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The Dish: aji de gallina
The Location: The Chicken Place, 2418 University Blvd., (301) 946-1212.
The Price: $8.50
The Skinny: The name of the place has the feel of a bad translation. The interior looks like the set of a ’60s-era TV Western, Latin American–style, all heavy wood beams and terra cotta floors. As the name makes abundantly clear, the joint does chicken—Peruvian chicken—but unlike a number of its competitors in Wheaton, the Chicken Place doesn’t just roast whole birds over charcoal and serve them up in all their smoky, marinated glory. The restaurant also uses those roasted birds for other Peruvian recipes, such as the aji de gallina. The version here doesn’t exactly adhere to tradition—in fact, there’s no detectable trace of aji peppers in the dish at all. But what this dish lacks in heat, it compensates with flavor. The alarmingly yellow-tinted bread sauce does most of the heavy lifting; its color comes from the palillo herb—think Peruvian turmeric—but its flavor is courtesy of the creamier ingredients, the evaporated milk and the grated parmesan. The sauce would be too rich by half if not for a number of things: the added garlic and onions, the starchy steamed potatoes, and, most important, the twisted strands of shredded white meat, whose smokiness pops right through that heavy bread sauce.