Papagallo's appeal? An exotic menu . . . with some exciting potatoes.
Potatoes? At a seafood restaurant?
Yes, if the restaurant is Peruvian. After all, South America is where the potato originated.
Papagallo's potatoes are not French fries. Neither are they mashed. Nor au gratin. Instead you might find yourself eating a papa rellena , a large, partly skinned potato stuffed with a mixture of beef, raisins, egg, onions and seasonings, a conflict of flavors that works wonderfully.
Then there's ocopa , potatoes topped with cheese, garlic, peanuts and herbs. Not to mention the potatoes in the good clam chowder, with a fertile fish stock and garlic.
A yam is served on the side when you order ceviche , raw fish marinated in lime and mixed with onions, cilantro, garlic and chiles. Here, the tuber is cold and boiled, intended to neutralize the spiciness of the fish. (Some argue that the ceviche here is too spicy; I would not.)
The ostras al mojo de ajo , oysters sauteed with lots of garlic, butter and wine, are good. So are the homemade tamales, stuffed with chicken or pork, wrapped in banana leaves and doused with a bit of chile.
Portions are not small at Papagallo's. Take the jalea , a dish of hand-breaded seafood, gently fried and mixed with marinated onions, tomatoes, limes, peppers and cilantro. It's tangy and hearty.
Several types of fresh fish are served each day, prepared in a cream sauce with tomatoes, garlic, onions and mushrooms; steamed with butter, wine, garlic and other seasonings; or a lo macho , in a hot Peruvian sauce.
Prawns and scallops are sauced with a saffron cream and come with fettuccine. I prefer the cheese-filled ravioli pescadores , served in a light wine sauce, with fresh mussels and clams. And, of course, lots of garlic. (You may have noticed that garlic is well-liked here.)
Although owner Jorge Ricci seems to prepare pastas, meats, seafood and chicken with equal care, somehow the chicken dishes are the least stimulating. Anticucho de pollo , for example, which is marinated hunks of chicken on skewers grilled with onions and peppers, isn't much to rave about.
But go ahead, rave over the aptly named cabrito delicioso , a beautifully sliced leg of lamb in a wine sauce that is rich with tarragon and mushrooms.
Nearly all of these dishes can be ordered in smaller portions at lunch, although some, such as the lamb, are not ready by lunchtime.
Papagallo's wine list, written on a blackboard against the wall, is fairly limited. But it seems only natural to eat this food with one of the wines from Chile, such as Gato Blanco or the Gato Negro. Or the Pilsen Callao beer from Peru.
If you're lucky, a friend or two of Ricci's will be strumming a guitar in the corner of Papagallo's simple, nearly undecorated room. The guitar, and an occasional Andean flute, go well with potatoes.
* PAPAGALLO'S: Papagallo's, 731 De La Guerra Plaza, Santa Barbara. (805) 963-8374. Open for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., for dinner seven nights 6-10 p.m. Beer and wine. Reservations accepted. Major credit cards accepted. Dinner for two, food only, $20-$40.