Nusta’s Cafe is a two-year-old Peruvian restaurant in Arlington, looking — like many on this stretch of Randol Mill Road — to stand out from the long shadow cast by its neighbor, AT&T Stadium.
The South American spot was nearly empty on a recent early weekend evening, just before a Cowboys preseason game. Clearly, more people were interested in Romo than “lomo” — as in lomo saltado, a popular Peruvian entree.
Yes, the fare here can be a little unfamiliar — especially since there are some new additions to the menu — but a dinner visit showed spot-on food and reliable service, two things for which all of us can cheer.
To get acclimated, we started with Nusta’s trio appetizer ($7), a pretty platter of ceviche, causa crocante de mariscos (whipped potatoes with seafood) and huancaina de rocoto (chilled sliced potatoes with red pepper sauce).
While the ceviche was a traditional/nonflashy preparation of lime-marinated white fish flecked with red onion, the two other dishes were revelations: the causa crocante consisted of two panko-fried fritters filled with light-as-feather potatoes and just a smidgen of unrecognizable, diced seafood. Overall, it was a bracing, lemony two-bite marvel. And the huancaina de rocoto added more potatoes to the proceedings, this time of the mandolin-sliced variety, topped with a white cream sauce. It tasted like a near-cousin of American potato salad, albeit with thinly sliced spuds.
Potatoes are a prized ingredient in Peruvian cuisine, and our meal at Nusta’s continued to anoint the carb. A new dish on the menu, causa de camarones ($6), offers a terrine-like take on them: chilled, mashed potatoes are molded around an aji amarillo chile sauce. The solitary breaded shrimp that topped the dish was a disparate, although tasty, garnish.
Another new addition is a seafood bouillabaisse ( parihuela, $12), advertised on the menu as having a tomato-based broth. But ours tasted more roux-rich, giving the stew an earthy, almost mushroomlike base in which seafood (mussels, white fish, shrimp) were swimming. The hearty entree had us flashing on gumbo, especially with its slow-burning spiciness.
While we heard the restaurant is rolling out even more Peruvian standards like fettucine a la Nusta’s (pasta with yellow cream sauce and mixed with sauteed beef and vegetables), alas, that had not yet made it to the menu. So instead, we opted for the lomo saltado ($10.99), a conciliatory rendition with beef cubes, bell pepper, tomatoes and white rice. Think of it as Peruvian fajitas, minus the skillet. With the tomatoes rendered to almost the point of disintegration, the vegetables gave the dish a savory quality. And perhaps because there were so many tomatoes here … maybe this is where they ended up, instead of the bouillabaisse?
To test our waistline’s limits (are the Cowboys looking for any new offensive linemen?) we also sampled the quarter-roasted chicken ($6.99), a crispy-skinned rotisserie iteration — we tried the white meat, unfortunately a tad dry — paired with some of the best thick-cut fries around. Clearly, Nusta’s cooks know their way around the deep fryer.
As we stared down a plate of fabulous alfajores (tiny shortbread cookies filled with caramel and dusted with powdered sugar, $2.59) we marveled at how much we enjoyed the meal, despite some in our party’s trepidation about new foods.
Nusta’s, and its brand of Peruvian home-style comfort food, prove a winning combination. Now about that home team …