Crandall's in Madison another destination for South American food

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By Bill Livick, Special to The Gazette
Wednesday, November 6, 2013

MADISON—Two new restaurants specializing in Peruvian cuisine opened in July in Madison at about the same time.

We visited one of them, Surco Peruvian Cuisine, a few weeks ago and liked what it had to offer. In an effort to be thorough, we decided to check out the other last week.

Crandall's is a name that goes back a long way in the city's restaurant history. It operated for years just off the square in the space that is now the Tornado Club. In the early 1990s, Crandall's moved to the historic train depot on West Washington Avenue, but it closed after about three years. Until early last summer, the restaurant had operated as a take-out and delivery place on University Avenue.

Now, owner Ivan Pimental has given Crandall's new life on State Street in the building that for 17 years had housed Chautara.

The new Crandall's is an interesting, if unusual, mix of styles. A small part of the menu offers what the restaurant has long been known for: Wisconsin fare such as pot roast with carrots and potatoes, and roast turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy. It also serves a nightly fish fry, with cod fillets battered and deep-fried.

But the bulk of the menu now features classic recipes from Peru, with its unusual blend of influences: Japanese, Chinese, Spanish and African.

Peru is probably best known for its invention of ceviche, a seafood dish made from fresh, raw fish marinated in citrus juices and spiced with aji chili peppers. Crandall's kitchen marinates its fish in leche de tigre, a mix of spices in lime juice.

Ceviche mixto ($16), or Lima-style, is a tantalizing plate of flounder, shrimp, octopus and calamari with a side of complementing items, such as red onions, toasted Andean corn and robust Peruvian corn.

A friend who ordered the plate was not prepared for the dish's spicy heat, yet she marveled at the flavors and wouldn't hesitate to order it again.

Like Surco Peruvian Cuisine on the city's east side, Crandall's offers empanadas as a starter, three for $11. We ordered a different filling for each—beef, chicken and cheese—and each also came with small bits of greens inside a flaky crust with aji amarillo pepper sauce on the side.

While the empanadas were universally popular at our table, an order of Chaufa de Quinoa was not.

The entrée—fried quinoa with bell peppers, scallions, mushrooms, bean sprouts, sesame oil, fried egg, tofu and fried banana ($15)—lacked a dominant flavor and came off as bland. For an additional cost, we could have added chicken or shrimp to the mix, but we opted instead for the basic vegetarian plate. It was garnished with a chifa salad of radishes, carrots and mangos.

We fared better with Crandall's version of Seco de Cordero ($16), generous chunks of lamb marinated in chicha de jora (a Peruvian beverage made from dried jora corn). The lamb is cooked slowly in a blend of onions, garlic, paprika and cilantro and served as a sort of stew with white rice and a side of white beans.

To my palate, the flavor was remarkable and almost identical to the version served at Surco, although the dish was $7 less at Crandall's.

Conversely, one thing that Surco had over Crandall's was its preparation of the classic Peruvian beverage chichi morada ($4), a blend of purple corn juice with diced apples and pineapples.

At Surco, the drink used purple corn juice, but in place of the fruit, added powdered cloves, sugar and cinnamon. It was $1 less than Crandall's and much less sweet.

Crandall's new dining room features some nice floral paintings and a beautiful chandelier, along with a few touches of Peruvian folk art.

Our server was very good—efficient and friendly—and the overall experience was positive.

Along with Inka Heritage on Park Street, diners now have three good options for Peruvian food in Madison. And with the current popularity of the South American cuisine, perhaps you'll have even more choices in another few months.

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