Jump to content

La Canela, Rockville Town Square - Authentic Peruvian on 141-D Gibbs Street

Recommended Posts

Check out this article about Peru's National Day. There's a small sidebar dedicated to Peruvian food and drink.

Tom S. has been extolling the virtues of this place for quite some time now in his chats. Mrs. b and I tried it a few months ago. I don't remember the details, except that it was OK but nothing to do back flips about.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

unfortunately, Peruvian food hasn't been adequately represented in the area in all its wonderful forms (except for the great pollo a la brasa places). So far, though, Flor de la Canela is the best option.

In other news, it is rumored that Peru's famous chef Gaston Acurio, is set to open a branch of his heralded Astrid y Gaston restaurant in DC in the near future.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So, has anyone reconnoitered their new Rockville outpost, "La Canela"? It's at the other end of Gibbs St. from Bobby's Crab Cakes. I wasn't sure if it was related to La Flor de la Canela until I found this recent article in the Gazette.

On a somewhat related note, what's going on with Acurio? I keep seeing references to his plans to open in DC, but zilch on his website.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So, has anyone reconnoitered their new Rockville outpost, "La Canela"? It's at the other end of Gibbs St. from Bobby's Crab Cakes.


If you're expecting a little ethnic* hole-in-the-wall cheap eats kinda place, forget it. From the moment you walk in, you'll see that La Canela takes itself seriously, with tiled floors, wrought iron, and carved wood and leather chairs. It's a nice look, very rich and warm clearly Spanish influenced.

My knowledge of Peruvian cuisine is mostly limited to dishes I've cooked from Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz' The Book of Latin American Cooking, so I'll welcome any corrections or additional information about the following.

Mr P and I weren't in the mood for a large meal, so we sampled small dishes from the menu. Huevos was a big bowl of thin, crispy, piping hot fries and slices of chorizo, which appeared to be dressed with egg yolk and topped with something like queso fresco. Served with three mayonnaise-based dipping sauces, this was a seriously good antidote for the munchies. Huancaina was a cold appetizer of thick potato rounds with olive, hard boiled egg, and a rich egg-based sauce, a typical starch-heavy, plain-flavored yet satisfying dish. Habas, a simple vegetable broth with fava beans and pasta, was very light and plain, but still a nice choice for a cold day.

The menu is long, divided into seven sections: para empezar caliente (hot appetizers), and frio (cold appetizers), sopas (soups), and the following platos fuertes: tierra (meaning meat in this context: veal, beef, lamb, and pork are all represented), aire (meaning chicken), and agua (seafood). And a final section titled esto y lo otro (this and that), which has the best platanos fritos I've ever tried. Such a simple dish (it's just sliced, fried plantains, after all) can be ruined by under- or over-ripe plantains, under or over frying, frying in old rancid oil... These were great. They arrived late but fresh out of the fryer hot, worth the wait.

And then there's dessert. If I'm a fool for plantains, I'm also a fool for Latin American desserts. I didn't have time to study the menu in depth, but noted a passion fruit and soursop mousse, a creme brulee with pisco, a bread pudding, a cherimoya bavarian cream - how cool is that? when's the last time you saw bavarian on the menu?! with cherimoya, no less! And tres leches.

Now, tres leches is one of those desserts that often falls flat - like tiramisu, it can be too rich, too dry, too wet, too cold, too old, picking up off-flavors as it sits in the fridge. When this generous piece arrived, I wrinkled my nose at the black squiggles all over it and the plate. Great, I thought, another chef goes bonkers with the chocolate in a squeeze bottle thing.

I was wrong. It was a thick black raspberry sauce. It was a fantastic dessert all around, everything in balance, and such a nice touch with the sauce. (YMMV as they say: this praise comes from a woman who makes crepes for breakfast just so she can stack 'em with black raspberry jam. And little shortbread cookies to fill with b.r. jam. And b.r. jam on toast with cream cheese. You get the idea.)

Despite all this praise, don't get the cappuccino. It would've gotten a zero in last weekend's Mid Atlantic Regional Barista Competition.

