1040 chalkstone ave, providence
Open mon-sat, 8 am-10 pm, and sun, 8 am-8 pm
major credit cards
Several restaurants along Chalkstone Avenue reflect the changing nature of Providenceís neighborhoods. Pizza parlors have morphed into Southeast Asian eateries and corner delis into Latin American restaurants. Bolivian Restaurant was one of the first new kids on the block back in 2001, and itís still going strong.
Bolivian Restaurant is one of those places with such a family feel that we took my out-of-town family (sister and nephew) with us to experience the unusual taste sensations and friendly service. They were as intrigued as we were, beginning with our drinks: chicha de mani, a cold peanut drink, for me; tamarindo, a cold tamarind plum drink for Bill; api, a hot mug of ground purple corn laced with lemon and cinnamon for Jennifer; and a pineapple fruit shake, with milk and fresh fruit, for Matt.
We ordered soups and appetizers to share. The locro ($2.99) was a delicious chicken and rice soup, with generous amounts of bone-on chicken, which Jennifer and I pushed back and forth between us. Bill chose the mani ($2.99), a meat, potatoes, and peanut soup that he had previously enjoyed. And Matt quickly finished a bowl of the third soup, chairo ($2.99), chunky with beef, potatoes, corn, and other veggies.
For other starters, we all nibbled on a cheese empanada ($1.50); two cunape ($1.50), yucca patties with cheese and egg inside; and masaco (fried plantains with dried beef, $3), the latter like "Bolivian hash browns," in Mattís words.
Then we turned our attention to the extensive list of beef, pork, and chicken dishes, somewhat surprised to find chicken Parmesan and Sicilian-style chicken among them ó a concession, perhaps, to the longer-established immigrants in the neighborhood? On an earlier visit, Bill had enjoyed the parrillada Boliviana, a mixed grill of ribs, pork chops, Bolivian sausage, and tripe. The pacumuto (mixed shish kebab) was also popular during our visit, with the waiter flourishing the long skewer when he brought it to a nearby table before expertly sliding the kebabs off the skewer onto a plate.
We did not order anything quite so dramatic this time around. But remembering the very generous portions, Bill and Matt decided to split the "picante misto" ($7.99), described as "spiced hen, cow tongue, dried potatoes, and salsa." Indeed, there was a roasted half-chicken (good with the salsa, per Mattís report), quite a bit of roasted tongue (quite tender and tasty, per Billís report), and several variations on starches: boiled yucca, reconstituted dried potatoes mixed with veggies, and rice.
Jennifer and I opted for the grilled swordfish plate ($9.99), which also had its full complement of starches, including the omnipresent yucca. The fish was grilled a bit too long, though it was still flavorful. And it was quite bony, not the swordfish steak to which weíve grown so accustomed.
Desserts beckoned to us from a glass case, and our pleasant waitress made them sound even more alluring. We had a tall slice of yellow layer cake ($2.95), filled and topped with a soft frosting that contained swirls of caramel. We also had a wonderful warm chocolate cake ($5), surrounded by clouds of whipped cream.
But the dessert winner and Jenniferís favorite item was the rice pudding ($2) ó "The best Iíve ever had," she said. Indeed, Bolivian Restaurantís version of arroz con leche was extra creamy and we could not immediately identify the spice, though it was tantalizingly familiar. Susy Curi, co-owner with her brother, Cesin, told us it was ground cloves ó a small change from cinnamon or nutmeg, but one that enhanced the whole pudding.
Bolivian Restaurant doesnít overdo it with South American mementos, though there are some wooden spoons and Bolivian textiles on one wall. The restaurant is dominated, instead, by a large painting of a sunset in the Bolivian mountains. The yellows and oranges of that scene are picked up in the colors of the walls and in the painted panes of glass at one street end of the corner restaurant. Four booths line the other street-side, with about a dozen tables also accommodating diners.
So, go for the glow at Bolivian: the sunset that surrounds you on the walls, the warmth of the service, and the comfort of simple but delicious food. And donít miss the rice pudding.