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Andina Restaurant: A force of attraction in the States

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You’ll find Andina Restaurant inside a brick three-level building that sits on a characteristic corner of The Pearl District in Portland, OR, U.S.A. What was once an abandoned industrial neighborhood full of warehouses and lined with railroad yards, The Pearl has become a bustling district filled with modern, artistic and culturally diverse enterprises.

Since opening in 2003, Andina has been widely recognized as one of the best Latin American restaurants in Portland (Explorethepearl.com calls it “Portland’s first really exciting South American restaurant,”) and acclaimed for creating an innovative menu that introduced fine Peruvian cuisine to an American public.

A native of Cajamarca, Doris Rodriguez de Platt, Mama Doris as she is lovingly called, kindly sat down with me on a Saturday afternoon to talk family, food and good fortune. Indeed, the creation of Andina and what has come their way because of it has been an unplanned blessing. “Andina obeys a plan beyond us. I’m telling you frankly we never thought we’d have a restaurant,” Doris tells me, in her delicate manner, of the serendipitous adventure Andina turned out to be, effectively breaking her and her husband (a native Oregonian) John Platt’s routine. “I knew that it was hard work, painstaking and long hours. But the inspiration of my son…”

Doris describes Peter, her second son of three, as a dreamer. After college, Peter returned with Mercy Corps to Peru. That’s when he and a friend, Peruvian businessman Jaime Saavedra were inspired to open a restaurant in the U.S. “For Peter it made sense,” she tells me, remembering how hard it was in the beginning to wrap her head around the idea of operating a food establishment. “I just looked at the building and thought it was so big, too big! I couldn’t see it.”

Doris may have had her doubts but there was no turning back for Peter –he was already enlisting friends and professionals who could help design, decorate, and furnish the place with restaurant equipment. Inspired by her son, Doris says, “Little by little I felt more committed to help choose colors, look at the design.” One of the most striking features of the restaurant is a wall made to hold their selection of wines in geometric adobe-like pockets, a modern take on a Pre-Columbian Chimu architectural design. It didn’t all come down to good fortune. Peter is a proactive and persistent man when it comes to business. In his mother’s words, “He’s audacious.”

As the house bread, "with black quinoa, to give it that touch,” is served at our table, I ask about one of the three delicious dips, made with maracuya, and she tells me Emmanuel Piqueras, their Founding Chef, brought it to Andina. “He brought the Novo Andean flavors; he brought the sauco, the maracuya. This dip is made with maracuya and a bit of ají amarillo.”

Tabule de quinoa. Photo: Susana Aguirre

Emmanuel came to Andina by a series of contacts that started with a chance encounter. “It’s funny how things work. One of Peter’s friends from Mercy Corps found him on the street and they started talking.” Peter’s friend led him to one chef, who then led him to another, Emmanuel. He sat down with the family to create the foundation of Andina’s creative menu. “It was a blessing,” says Doris. The team began to take shape with a Peruvian cook Zoraya, the woman behind the spot-on sazón (seasoning), the ajíes and, thankfully, the empanadas that come to our table, which are simply magnificent. “The secret is in how Zoraya does the dough. Like at home.”

Andina’s chefs have left their mark on the menu, making the offerings unique and special. Doris tells me Emmanuel left the quinotto he learned from his mentor Cucho La Rosa, and the delicious tabule de quinoa. She shares how Coque Ossio –the man behind MAP Café in Cusco and La Bonbonniere in Lima– also became part of the Andina family. “To this day, he’s our Consulting Chef. Our current Head Chef Hank Costello went to Peru for a month, and Coque took him to various restaurants; to Huaca Pucllana, Brujas de Cachiche.” We savored Costello’s tiradito of roasted red and golden beets, with ají verde, pickled vegetables and a wonderful touch of ginger.

Tirado. Photo: Susana Aguirre

When I ask Doris if they feel part of the community, there’s more than one example of how Andina has welcomed their neighbors into the family. “During spring and summer in La Perla, a lot of businesses open until late. With our event space upstairs, we invite Latino artists and people come to enjoy.” One of the great things about Andina has been their role in supporting not only local artists but transnational causes as well. “It’s incredible,” Doris says of how they teamed up to host the benefit dinners for “an organization that will benefit Peru directly, Green Empowerment, which has their base in Portland, and their mission is incredibly good.” And in order “to bring ají amarillo, ají panca, ají mirasol and rocoto,” they’ve reached out to Stefan Bederski, owner of Topara Organico, a fair trade farm that specializes in organic pecans and a variety of ajies in Chincha, Peru.

“At first, I think because the ingredients were complex and unknown, it was a select group of customers and in some way I was saddened because we want our food to get to everyone. We have discovered that with tapas, people are able to appreciate a variety of tastes. We expanded the possibility for more people to come, and we see it.” And the bar, I ask? “The bar has become a place for a younger crowd. Our bar man Greg is terrific. He’s been to Peru and has created these concoctions, and the names!” she tells me amused by his creativity. There’s Curatodo de sauco, a cure-all with whiskey, honey and citrus juice, and Golpe de estado made with liquefied cacao, spiced rum and topped with a tres leches whipped cream.

As we conclude our lunch, our waiter Doug comes to us with dessert options. He suggests the lucuma ice cream with raspberries, “my favorite thing in the world,” he shares, and I couldn’t agree more. We also get treated with alfajorcitos that will transport you to your fondest memories of Peru. Then there’s the coffee. I interrupt Doris to tell her how aromatic and delightful it is. Her eyes light up. “Oh, that’s an interesting story! This coffee comes from Stumptown Coffee,” a local shop in Portland. “My son Victor discovered it. They had started to import coffee from Peru, he asked from where and it turns out from Rio Marañon, Cajamarca! It’s lovely, a light roast, very nice.”

Alfajor and Lucuma ice cream. Photo: Antoinette Bruno

But that’s not all. Speaking of desserts and Cajamarca, here’s another example of Andina’s force of attraction at play. Doris tells me about the chocolate, “something that I don’t know how to make sense of. Without thinking about it, it comes from Marañon. It’s from Moonstruck Chocolate Co. and it comes from a land my mother and grandmother would go to. I tell my sons, ‘this is too much, just too much!’” And we laugh at the serendipitous feeling of it all. With the chocolate from Cajamarca, Megan, their pastry chef, was inspired to create Chocolate Andino, “it’s a chocolate bar, delicious, the bottom has quinoa, it’s creamy, and a gelée of chicha morada. It’s incredible.”

“I find that my mission [is]to greet the people who come in, I’m moved that not only do I receive people’s appreciation but we can also share where the potato comes from, what role quinoa has in the history of Peru.” Shortly thereafter, a group of three young Latin American friends are heading out after enjoying their lunch, but before they leave they stop by to say goodbye to Doris. She shares, “They are great. One of them, a Venezuelan, worked at the restaurant and recently got married.” I won’t go into the love stories Doris tells me have bloomed because of Andina, a restaurant that connects cultures, tastes, people and experiences.

“I think about when I told Peter, ‘but you can’t cook!’" Doris remembers with laughter. "Not even planning it, or thinking about it, could I have thought about [what Andina has become]. There was a reason for opening a restaurant. I sometimes ask, ‘why are we here?’ I don’t know about business! It was a crazy idea that came from a young man, and it’s a model that can be used for something more cultural and humane.”

For this Peruvian living abroad (almost 15 years in Eugene), Andina is the best thing to happen to Oregon; a wonderful bridge that takes me back to Peru with every bite.

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