Granted this was a small sample from an extensive menu, but I can't wait to get back to try the chicharron, and the pork shank stew, and the beef ribeye tips in aji amarillo, and tacu-tacu and stewed lentils and fried yuccas. It's too soon to say, but I think La Canela is going to be a shining star in the blackness of chain eatery hell that is Rockville Town Center/Square/whatever**. It's next door to La Tasca, but a world away.


*what the heck does that mean, anyway? Is French "ethnic"? Italian? In common usage, it seems to refer to any highly defined cuisine that relies mostly on indigenous ingredients, not influenced by other cuisines

**Bobby's crabcakes excepted

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So how it (La Canela, that is)?
I will write more later, when I have the takeout menu in front of me. I thought it was good, but a bit pricy for what we got. Odd considering how much of a value their first location is, but I suppose the rent in the Rockville Town Square must be horrendous. Makes you wonder if non-chain mom-and-pop places will be able to survive there.

This week's Rockville Pike Lunch Club gathering was at La Canela in Rockville Town Center/Square/Circle/Cube. True to Porcupine's post upthread, this is not a cheapie meal [$20+ pp], but a strong attempt to bring upgraded Peruvian food to the County. Does it succeed? Well, yes. Room for improvement? Sadly, yes too.

The Great: The Sarsa Criolla [onion, parsley, cilantro and citrus] that accompanies most dishes – a nice tangy chop of red onion and herb. The Calamar was a generous serving of perfectly seasoned and fried calamari that isn't even borderline trite with a side of Yucca fries that have more texture that their potato cousins. The Chicharron turned out to be four generous ribs of meaty goodness. The little bowl of Lentejitas Estofadas [mini-Lentils] was very flavorful and a good addition to the array of starters ordered. Finally, the desserts: the Cherimoya Bavarian Cream mentioned upthread and the Tres Leches Cake. Very good at $7 each, moist and light.

The Good: The Cerviche and Fried Plantains were good, but seemed plain up against the more atypical offerings on the table.

Needs Improvement: The Papitas were tasty croquettes filled with beef and a few raisins. The serving of only two seemed a bit stingy compared to the price and generosity of the other starters [bonus points though to our waiter for alerting us so we could get a double order]. I'm not sure if we had Yuquitas or Palta – but the taste of the crabmeat was overpowered by sauce that although it had back- kick reminded me too much of Thousand Island dressing. [Edit to add: It was the Palta]

The pacing and service are geared for more leisurely dining than a workday lunch. I don't think the owner's original location in Gaithersburg serves lunch and may be why they haven't developed a more time respectful, "gotta get back" lunch service. A quicker serve, gentler priced lunch menu might bring in better lunch business [La Tasca next door looked better populated]. Note: After the check's been requested, presenting it promptly should be the only appropriate response.

The Maryland Avenue garage will begin charging Monday - Friday days starting March 10th.

I had a chance to look at all three dining areas and might try for a table in the split-level "bar" area next time. Other choices are the large street level dining room close to the front door and a smaller balcony room a floor above the host stand.

I wish La Canela Rockville well, hope this Gazette review helps and will add them to my dinner wish list.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

My wife and I had an outstanding meal here last week for dinner. I think the food was kicked up a notch from our RPLC visit a few months back, and some of the portions have definitely gotten larger.

Having trouble deciding on the menu, our instinct was to just order small plates.

Anticuchos (calamari "tubes" broiled with aji panca marinade, aji amarillo sauce, fried potatoes), $8. The squid was tender, just slightly charred, and the sauce had a nice kick to it. A half dozen moderate pieces, and a good pile of crispy fried diced potatoes.

Chicharron (pork fried slowly in its own juices until tender, yucca chips and sarsa criolla), $9. This isn't chunks of pork, but 3 meaty ribs. Crispy on the outside, but still tender within, and well marinated and not the least bit dry. Served with a huge pile of perfectly cooked fried yucca, and some of that addictive salsa, which is very reminiscent of pico de gallo.

