4:22 PM

103-11 Queens Boulevard
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(646) 892-9624

The disheveled individual hovered over our table at El Pollo Inka. "Do you have fifty cents?"

Yup. A hobo. Inside the restaurant. Panhandling. The waiter stood five feet away taking orders from another table whom the panhandler would try his luck with next. "You can't have people coming in here doing that" Pike told the waiter and manager. They stood, their faces smiling that limp smile you put on when someone talks using words you can't quite understand but you want to appear to be listening. "Did you see the guy?" he asked. "Oh, we told him No." They told him No. As in "No, we don't have fifty cents to give him either."

This story has become a permanent fixture of that restaurant in my mind. From now until the universe ceases expanding and retreats backwards at the speed of light into a golf-ball-sized lump, El Pollo Inka will be described by me, to you, as a restaurant with amazing food at an amazing price where the homeless meth-heads go.

Tu Casa is El Pollo Inka's closest competition and probably won't have that problem, though it has enough of its own.

Tu Casa is a more formal restaurant than the El Pollo Inkas and Pio Pios of the world. They have the rotisserie chicken that Peruvian cuisine (in New York, anyway) is famous for, but they also have seafood and beef and pork and Pike and I gave the menu a good run-through. The interior shows more thought and the menu is more comprehensive than the average takeout joint would have. But...

I can understand why one would put TVs over a bar, but there isn't a bar. Still, two flat screens adorn the walls. Perhaps the owners of Tu Casa aren't used to having conversations over dinner? Perhaps they want to be the go-to place for couples who've given up on each other. One of you can watch a soccer game and the other can catch up on her telenovellas. Now I know that if I'm worried about going on a shitty date, I can take her to Tu Casa. If she drones on about her roommates or her boring job or blahblahblahblahblah, I can nod my head and glance northward to the corner and watch the tube. Maybe I'm being overly critical. Maybe the TVs weren't just extra parts from the DIY restaurant kit. Eat in customers are clearly not the focus of their business. There was a constant stream of delivery guys and customers waiting for take-out. Maybe the TVs are there for them.

The first thing I ordered was the Sopa de Pollo, chicken soup. Actually, it was the second thing. First,  I ordered a diet coke. It came in a can. Arrrgh! I hate getting soda in a can (or bottle). It's lazy, tacky, takes up space on the table, and it's a shorthand way of saying "no refills". And no, having the waiter show up every ten minutes to refill the glass from the can isn't more classy, it's more interruptive. Seriously, stop putting your arm in my face. Where was I? I got distracted. Oh yeah. The soup. It was delicious. They left the bone in, but that's tradition. The soup was great. Get it. Squeeze in that lime. So fantastic. Pike ordered the Tu Casa Empanadas, one chicken, one beef. He preferred the chicken, I preferred the beef. But both were very good. Scalding hot - they're deep fried - but with their sweet crust and sweet filling, I'd easily get them again.

Of course, given that this was a Peruvian spot, the Rotisserie Chicken absolutely had to be tried. For four bucks, we split a quarter chicken. Pike has chosen to reserve judgment until he orders a few chickens for delivery, but although I liked it, in my opinion, El Pollo Inka's was better, even with the hobo. This one wasn't as moist and the penetration of the marinate into the meat wasn't as substantial. And I think it was more expensive by a smidge.

For his entrée, Pike ordered Salmon a la Macho, pan fried salmon with shrimp, calamari, clams, oysters, and yucca in a spicy seafood sauce with a side of rice and a hard boiled egg. What he received was the Corvina a la Macho, basically the same thing, but trout. He found the mix up disappointing, but not so much that he sent it back. In the end, it was actually very good. Granted, there was only one mussel and one clam on the whole plate, but it was quite delicious. The sauce, which was almost like a curry, was perfect in my opinion, though he found it too spicy. If you like seafood, then I would highly recommend this dish. Similarly, if you like beef, then do not get what I ordered. The Bistec Tu Casa was a huge mistake. Hey, maybe you like your flank steak sinewy, dry, beaten into a flat sheet, and unceremoniously draped over tasteless rice, a fried egg, and a piece of kielbasa, because have I got the meal for you. If you want something... more... then get something else. It came with beans and a plantain. I ate those.

I don't really know why we got dessert. Probably because Martha's was too far away and it was cold and we didn't want to wait in a line. My advice is not to. Pike ordered the Dulces de Tres Leches Cake, but they were out. So he asked for the French Cheese Cake, a cheesecake made with Neufchatel cheese that's lighter than New York cheesecake. The menu meant New York cheesecake, so they didn't have any. Plan C was the Chocolate Fudge Cake. It tasted fine, but wasn't much to look at... in that it looked like someone took a bite out of the bottom corner. I got the Tartufo, a series of ice cream slices in a chocolate shell that might have been good had the ice cream not been awful. So I don't recommend this at all.

Okay. How does one of the newcomers to the neighborhood stack up? It did some things very well, some things very poorly. While I might complain that the TVs and the shitty desserts demean their upscale-ishness, I also have to recognize that they aren't catering to me as a dine-out customer anyway. They're catering to the take-out crowd - people who couldn't give a shit and a half if Tu Casa had a ten pound wine list or were a food truck. But! I'm an dine-out guy and this is (almost always) a dine-out blog.  My advice, for what it's worth: cut the menu by a third. Lose the dessert menu only saving the flan and some ice cream selection. Become a BYOB spot. Yeah, my steak was laughable but I could still see myself coming back with friends all the time if I could order a rotisserie chicken dinner for four, spend not a whole helluva lot, and bring a few bottles of wine from Empire down the block. Why is nobody filling this gap?

Two appetizers, two entrees, a quarter chicken, two desserts five or six cans of Diet Coke, two desserts, and two coffees, plus tax and tip came to $94.

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