Note for the TL;DR crowd: visit our Flickr Album for many more pictures from our visit.
We recently had the opportunity to dine at El Tule Mexican and Peruvian Restaurant, a BYOB tucked away in Lambertville, NJ, at the invitation of owner/GM Jack Egoavil. It was a perfect reason to go off the beaten path, away from the city and suburbia, for a unique dining experience. This was especially exciting to us since we were total newbs to Peruvian food.
Which is unsurprising as, sadly, it is an unrepresented cuisine in our area. Fortunately, the Egoavil-Anguino family offer two opportunities to experience the flavors and culture of Peru; El Tule in Lambertville, and Quinoa BYOB, in nearby Doylestown, Bucks County.
We arrived at around 4:30 on Halloween, which couldn’t have been more perfect. The town was in full trick or treat swing so the restaurant was empty when we got there. Quite alright by us! This didn’t last long so we enjoyed it while we had the whole restaurant to ourselves.
We introduced ourselves to Jack who greeted us warmly and seated us at a table by a window overlooking the outdoor dining patio. Even though it was a nice day outside, we were happy to be seated inside the warm, cozy and brightly colored dining room filled with authentic Peruvian art and handwoven tapestries. Their many awards and accomplishments are proudly displayed on the walls. We knew we were in for a real treat.
We were given menus, but we told him that we would have whatever he recommended on the Peruvian side of the menu since it was all new to us. Jack was only too happy to tell us more about Peruvian cuisine and make suggestions.
First, he insisted that we try one of their traditional homemade Peruvian juices, Chicha Morada. It is a cold, refreshing drink made with purple corn. It’s quite lovely and slightly sweet.
He also brought out a Mexican refreshment ironically called Jamaica. This juice, also purplish in color, is made from the Hibiscus Flower. This was a bit more on the sweet side, but not too much so. It was really quite good. Both of these drinks would be great mixers with vodka or rum had we been BYOB’ing.
As we sipped on our juices, Jack convinced us to try the Peruvian Sampler as a starter, explaining it would be a good introduction to the cuisine. While Ceviche, widely considered the national dish of Peru, is prominent at the top of the menu with four varieties, I wanted to try a few different things. We will certainly try the Ceviches upon our next visit.
Good call. The Peruvian Sampler is a feast for the eyes first. It is a colorful and interesting plate. Almost too pretty to eat! But eat it, we did.
Bottom, left to right: Solterito de Quinoa, Vegetarian Quinoa salad made with olives, lima beans, cilantro, Peruvian corn, queso fresco and red onions tossed in an olive oil and cilantro dressing and Palta a La Reina, half of an avocado stuffed with chicken served with red onions, corn, tomatoes and marinated with fresh cilantro-lime dressing.
Top, left to right: Causa de Pollo, Yellow potato cake stuffed with chicken and avocado and Yuquitas Fritas with Huancaina Cream, yucca sticks served with a natural Andean cream made from milk, cheese and yellow peppers.
It was all delicious and I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite, but if I had to it would be the Palta a La Reina because I’m a sucker for anything avocado.
For our main courses, Jack convinced us to try two items that were on the Chef’s Choice Menu that day. I almost always go with what the Chef recommends.
Both entrees featured Tacu Tacu, which is a mixture of fried beans and rice formed in the shape of a thick pancake and pan-fried so that it is crispy on the outside, soft on the inside.
It’s a very popular staple in Peruvian cuisine; it’s really hearty and adds a starch element to the main course. It’s a meal in itself really. It’s versatile and could go with so many things.
The Red Snapper and Crab Meat Tacu Tacu was, again, almost too pretty to eat. Definitely a very photogenic dish which is why I included two shots of it for your viewing pleasure. The snapper was perfectly prepared, very flaky; the sauce while quite bright orange in color, which would normally raise a flag that something is spicy, was not spicy at all.
The Skirt Steak Tacu Tacu en Rajas was immaculately prepared and beautifully presented as well. Sensing a theme to Peruvian cuisine? Gorgeous, colorful food that also tastes amazing.
The steak is marinaded for one day in a Peruvian beer prior to cooking; which when cooked medium rare results in luxurious steak juice. Just look at that flavor. The Tacu Tacu soaks it up nicely, too. Absolutely delish.
As you could imagine, by this point, we were already quite full, but Jack insisted on dessert because there is always room for dessert (a mantra I live by and it shows). It says so on their dessert menu.
Tres Leches Cake, or “three milks cake,” is a delicious sponge cake, soaked with three types of sweetened milk which forms a rich interior sauce, and then topped with fresh whipped cream and fresh strawberries. You would think it would be very dense or soggy due to the milk, but it was not, it was actually rather light.
The Quinoa Flan was definitely denser in texture. It’s made of quinoa with sweet custard soaked in a delicious caramel sauce topped with strawberries. I’ve only had quinoa in savory dishes, so it was very interesting to have it as a sweet. It really worked nice and added another textural layer. The caramel sauce was decadent.
By the time we finished our desserts, the restaurant was in full swing. There wasn’t an empty seat in the house. It’s little wonder.
Our experience at El Tule was a captivating and delectable introduction to authentic Peruvian cuisine. It’s now high on the list of cuisines we wish to explore further thanks to Jack’s amiable hosting and hospitality; as well as the execution of the kitchen and wait staff. An outstanding experience our minds and taste buds won’t soon forget.
It’s obvious how and why they earned all of those awards and acknowledgments – including a write-up in the New York Times – it is a destination for bona fide Peruvian cuisine on the East Coast.
Before we left, Jack was kind enough to show us the kitchen and introduce us to the folks who perform the Peruvian and Mexican culinary magic. We met Chef Carmen, aka Koki, who has been cooking Peruvian food in the US since 1992 when the family immigrated from Peru. You can read more about that on the website.
If you’re looking to explore an unfamiliar cuisine, and expand your palate, you must try the Peruvian offerings at El Tule Restaurant in Lambertville, NJ. You’ll find distinctive flavors, deft execution and warm service. We know you’ll fall in love just as we did. Be sure to BYOB – as they’ve got the mixers – and sit outside on the patio – they’ve got heaters to keep you warm. Don’t forget to tell them Philly Grub sent ya!
El Tule Mexican and Peruvian Restaurant
49 N. Main St.
Lambertville, NJ 08530
Photo Credit: All pictures by David Johnson.
The Doyenne of Dining in Philadelphia and South Jersey.