Palta (Causa mash with crabmeat, avocado, roasted peppers, and a rocoto/tomato emulsion), $10. At other places this is just mashed potatoes with surimi salad thrown on top. Here it's more like a potato dumpling, and a napoleon of backfin crab, half an avocado, and roasted peppers, topped with a smoky tomato salsa.

Huancaina (steamed potatoes smothered in huancaina sauce and garnished with Peruvian botija olives and hard boiled egg), $7. I will say that in my many years of dining at Peruvian restaurants, I've never been a fan of "huancaina" sauce, but my wife is, and she loved this dish.

Ceviche (Fresh seasonal fish cubes marinated and cooked in lime juice with peppers and spices), $13. There was probably 4 oz. of fish on the plate, and half of an onion. Since my wife eats neither "raw" fish nor raw onions, the entire plate was mine. I will trade a half plate of Huancaina for a half plate of Ceviche any day.

We probably should have stopped there. In fact, we had planned on 3, not 5, and also ordered an entree. But at the last second my wife added two of those appetizers, at which time we should have killed the entree.

But we soldiered on, making only a several bite dent in Norteno (Cilantro based veal stew, stewed canary beans, white rice), $15. Think of this as Peruvian cassoulet. Incredibly rich, but you don't want to stop eating.

Enough leftovers went home to cover BOTH of us for lunch the next day. $62 plus drinks, tax, tip. Service was friendly and efficient.

We will be back soon.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Chicharron (pork fried slowly in its own juices until tender, yucca chips and sarsa criolla), $9. This isn't chunks of pork, but 3 meaty ribs. Crispy on the outside, but still tender within, and well marinated and not the least bit dry. Served with a huge pile of perfectly cooked fried yucca, and some of that addictive salsa, which is very reminiscent of pico de gallo.

We actually went to the Rockville location last night for dinner before a movie and left pretty satisfied. We also got the Chicharron and the Norteno. I really liked both the ribs and the yucca of the Chicharron, but I thought there wasn't nearly enough salsa (which we agreed is great) for this otherwise very dry dish. Either more salsa or some dipping sauce would make it a great starter to share. I liked the Norteno, too, but when I saw its deep-brown-braised goodness, I thought I'd love it but I just liked it. I couldn't put my finger on it but I thought the dish missed something. Maybe it was some type of herb that would have added a lighter contrast to the richly reduced sauce and tender meat. My favorite part of the meal by far was the butter beans and rice side dish that came with my entree. I'd get that every time. My wife ordered the sauteed ribeye tips (I forget the Peruvian name) and from first appearance it looked dry. I took a piece and cut a small tip in half and it was amazingly pink inside. When I ate it, though, it did seam to lack juicyness. My wife thought it was fine, but she'd order something different next time. We actually ate at the 5 person bar to avoid a quoted 40 minute wait (which appeared to be an overestimate by how quickly our barmates turned over) and our server/bartender was very sweet. Overall, a good but not great experience, but it was certainly good enough to go back.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

One of Tom Sietsema's greatest reviews over the past year was for La Canela. His passion for Peruvian cuisine gushed through in his writing, and he described the restaurant very well. After a fantastic dinner there tonight, I left saying to myself that I want to come back, and soon.

Their website doesn't work, so I'm typing from memory. Absolutely start with the Huevos ($8), which are hand-cut fries, a runny fried egg, and rounds of chorizo, served with a trio of dipping sauces. Let me stop right here and emphasize those sauces, because they're the same versions that you get at El Pollo Rico and Crisp and Juicy: pink, yellow, green. While I love the chicken at some of these Pollo a la Brasa joints, the sauces suck, and they don't just suck a little bit; debating their cross-merits is like arguing about various types of mayonnaise. At La Canela, they're pink, white, and orange, and are direct parallels to the ones served in the pollo houses. Try La Canela's versions, and then come back to me when you're done. You'll see what I mean.

Platanos Fritos ($4) were cross-cut plantains with only a teasing amount of sweetness - don't hesitate to get this with the Huevos as part of your appetizer, and surely feel free to use them in your dipping sauces.

