100 Favorite Dishes 2014-15: No. 98, Helado de Lúcuma at Pollo Bravo
Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg Never had lúcuma? Here's your chance!
From the outside, it looks almost like a dark green peach, only it's not fuzzy. Slice it open, and it resembles a bright yellow avocado with a large brown pit in the center. But it doesn't taste like an avocado. Or a peach. The flavor of the dry, golden flesh is something between a sweet potato, a carrot and caramel custard. Many people in the United States, particularly northern regions, have never heard of it. But in the Andean valleys of Peru, people have been eating the lúcuma fruit for thousands of years.
In Peruvian cuisine, the fruit is primarily used in desserts, an obvious choice for the natural sweetener. Lúcuma finds its way into everything from custard to cheesecake, but its most popular dessert form is ice cream. Lúcuma ice cream is even more popular than chocolate or vanilla ice cream in Peru.
And if you want to get a taste of Peru's favorite sweet right here in Houston, your best bet is Pollo Bravo.
The restaurant, which describes itself as a "hybrid Peruvian-Mexican" eatery, offers everything from ceviche to chilaquiles, but most regulars know not to fill up on those dishes. Gotta save room for the unique lúcuma ice cream.
It's unique in part because of the flavor--something akin to those whipped sweet potatoes with maple syrup you have at Thanksgiving, deepened with just a hint of burnt sugar--and also due to the fact that the owner, Enrique Bravo, makes the helado de lúcuma himself. Other dishes are left in the hands of capable cooks, but Bravo is the only one who makes the ice cream.
As I mentioned in my roundup of the best ice cream in Houston, you don't need to specify a flavor when you order ice cream at Pollo Bravo. There is only one flavor and only one size. Three scoops of lúcuma ice cream with a crunchy ladyfinger cookie to garnish.
The texture is a bit chalky, a byproduct of the fruit itself, not an error in production, and the comforting taste is unlike any other ice cream out there. If you've never had lúcuma before, mosey on over to one of the four Pollo Bravo locations in town, sit at the short bar, and revel in one of the Andes mountains' greatest treasures.
The list so far: