I was excited last week when I heard that a new Peruvian restaurant, called Mulata, had just opened in Bushwick (near the L, the M and, the new Citi Bike dock on Greene and Myrtle), because why the hell wouldn't I be? All those meaty Peruvian delights! And though the tagged-up mural on the outside seemed familiar, the spiffy, obviously just installed red awning clearly signified I was about to eat at a place to which I had never been before.
It was only when I entered Mulata that I realized that this restaurant was, in fact, Chimu Express, the long-running offshoot of the even longer-running Chimu Bistro in Williamsburg. Same interior, same owner, same menu (mostly), new name. What savvy restaurant-goers call "a flip." And that is why we're talking about an 11-year-old spot today (albeit with a new grill for chicken and ribs).
Mulata seats about 35 at a row of wooden tables and a high-backed stripy banquette that runs along the raw brick wall. There's a pressed-tin ceiling, a wide, oddly shaped counter separating the dining area from the grill, a huge red bowl hanging amid bottles of wine and, high up near the entrance, a yellowing photo of Marylin Monroe for some reason. Everyone is very excited to see you when you walk in, and the staff's enthusiasm continues throughout your meal.
A complimentary dish of well-salted corn nuts keeps you company as you settle in and look over the lengthy menu. On my first visit, I stuck to the older "Chimu" sections, and started with Tamal de Poll, which had been frozen (I know because the chicken inside was still icy at the core), but once that was fixed it packed a lot of flavor.
They have Salchipapas here, obviously, which I saw at another table arrives on a massive platter, but I went for the Papa a la Huancaina instead, with the added Anticucho, or grilled beef heart. The offal was terrific, grilled to a slight char but plenty juicy, and though the boiled potatoes lacked character, there were ample amounts of cheese sauce to cover up imperfections. Tallarin Verde con Skirt Steak functioned as the entree, a mountain of green spaghetti (thanks to basil sauce) topped with an improbably thick piece of cow, as tender as they come and cooked confidently rare.
For dinner number two I visited the new grill options, which are essentially chicken and ribs. So I ordered both, which were served on an almost comically large combo platter with a Half Chicken, a Half Rack of BBQ Ribs, and hefty portions of two sides (terrific Red Beans with Bacon), and a basket of nicely caramelized Maduros. The ribs were of the fall-off-the-bone sort with decent flavor (the bottle of El Yucateco helped things out here), and the chicken did their job as well, especially when drenched in yellow aji sauce. I rarely say this in any context, but you can skip the flan for dessert.
Mulata is not an especially polished restaurant, but the meats are all skillfully fired and seasoned, and you get a ton of food for a relatively low price. It's a handy spot to have in the neighborhood. Still. Because it's basically already been here for years.
Mulata is technically located at 180 Irving Avenue, but it's actually on Stanhope Street, just south of Irving, and is open Monday through Thursday from 2 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., on Friday until 11 p.m., on Saturday from noon to 11 p.m., and on Sunday from noon until 10:30 p.m. (718-443-0787; chimuexpress.com)