Tacu Tacu ($14?) is a long cylinder of the pan-fried rice-and-legume filler, here served on top of thin-pounded, nicely breaded, fried beefsteak, and topped with an over-easy fried egg and young plantains (with this dish, they were cut long, but were still only off-dry). A great dish with all four components beautifully cooked - at one point I pulled something hard out of my mouth when I bit into the tacu tacu only to find a tiny bit of a chicken bone. A bad thing? No way: It means that they're cooking it in homemade chicken stock, or at least with some preparation of long-cooked chicken meat.

I ordered the Mariscos ($18) solely because of the hilarious subheading, part of which described the dish as being "just like seafood paella, only completely different." Another triumphant dish, with a paella-like rice integrated with perfectly cooked squid rings, baby scallops, shrimp, and four little mussels. The seafood was a pleasure, and the little ramekin of marinated red onion - a condiment which I often find intrusive - had an excellent sweetness-to-acidity ratio which complimented the dish.

To top it all off, I had my first-ever Cusqueña beer, which falls into a very rare category that I love: malty lager.

The atmosphere in the downstairs dining room is warm, welcoming, and very attractive. Perhaps the greatest surprise of all was the service, which approached fine dining standards without being the least bit snooty. Example: silverware was cleared and replaced between appetizer and entree - that sounds like a little thing, but it was perfectly appropriate in the situation, executed seamlessly, and very much appreciated. The staff was pleasant and professional throughout the entire meal.

I adore La Canela, and although a comparison to El Tapatio is tenuous, I'm going to do it anyway because I dined at both restaurants today. Here's the only thing you need to know: It's the difference between eating well, and eating a lot.

And yes, you can consider this a rave for La Canela: a fine ambassador for one of the world's great cuisines.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

No new dishes to report on, as it seems we've fallen into ordering old favorites here, but last night's dinner of huancaina, chicharron, ceviche, fried calamari, nortena, and plantanos fritos (4 appetizers, a main, and a side) was fantastic, and enough for 3 people with leftovers. They've started bringing out a bread basket with nice crusty bread as well; not sure if they're house-made, but definitely not store-bought, and served warm with room temperature butter.

And don't miss their Pisco drink menu, not just Pisco Sours, but other drinks with Pisco.

Total for the above, including one Pisco Punch, 2 soft drinks, tax and tip was under $100 for 3. A regular haunt for us these days.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The dining room is beautiful but there's no unknown superstar chef in the kitchen. The chicharon served on the bone was tender and delicious but the tiradito of thinly sliced flounder tasted only of lime juice. We ordered 3 entrees (for 2 people) because we don't find ourselves in the neighborhood very often. The lomo was the best - tender marinated hunks of beef. The Jalea (fried seafood platter) and aji de gallina weren't very good. The seafood platter consisted of small chunks of fish, scallops, octopus, and calamari - nothing offensive, the breading just didn't have any flavor and unlike Don, I don't find their 3 dippings sauces very good. The gallina was in large chunks rather than thinly shredded. The flavor simply didn't match what we had in Peru. On the positive side, the food was nicely presented and relatively inexpensive. I might go back and try Carbon, their Peruvian grill across the street. The Carbon menu includes: (i) anticucho of beef heart, (ii) choncholi -marinated milk tripe, and (iii) rachi - honeycomb tripe, marinated and grilled until crunch and soft (hmm....). In summary, good but not great. I suppose we're lucky to even have a restaurant of this caliber.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Todd Kliman reported of La Flor de la Canela's closing in his chat today:

... I was an enthusiastic fan of the now-shuttered La Flor de la Canela in Gaithersburg...The opening of Carbon Peruvian Chicken & Grill (100 F Gibbs St., Rockville; 301-251-1944) is not meant to replace La Flor de la Canela so much as give owner Lillian Claros a second restaurant to look after in the wake of La Flor's closing.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Short review for La Canela, which I had opportunity to try for the first time this week for lunch.

