Haven’t you heard? Peruvian cuisine is très chic these days. Gone are the days where the word Peru summoned up the Machu Picchu and altitude sickness. Now, it is more often associated with mouth-watering ceviches, rare andean potatoes and delicious pisco sours. The champion of modern Peruvian gastronomy is celebrity chef Gaston Acurio, who is as well-known in his country as Mario Batali is in the US. As it so happened, chef Acurio opened a restaurant in New York just weeks before we visited, and G and S, hosts of our Manhattan leg for dinner, made reservations to dine there with us.
My favorite dishes were the ceviches and tiraditos, the former heralded as the national dish of Peru and the latter Peruvian sashimi. In fact, both were pretty similar, cuts of fresh, raw fish served in a pickling juice and assorted condiments. The Elegance was a tad tangier, the generous dosage of lime juice undercut by naturally sweet yam and corn bits.
We chose the Chifa tiradito amongst the other options as we were curious about the addition of passionfruit. Turned out that the passionfruit’s floral and fruit aromas were overwhelmed by other more assertive flavors such as salmon fats, ginger and traces of sesame oil. Still, both dishes were enjoyable and very appetizing. Too appetizing in fact, as we only got more hungry after polishing the two diminutive portions.
The other appetizer that we shared was Causas, described on the menu as traditional whipped potato appetizers. The potato puree may be inspired by traditional recipes, but there’s nothing old-school about these dainty morsels at La Mar Cebicheria, ours topped with braised octopus, quails eggs and avocado. Again, we wouldn’t have minded bigger portions.
Thankfully, the mains were more generously sized. The two we shared, the lomo saltado and the arroz con mariscos also tasted vaguely Asian (a nod to Chinese and Japanese influences in Peruvian cooking), hence very familiar and comforting to us. In fact, the arroz con mariscos, graced with fresh seafood, amongst which a single fat scallop, resembled a cross between paella (the short grain rice and the inherent creaminess of the rice) and greasy sambal fried rice (the wok-perfume and seasonings). The lomo saltado too tasted wok-fried with a savory sauce that we happily drizzled over the accompanying rice. We gave desserts a miss as it was getting late, though like the rest of the menu, the desserts boast a distinct Latin American flair.
Overall, we liked the food though we would have liked more of it. It was also a pity that we could not hear each other well, as the restaurant is a soaring 2 level affair that is quite the noise-trap, so acoustics issues combined with the full house and loud music shot our hopes of earnest conversation down. I am also sure one can find more authentic versions of Peruvian cooking elsewhere in New York, perhaps in the outer boroughs. But if you are game to try modern Peruvian cooking, touted for years by trend-spotters as the next big culinary thing, then this is the spot.
La Mar Cebicheria – 11 Madison Avenue, New York , NY 10010