Yesterday the sweetie and I decided to spend the afternoon and evening in Lambertville, a charming town full of delightful art galleries, craft shops and antique stores. We were dodging in and out of the rain all of the day, but I came home with a nice stash of vintage cookbooks—and a very full belly after a wonderful dinner at El Tule Mexican and Peruvian Restaurant.
Finding El Tule was a real stroke of luck after striking out three times at other restaurants that had looked promising! First we had wanted to try Brian’s, which sounded great from the menu and reviews online that I’d found. But, alas, they had no room for walk-ins that evening. Then I suggested we try Hamilton’s Grill Room—and walked over there to find they were closed for a private party. Next? Manon looked charming and the food smelled wonderful when we stepped inside. But even with only two tables full we were turned away because a large party was arriving soon and the chef did not want to take on any more customers!
It was only 6:30 and we were almost ready to give up and head over the bridge into New Hope. But then the sweetie saw a sign for El Tule, and the fact that it promised Peruvian food was intriguing. I’ve only ever had Peruvian before at Jose Garces‘ ill-fated Chifa in Philadelphia; I’d found it a shame when they closed, as Chifa was probably my favorite of Garces’ places in the city. Sweetie had never had Peruvian food before so we decided to take our chances and see if we could get a table there.
Finally we got lucky. We managed to get a table just before the crowds started descending at 7pm. El Tule doesn’t have that much ambiance inside its small and basic dining room: hard chairs, basic small tables, some wall hangings and colorful paintings on the wall are about it. There is a cute outdoor patio but it was so hot and humid out we decided to stay inside.
The menu at El Tule offers a variety of Mexican standards: guacamole, fajitas, nachos, burritos, fish tacos, enchiladas, etc. But the real draw for us were the Peruvian dishes, all of which sounded tempting and unusual. It was hard to choose with possibilities like Lomo Saltado Mar y Tierra, described as “beef, calamari, mussels, octopus and shrimp sautéed with onions and bright red tomatoes in a Peruvian sauce served with crunchy fried potatoes and delicious white rice.” Or the also-tempting Carapulcra: “Andean dried potatoes, pork and just the right amount of Peruvian spices. Served with Yuccas and salsa criolla.”
Appetizers and starters at El Tule tend to run from $8-15 with entrees in the $15-24 range. There are also two large sampler appetizers to share: a Peruvian Sampler for $24 with Yuccas Fritas, Papas Rellenas, Causa Limeña, and Palta a la Reina, or the Ceviche Orgy for $28, featuring three classic marinated raw fish samplings: Limeno, Mixto and Chifa.
We decided to go with the Ceviche Orgy to start—how could we resist a name like that? First we were served a nice basket of fresh chips and three salsas: classic pico de gallo, green tomato, and green jalapeno. The pico de gallo and the green jalapeno both packed a nice bit of heat but weren’t overly spicy.
Next came the ceviches: a beautiful and colorful selection of marinated fish, onions, corn, herbs and veggies. The Chifa, in the middle, was the most interesting to me, bringing in the Chinese influence on Peruvian cuisine with its blend of “corvina fish, pickled vegetables, micro-herbs and wontons in a black-sesame leche de tigre dressing”. The Limeno featured “white fish marinated in lime juice mixed with red onions, cilantro and Peruvian Yellow pepper served with sweet potato and Peruvian corn”—perhaps the most classic ceviche of the three, although I’ve never had Peruvian corn before! The Mixto was delicious, too, with a nice blend of textures with its “white fish, shrimp, octopus and calamari marinated in lime juice mixed with red onions, cilantro and Rocoto hot pepper”. I would definitely recommend this appetizer to share at the table and get a wonderful sampling of fresh and delightful flavors.
We both stuck with seafood as well for our entrees. I was in the mood for a fish soup so I went for the Parihuela. This featured mussels, crab, octopus, shrimp, calamari, and white fish in a delicious broth. The flavor was light and vibrant, really wonderful, and seriously generous with the crab. Definitely a good choice for the night!
The sweetie went for an evening special of red snapper stuffed with crab and served with rice. The plate was HUGE and the flavor wonderful as well. The snapper was lightly crusted in cornmeal and surrounded with crab meat and a taste red sauce. Yum. Just yum.
We shared a dessert of Vanilla Tres Leches, which was also wonderful: moist, flavorful, satisfying yet still light enough to be the perfect finish to a hearty—yet healthy?—meal. Our total with two cups of coffee was just under $80, perfectly acceptable given the quality of the food and the seafood especially. El Tule is BYOB, and the food perfect to enjoy with a cold beer or bottle of wine of your own choice.
All in all we were both incredibly impressed with our meal at El Tule, and happy that we’d stumbled upon them after striking out at our earlier thoughts for dinner that evening. If only El Tule were closer to home, I think we’d be going there on a regular basis. As it is I’m sure we’ll try to make plans to return again when we next are in the Lambertville area to sample more of their wonderful Peruvian cuisine. The staff was all friendly and hard working, and make it a wonderful experience all around.