Maybe it’s wrong, but we’re always a little skeptical about fusion. Some traditions just weren’t meant to be mixed. While it might sound like an oxymoron, Peruvian cuisine is an authentic fusion. Glance at a Peruvian menu and you’ll discover Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Italian and African influences. Peru’s a melting pot of sorts with over five hundred years under its belt to integrate those countries flavors and ingredients into one cuisine. Take lomo saltado for example. This traditional dish of meat, potatoes, ají amarillo chile, onions, and tomatoes, all sautéed with soy sauce and vinegar. Chinese technique for Prehispanic and European ingredients. Talk about a food synergy.
Aside from pisco and ceviche, or as they spell it in Peru, cebiche, it’s never fully made it into New York’s “gastroconsciousness” until recently. Peruvian cuisine is suddenly in the spotlight this fall. The biggest proof is the recent opening of La Mar Cebicheria Peruana in the space that formerly housed Tabla. Peru has a celebrity chef of its own, Gaston Acurio, the owner of La Mar. In fact, New York’s late in game as there’s already a La Mar outpost in San Francisco, Brazil, Colombia and Panama. And if you want to take crash course in Peruvian food, La Mar is the place to do it. There’s an extensive menu with plenty of cebiches, which happen to be Peru’s national dish. (You’ve gotta love a country who’s national dish is a fresh seafood cocktail.) La Mar has a terrific hamachi cebiche in a vibrant mix of peanuts, pickled vegetables and “leche de tigre.” Peruvian for tiger’s milk, leche de tigre is the leftover liquid marinade, typically a blend of all of the seasonings, including lime juice, fish sauce, onions, chiles, salt and pepper. In Peru, they often serve leche de tigre as a drink alongside an order. I highly recommend the “Elegance” as well, a classic cebiche you’d find at a coastal restaurant in Peru, made with fluke, onions, corn and yam. The menu also features anticuchos, veal heart skewers, an ubiquitous street food in Lima that’s unusually tender at La Mar and worth tasting.
If you’re craving comfort food or hangover food, try the African influenced tacu tacu, which is browned lima beans and rice, topped with a hanger steak and a fried egg. La Mar also makes an excellent pisco sour, Peru’s national drink, made with a grape distilled brandy named Pisco. Or try a “Chicha Tu Ma,” a blend of pisco and chicha (a typical beverage made with purple corn, lime, fruit and spices). Then again, you’d be just as wise to choose something from their wine list, which features mostly small, artisanal producers, and the selection matches the acidic food brilliantly.
A few blocks away is Nuela, which opened just last year. While it’s not a Peruvian restaurant per se (Nuela stands for “Nuevo Latino”), the kitchen turns out some notable, Peruvian dishes, including tiraditos , a Peruvian-style sashimi with Japanese influences. Nuela offers a now famous and terrific arroz con pato , a typical Peruvian duck with rice dish that’s big enough for four to share and cau cau, which is a seafood, mint and potatoes stew, the perfect marriage of land and sea.
For a more casual and more affordable taste of Peru head to Greenwich Village. Start at Lima’s Taste for exceedingly fresh cebiche, then head to Panca, just around the corner, for your next course. Get a pisco sour and the papa a la huancaina, a luscious dish of potatoes in a cheese and aji amarillo sauce. We’re also fans of their “trilogia de causas,” which are three mashed potato cakes topped with tuna tartar, shrimp and octopus, and the yucca fries. The bartender knows her piscos, so this is a good spot for a DIY pisco tasting. If you’ve never tried Peruvian-style rotiserrie chicken (pollo a la brasa), Pio Pio makes the best in the city.
You don’t have to live in Manhattan to sample Peruvian cooking, there’s Urubamba in Queens and Chimu in Brooklyn. One of our favorites is Surfish Bistro in Park Slope. Surfish is a small, cozy spot with a mostly Peruvian menu with a few other South American dishes and a taco selection. One of the best dishes is the choritos a la chalaca, a typical beach appetizer of mussels topped with a delicious tomato, onion and aji relish. We’ve had more than our fair share of sliders, but chicharron sliders is a first for us and a must at Surfish where they’re layered with roast pork, sweet potato and onions. Here’s a spot you should definitely stay for dessert, particularly the picarones, a pumpkin and sweet potato doughnut served with molasses syrup. Surfish’s version are as good as any we’ve had in Peru.
La Mar Cebicheria Peruana
Address: 11 Madison Ave at 25th St.
Phone: (212) 612-3388
Address: 43 W 24th St,. btwn 5th & 6th Ave.
Phone: (212) 929-1200
Address: 92 7th Ave., btwn Bleecker & Grove Sts.
Phone: (212) 488-3900
Address: 122 Christopher St. at Bedford St.
Phone: (212) 242-0010
Address: 482 Union Ave., btwn. Conselyea St. & Skillman Ave. (Brooklyn)
Phone: (718) 349-1208
Address: 8620 37th Ave.at 87th S. (Queens)
Phone: (718) 672-2224
Address: 604 10th Ave., btwn, 43rd & 44th Sts.
Phone: (212) 459-2929
Address: 351 5th Ave., btwn.4th & 5th Sts. (Brooklyn)
Phone: (718) 832-8200