Aji is owned by the same woman who brought the city the beloved breakfast spot, Pamela's (she's the Pamela, Pamela Cohen). In addition she and a Peruvian also own a small eatery that offers mostly Peruvian fare and artisan goods called La Feria, which is a small space in the city's Shadyside neighborhood. I had eaten at La Feria a couple of times and while good, it's more of a cafe and excluding the beautiful looking crafts and other wares, the food never seemed that authentic. So when I heard about Aji and the fact that the chef was Peruvian, I was stoked.
Although my first experience with the Peruvian soft drink Inka Gold made me want to gag (I don't recommend trying this), thankfully this toxic drink was not on Aji's menu. They did feature agua fresca (flavors change nightly according to the menu). Although each time we dined there it was sandia (watermelon), that was fine with me since I am a watermelon fan. D ordered the chicha morada, which is a sweet beverage in Peru made from purple corn and spices. Its use and consumption date back to the pre-colonial era of Peru, even before the creation of the Inca empire. D likened it to a grape fruit tasting chai drink and I concurred. While not a warm beverage, it still had a soothing taste to it.
Although the menu at Aji is somewhat on the smaller side, there is however a decent selection of nightly specials. The first time we ate there we went with a special for our starter course, while on my second visit, D and I split an empanada ($4) filled with aji de gallina, a classic Peruvian dish made with aji peppers, chicken, and a cream sauce. My dad ordered a mushroom and cheese empanada. Other tantalizing appetizer selections include causas which are "silky mashed potatoes, seasoned with aji amarillo, lime, and served slightly chilled." Your options with these include either shrimp ($5) or grilled baby octopus ($6).
For my entree I went with the seco de cerdo ($19) which when translated literally from Spanish means "dry pork." It consisted of crisped pork shank confit served over a bean puree, topped with caramelized butternut squash, carrots, and peas and cooked in a dark beer and cilantro sauce. I loved the accompaniments, the pork to a lesser degree. It was a good selection but one I probably wouldn't choose again. (My dad also ordered this.)
I have loved each dining experience at Aji and I am just so glad that a Pittsburgh native forged such a love for the country of Peru-its culture, its food, its sights-and is now sharing it with the people of Pittsburgh. While a trip to Peru is still at the top of my wish list, dining at Aji will help in filling the void in the meantime.