Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Allen Street for tasty Peruvian food provided by an underwear model who'd rather be shirtless.
I admit Baby Brasa first got my attention not because of the menu (which is centered on Peruvian rotisserie chicken), nor the design of the place (which is, to be honest, a bit hokey). Nope, what caught my eye here was owner, chef, and underwear model Franco Noriega, who for obvious aesthetic reasons likes to walk around shirtless.
"I love to be without a shirt," Noriega told Eater. "And I encourage other people to be shirtless, too."
During my two visits to Baby Brasa over the weekend the Peruvian Demi-god Noriega was either absent or beshirted, so I didn't get to witness what could be the beginning of a hot new trend of half-naked chefs. I did, however, get some good dishes, which bodes well for the owner's dream of opening a much larger restaurant in Williamsburg, to be called Brasa proper, whenever he can secure the necessary permissions and licenses.
I got a window seat on both occasions, and it's a pleasant perch to dine at, looking out at the pedestrian parade on Allen Street. Much better, anyway, than sitting at the counter across from the rotisserie oven deeper inside the space, an unappealing prospect on a warm July evening. This is a very small restaurant, with room for about eight people total. Take-out and delivery (via Seamless, Caviar, and Postmates) is clearly expected to pay the rent.
There's a skateboard rack by the front door if that's how you roll. A couple of doofy art pieces on the wall provide the only other decor; they're meant to be sexy ("Wine Me Dine Me 69 Me"), but just come off as awkward. The restaurant's unofficial motto: Stay Gold.
Noriega didn't go shirtless during my meals here, and neither did he go behind the counter to cook. No worries, though, as the busy crew of Peruvians back there are more than up to the task. In fact, everything I ate at Baby Brasa—which was was most of the menu—was outstanding.
The core of the menu is the "Organic Peruvian!!! Roti" chicken, and it is a first-rate bird, the crisp, well-seasoned skin sliding off the juicy meat. I devoured a quarter chicken, dark meat, of course, and was instantly craving more. The addictive dipping sauces—one's garlicky and bright yellow (Aji Amarillo); the orange one brings more heat—do their job well, and the bit of pickled apple is a nice touch.
Sweet Potato Fries are puffy and wonderfully rich. Lentejas con Salsa Criolla (which is basically vinegary onions) are far more interesting and satisfying than you might expect a soupy bowl of lentils to be. And even the ho-hum looking Arroz con Choclo, a sticky rice dish with fat kernels of Peruvian corn, packs a surprising amount of flavor.
The "Sadwich" I had was anything but, filled with diced Roti (basically delicious chicken salad), more of that salsa criolla, and thin slices of sweet, slippery peaches. The sandwich is a total mess once you assemble it, but it's so lively and interesting that you won't care about having to use a fork on the spillage.
Even the Quinoa and Kale Salad is exciting at Baby Brasa—these Peruvian sauces really pull their weight—with avocado and sweet banana playing strong supporting roles.
There are a pair of traditional Peruvian beverages on offer, but although the purple-corn-and-cinnamon-juice Chicha Morada was good, there's too little of it in your glass to be worth $3.50. The Limanjar Alfajor on the other hand is huge, and the sweet dulce de leche and buttery shortbread are given just the right hit of citrus to make the "Baby" inscribed cookie memorable.
Go for a (possible) glimpse of Noriega's eight-pack, stay (and go again and again) for the food. Baby Brasa is terrific.
Baby Brasa is located at 129 Allen Street between Rivington and Delancey. Hours are unclear, but it was open for both lunch and dinner during its first week. (212-777-3200; babybrasa.com)