First, admittedly off topic, I'm not sure I'd been to Rockville Town Square (or Center--dueling signs make the name unclear) before but--OhMyGod, it's a near duplicate of my most-hated area for food in the area, Reston Town Center. The same manufactured "town", chain retailers and restaurants as far as the eye can see and, even worse than Reston, the charges for parking add insult to injury given the surrounding mediocrity. But, like RTC and PassionFish, La Canela ensures there's at least one decent place here.

Mindful of the above thread and several awesome, detailed posts made in years past, I'll try to stick to new things.

Consistent with the down economy trend, La Canela is offering a few value lunches including a $10 "soup and salad" or $15 "Menu Ejecutivo." I opted for the Executive Lunch which offered a starter and main. Then added a ceviche since, well, this is a Peruvian place so felt pretty mandatory. Details as follows:

Starter: A light "chicken noodle" soup ('canera, casera, sidera, cisera, something like that) that was likely made to order at least to some degree (al dente noodles!) and nicely flavored with a nuanced chicken stock, some diced green onion/chives, a not-fully-hard-cooked half egg and a generous amount of fresh pulled white meat. A nice start following a fried dumpling enclosing ceviche amuse bouche they'd brung. [not sure I've received an amuse bouche at a sub $50 lunch recently...or ever?]

Ceviche ($13): They offered three options. A mahi mahi, a mixto (which includes calamar, shell fish and fin fish) and flounder. I opted for the flounder (Tiradito) thinking it my best chance for fresh and potentially wild fish. This was my favorite dish of the meal. Maybe a dozen or 14 slices of flounder cooked in -- but not overwhelmed by -- lime. Liked the small dots of yellow and orange pepper mayo sauces on each slice of fish. And, really enjoyed the extras at each corner of the dish: 1) oddly large kernels of corn that looked like they'd been injected with a bit of saline but were just larger and tasty, 2) crispy roasted korn kernels of a smaller type lightly salted--would be a great bar snack, 3) a delicious short, ridged, solid cylinder of sweet potato cooked with honey and 4) a sphere of potato, herbs and I'm not sure what else which was also very tasty, interesting and still potato forward

Main Course: Can't remember what this was called in Spanish (not lomo, not bifstec) but was basically like a skirt or flank type steak atop a rich polenta with a tomato sauce very similar to bolognese and just a sprinkle of cheese. The beef was a bit tough but not too bad and very generously portioned.

Service was excellent. Attentive without being intrusive but I was most impressed that the waiter (Italo) really knew the food and preparation methods and was able to answer all questions. Will definitely go back to La Canela and it's sister chicken place just a few storefronts down on Gibbs called Carbon.

And, sigh, still no sign of Gaston Acurio anywhere near to us in DC as predicted five years ago at the beginning of this same thread. but it looks like he will open in NYC in late summer so maybe someone can report on that in the near future on the NYC thread..

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Had the ceviche here last night and the lamb shank! The lamb was falling-off-the-bone tender, and the ceviche was mahi mahi with a spicy sort of potato salad, a sort of sweet potato that must be native to Peru, and toasted corn -- nice mix of textures and flavors. We need to put this place on our rotation! The menu is bigger than I remember.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Met a friend for lunch here today (I miss La Flor de la Canela - location was closer to my office) and had a lovely meal. She had avocado stuffed with crabmeat + plaintains (kind of a veggie) and I had yucca stuffed with crabmeat and eye round with polenta - couldn't finish it despite the fact that it tasted so good. Shared panna cotta for dessert after discussion with Juan (part-owner? Wasn't clear) about lucama. We asked if they had anything with cheri moya (sp?) and the panna cotta filled the bill. It was delicious but I need a nap now.

I also asked Juan about the fried rice dish they had at La Flor - it's not on their menu here but he had the kitchen make some for us to take home - I can't exactly recall the name but it's something like chufra. Really liked it at La Flor.

Good choice if you're in Rockville. Service was a little slow but everyone there is very accomodating.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I also asked Juan about the fried rice dish they had at La Flor - it's not on their menu here but he had the kitchen make some for us to take home - I can't exactly recall the name but it's something like chufra. Really liked it at La Flor.

You're probably thinking of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chifa.

We're big fans of La Canela's ceviche options, especially the tiradito.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...