Address: 250 City Centre Ave, Unit 232, Ottawa
Hours: 3 – 9pm (Wed – Fri), 2 – 9pm (Sat), 12 – 8pm (Sun); closed Mon – Tue
After seeing Raphael Express’ pictures of their beautiful Peruvian food show up on Instagram, and a glowing review in the Citizen, my wife and I finally made our way to eat there in the cold depths of an Ottawa winter.
Several takeout spots have set up shop in City Centre during the pandemic to take advantage of its central location for delivery. Raphael Express has gone one step further, adding a handful of tables, a wooden temporary wall to separate the kitchen space, and some décor to add life to the concrete unit.
The menu is a Goldilocks size – small enough that you’re not worried about the freshness of the dishes, but not so small that there isn’t enough selection to fit assorted tastes and diets.
My wife was lured by the carapulcra, a smoked potato stew, while I went with a few appetizers in lieu of a main to try more of the menu. Their traditional ceviche seemed like a must (when in Rome! Er, Lima?), and I’m a sucker for tamales, so their tamalito verde de pollo was another easy choice. We tacked on the anticuchos to share, to provide some beefy richness to an otherwise light meal.
The anticuchos were comprised of thin strips of grilled, marinated beef, folded like ribbons on skewers. They were wonderfully tender and showed a deft hand on the grill with such a thin piece of meat not being overcooked. The roasted potatoes that came with it were nice and crisp on the outside with fluffy interiors. Pieces of choclo corn were a simple but tasty peak into Peruvian cuisine, and the large, supple kernels seemed more comparable to a legume than the sweet corn that we’re used to in North America. Fried Brussels sprouts were perfectly cooked and super crisp, and chimichurri and a rocoto hot sauce added big, bright flavours.
Ceviche is possibly the best-known Peruvian dish outside of the country itself, and Raphael Express does their heritage proud with their rendition. BC rockfish was tender and fresh, and popped with flavour from its time “cooking” in citrus juices. Accoutrements of roasted sweet potato, razor-thin red onions, and crisp chulpe corn brought a complementary mix of flavours and textures to balance the dish.
Raphael Express may not be reinventing the wheel with their tamalito, but it was executed well. The tamal itself was thick, but still light and fluffy, unlike many that are packed too densely and end up with a gummy texture as a result.
My wife’s was impressively rich and savoury for being vegetarian and the potato stew reminded my wife of cassoulets in southern France. Roasted cauliflower added some texture and additional savoury oomph, while dashes of chimichurri brightened things up.
The cocktails were no slouch either and I can confirm that a bottle of Spanish red won’t break your bank account.
Raphael Express is knocking it out of the park on both style and execution, with interesting and flavourful dishes that both unique to this area and do right by their culinary origins.