A lot has happened in the life of chef Agustin Romo since we last featured him in Long Beach Lunch. His Peruvian comfort dishes, once only available by ordering through Instagram and having them delivered, often by Romo himself, can now be enjoyed in the comfort of a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
“I ran and worked in many kitchens, and that was a lot of fun, but at the end, they weren’t mine,” says Romo. “As I was working with Chaskis [online], the No. 1 question asked to me was ‘Where is your restaurant?’ The answer was always the same: ‘We don’t have one.’”
Casa Chaskis opened just a few weeks ago in a sleepy part of West Long Beach, surrounded by small homes and a scattering of businesses on Santa Fe Avenue just south of Willow Street. “I never really thought about opening a restaurant on the west side of Long Beach; I just knew I wanted it to be in the city where I grew up,” says Romo. “Long Beach in the past years has become such a big foodie city that I knew a Peruvian addition would be a welcomed one.”
Casa Chaskis is comfortable, with a good vibe that can’t be designed or decorated. Maybe it’s the open-air patio casually strung with lights, the just-so mismatched tables and chairs, Peruvian music piped in, or the cheerful sayings written in rainbow chalk on the blackboard-painted walls. (On the day I visited, the Peruvian word of the day was sumaq punchay, meaning “it’s a beautiful day.”) Maybe it’s Romo himself, affable and charming, with an ever-present smile, qualities passed on to his attentive staff.
Meals here start with a trio of warmed rolls, butter pats, and a little jar of a creamy sauce made of ají and huacatay, a Peruvian black mint. It’s spicier than it looks.
Note to gabachos: Unless you’re already familiar with Peruvian cuisine, prepare to ask your server some questions about the menu, as there are no English descriptions save for the beverages section.
Start off with the piqueos (appetizers), such as the papa à la huancaína, potatoes in a yellow cream sauce; chicharron de calamar, crispy fried calamari; or the empanada de carne, a flaky little pie stuffed with finely seasoned ground meat, sweet veggies and raisins, accompanied by a small bowl of onion-heavy vinaigrette.
The lomo saltado is a popular Peruvian stir-fry of steak strips, red onions, tomatoes and French fries, all covered in a deeply colored soy-sauce broth. This is an essential order at Casa Chaskis, if just for the French fries that soak up all that beef-flavored au jus. It would surely do wonders for a hangover.
“I have always been inspired by the seasonal vegetables and whatever looks good in the market, so that’s how I would choose what dishes I would make each week for delivery,” explains Romo. “So when I created the menu for Casa Chaskis, it was a no-brainer: I had to bring in all the crowd favorites.”
There is a lot of meat and fish on this menu, but Casa Chaskis does cater to vegans. The ensalada de quinoa in particular is bright and savory, with a heaping portion of greens, red onions and tomatoes. It’s made hearty with garlicky quinoa and dried fruit.
Alfajores, flaky shortbread cookies sandwiching buttery caramel and dusted with powdered sugar, are available at the front desk in to-go containers, ready to be eaten before you can get home.
“We just want to focus on what we’ve always done, which is make really simple, classic, Peruvian home-cooked food,” Romo says. “It’s what we do best.”
Casa Chaskis, 2380 Santa Fe Ave., Long Beach, (562) 612-3305.