“The secret to this fusion of Asian and Peruvian cuisine found in fine restaurants throughout Lima is the country’s intricately woven ethnic tapestry. Chinese and Japanese immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought with them Asian ingredients, cooking techniques and a new take on traditional dishes, especially on the capital’s beloved seafood plates.” – Associated Press, Asian-Peruvian fusion dining in Lima
Roughly 3½ years ago, one of the earliest of the “Peruvian fusion” spots to hit Buenos Aires opened up with little ceremony in Palermo. We went, and were not overly impressed – a surprise for us because the consulting chef was one whose food we’d had before – in the end, the best I could give the place was an “Okay” rating and it simply dropped off my radar, particularly with the influx of various other restaurants offering one variation or another on the same theme. So it was with a little trepidation that I accepted an invitation to a gratis dinner for Henry and I to check the place out – my most recent invite having resulted in a less than stellar experience, I wasn’t looking forward to the possibility of not being able to write a good review. Thankfully, I don’t have to.
The place, Ceviche,
Costa Rica 5644 Armenia 1880 in Palermo, 4776-7373 4831-5473. Little, if anything, has changed in the decor. It’s still decked out in bright colors and lots of artwork. Arriving at around 9:30 p.m. on a Tuesday we found the place near empty – a trio of women were the only other guests, happily sipping cocktails and eating sushi. We were there until near midnight and only a dozen other people came in – sure it was a Tuesday, but it was a beautiful night out, and it was surprising that it was so slow – other spots in the neighborhood were teeming with people.
I believe we sat at the very same table as the first time, right by the open kitchen. I mentioned in that first review that the owner is also the owner of the Dashi chain of creative sushi bars (which have gotten steadily more creative, and rapidly more expensive). Both the original chef, and the consulting chef, moved on to other ventures, and about a year and half ago the owner brought over one of his senior chefs from one of the Dashi branches (this isn’t him in the photo, though he did come out to chat with us midway through dinner). In fact, much of the menu is modeled after Dashi these days, with various sushi and fusion creations taking up the majority of the menu, and the nuevo Peruvian getting a much shorter portion (it may be as many dishes as it was when we first went, but it’s overshadowed by pages of sushi and sashimi offerings).
A couple of quite well made cocktails seemed a good place to start. One of the better pisco sours I’ve had, and Henry going for one of his favorites, a pisco and passionfruit blend. A basket of interesting breads, one flavored with sun-dried tomatoes and the other with chicha morada, the classic Peruvian purple corn beverage, came to the table with the cocktails. A happy start!
On perusing the menu I have to admit I’m happy we were there on an invite. The prices are high – probably in line with some of the other top Peruvian fusion spots around – but high nonetheless (appetizers running anywhere from 50 to 100 pesos, main courses from about 65 to over a 100, the sushi end of things particularly high). We started with a couple of tasting plates, in the background a trio of causas – one fish, one chicken, one octopus. All really well made, with different flavor combinations. We were least impressed with the chicken one, the shreds of chicken meat were a little dry, but the flavors and the other two were excellent. The tiraditos, a form of ceviche, in front, you get to choose a trio from a list of half a dozen. From right to left were the classic, the rocoto, and the huancayno – respectively a very simple but really delicious cured sole with chilies, then much the same in the middle except rocoto peppers filling in for the other chilies, which gave it a completely different flavor profile, and the last, a blend of the curing liquid and classic huancaina sauce, a mix of cheese, milk, yellow peppers, walnuts and bread. Very impressive!
On my side of the table I decided to try some of the sushi. Here’s where it was off for me – not the quality nor presentation, which were spot on, but, virtually every single creative sushi roll started off with cream cheese as a core ingredient. In fact, when I asked the waiter for a recommendation of one of the specialties that didn’t involve cream cheese he had to think about it, and in the end could only come up with one – a fried chicken roll. What the heck… I gave it a try, he highly recommended it. And, it was good, it just wasn’t really sushi, though had a nice kick to it with a spicy mustard sauce. A quintet of pieces of sole nigiri (yet another place that only offers nigiri in blocks of 5 pieces of the same fish) were pristinely fresh and right on target.
I’d intentionally not looked back at my earlier review of Ceviche – while I knew we hadn’t been impressed, I didn’t want to predispose myself in regard to any particular dishes (not knowing before going that a new chef and new menu were in place). So, I likely would have talked Henry out of ordering the seco de cordero, one of his favorite lamb dishes, which the last time had been on the menu as a seco de cabrito, the same preparation with goat – he’d hated it, and it was so gristly and fatty it was inedible, and the accompanying tacu tacu was bland, gummy and uninteresting. What a difference! Perfectly cooked, fork tender lamb, spiced just right, and a light, delicious rice and bean tacu tacu were, in his words, the best he’s ever had, anywhere. I tasted it and I’d have to agree.
I wasn’t really up for dessert, but Henry couldn’t resist the layered semifreddo of passionfruit (his favorite fruit flavor) with shards of dark chocolate. I have to admit, it was pretty damned good. He asserted it was nearly, though not quite, as good as my little dark chocolate and passionfruit tartlets.
So, overall – still like the room. Service was friendly and efficient (at other tables as well as ours). Pricing is still quite high. But, the quality has jumped by leaps and bounds – we enjoyed this meal more than we did those at Astrid & Gascón, Francesco, Sipán and others. So, expensive, yes. But worth it. Definitely Recommended.