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26 Catt. 2: In re El Fuego

2013 December 11
by JEREMY, C.J.

Opinion of CHIEF JUSTICE JEREMY, in chambers.

El Fuego.

El Fuego.

Peruvian cuisine has been hailed as one of the world’s great cuisines, but it hasn’t always gotten the recognition it deserves. The New York Times in 1999 declared it “the original fusion food.” And if there’s a classic Peruvian dish, it’s lomo saltado, a dish with its origins specifically in the Chifa cuisine – a fascinating melding of Chinese and native Peruvian influences dating from a wave of immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

DC-area residents have been able to try Chifa cuisine at Kampo on Leesburg Pike for years, and word is José Andrés will open a more upscale Chifa-style eatery – “China Chilcano” – next spring on 7th Street in an area quickly becoming Andrés Alley.

Lomo saltado – literally “salted loin” – is a stir fry of beef strips marinated in vinegar and soy sauce, onions, and tomatoes. Local food truck El Fuego offers its “signature lomo saltado bowl,” which features beef tenderloin, red onion, plum tomato, and hot peppers cooked in “Our Chef’s special marinade.” As is tradition, the dish comes carb-heavy, with both French fries and rice.

El Fuego is the work of Manuel Alfaro, a Puerto Rican-born, Spanish-trained culinarian who, through his Peruvian-born wife, obtained his love for the cuisine of Peru, his “second Motherland.” In addition to lomo saltado, the truck offers a Peruvian-style burger, ceviche, pan con chicharron, salchipapa, tamales, and tallarín saltado, another Chifa dish.

This truck gives you a lot of food for your money ($10).

In the flavor department, however, El Fuego’s lomo saltado is a bit of a one-note samba – not terrible, not incredible. But add a bit of the truck’s ají amarillo – a spicy crema made from the ají amarillo chili pepper – and the dish begins to sing.

Lomo saltado.

Lomo saltado.

The best part of the dish is probably the French fries, which are served unbelievably crisp. Traditionally, however, the steak and vegetables are served on top of the fries, or mixed with them, so that their sauce soaks into the potato. El Fuego instead serves its fries on the side, and it can be difficult to mix the steak and vegetables with the fries in a take-out container. Without mixing the one with the other, the dishes loses something of its Chifa roots.

Under our jurisprudence, a dish is “street food” where it is cooked in front of you and is “meant to be eaten with your hands, without forks, while standing up.” In re Eat Wonky, 2 Catt. 5 (2011). Because true street food is the aim of the food truck, a dish classified as “street food” is entitled to a presumption of affirmance unless some serious flaw is exposed. In re Big Cheese, 6 Catt. 2 (2012). On the other hand, a dish not classified as “street food” must stand on its own merits without any presumption of affirmance. Id.

Here, El Fuego’s lomo saltado cannot properly be considered “street food” because it is not easily eaten with just the hands, without a fork. The dish must therefore stand on its own two feet without the assistance of the presumption.

El Fuego’s lomo saltado is not a bad dish by any means. But it could be a much better dish with adjustments in seasoning and plating. For these reasons, the lomo saltado is

AFFIRMED in part and REMANDED in part to El Fuego for revision. It is so ordered.

One Response
  1. Chef Manuel Alfaro permalink
    December 11, 2013

    First things first, lomo Saltado is not a Chinese fusion dish, but Japanese fusion, the style of cooking now days (stir-frying in a wok) is Chinese. The Nuovo Andino way of plating calls for everything separate (although every household in Peru, has their preference).
    Since we cannot flambe’ in a food truck we created a spacial marinate/cooking sauce. Hope you enjoyed your visit.

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