salad topped with quinoa, and spaghetti with spinach, onions, garlic and basil and served with aji amarillo, made with yellow peppers. That sauce, says the proprietor, is the most ubiquitous of the various sauces that typify her native cuisine, most of them gentle rather than hot.
Beverages include the sangria-like chicha morada, a mix of pineapple, apple, cinnamon and cloves, and Inca Kola, the sweet Peruvian soft drink.
And for dessert? What better than tres leches cake, the delicious milk-soaked sponge cake that is ubiquitous in Latin cuisines.
Head chef in the busy open kitchen is Carmen Medina.
The proprietor describes Peruvians as happy, friendly people, and her restaurant and its crew typify that spirit.
Culantro, the Peruvian Eatery
22939 Woodward, north of Nine Mile Road, Ferndale.
Rating: ★★ 1/2
Hours: 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. Sun.-Wed., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Thurs.-Sat.
Prices: Appetizers $5.50-$12, entrees $5.99-$20, sides $1-$4.50, desserts $4
Credit cards: All major
Noise level: Moderate
Wheelchair access: No barriers
Parking: Street or municipal lot in rear.
What the ratings mean
★ — routine ★★ — good ★★ 1/2 — very good
★★★ — excellent ★★★★ — outstanding