A few weeks ago, Chris and I were able to host an college friend for a night. She was in town giving a talk at Pitt and needed a place to stay, and we were excited to get to see her and catch up on all of her amazing adventures. And so we all went out to dinner (and on a weeknight!) and were looking for a good place, close-by, relatively chill, where we could get some great food and just hang out talking for a while.
And so we chose the Peruvian fare at Aji Picante. This is the second time we’ve been here with friends, actually. The first time, we tested it out with a friend from choir and her boyfriend (now fiancé–so excited for her!) and the food was excellent. So we decided to go back, and we weren’t let down this time, either.
The restaurant is small, well-lit but cozy, a nice combination of angles and wood that would look very modern along with colorfully patterned decorations to keep it looking funky, welcoming, and regional. Both times we’ve gone, our servers have been friendly and knowledgeable, but also willing to let us have our space, something fairly uncommon but much appreciated by Chris and I–and while there are always people there, it’s never been so busy that we’ve felt rushed. And the food is excellent!
Last time we were there, I got the quinotto (a quinoa risotto with various vegetables, including asparagus, carrots, butternut squash, peppers, tomatoes, and Fava beans); Chris got the crisped pork shank (served with caramelized Butternut squash, carrots and peas in a dark beer and cilantro sauce, or so says their website). Both were excellent. The flavor and texture of the risotto was inviting and delicious, and the combination of vegetables was just a little bit sweet. Of course, being a meat-eater, I was vaguely jealous of Chris’s pork: the outside was deliciously crispy and the sauce was amazing, and I could have gone for a little bit of both dishes! For dessert, we got Suspiro de Limeña, which the restaurant describes as “A Peruvian style dulce de leche topped with smooth whipped cream made with Port wine. Its history starts with the wife of a Peruvian poet who invented the recipe. The poet gave it its name because it is sweet and light ‘like a woman’s sigh.’” I don’t know about that, but it was wonderful, and incredibly unique. The custard was rich but not overly sweet–the sweetness actually came from the Port wine whipped cream. It was like nothing I had ever had before, but it was absolutely enjoyable.
When we were there last time, both my choir friend and her fiancé got the purple potato ravioli, and so did my college friend this most recent visit. And so, as a ravioli lover myself, I had to join them. I got the ravioli, large handmade pockets of dough stuffed with purple potatoes and cheese, in a mushroom cream sauce. The sauce had a bit of pepper in it, which was unexpected but pleasant–it stopped it from getting too heavy. The filling wasn’t perfectly smooth, but the potatoes gave it some texture and character. It was quite lovely and thoroughly enjoyed. Chris got the nightly special, a pulled chicken dish with a slightly-spiced cheese sauce over rice and corn. He seemed to enjoy it. I was too busy enjoying my raviolis. For dessert, we tried the Chocolate Crème Brûlée, which was fabulously rich and decadent, with a perfectly caramelized upper crust. But then, I love chocolate. And crème brûlée. So the perfection of this dessert was kind of a given. (But it was executed wonderfully!)
In short, this is a lovely new addition to the Squirrel Hill dinner scene, and absolutely recommended if you’re looking for a new cuisine or an evening out with friends. We will definitely be coming back to try out the rest of the menu!