Tag Archives: ceviche

The best ceviche in Lima at El Mercado

peruM is a ceviche aficionado, so we did a lot of research to find the best ceviche in Lima, Peru before we arrived. In terms of Ceviche, anyone visiting Lima is absolutely spoiled for choice. Ceviche, which is basically an art form in its native Peru, is simply raw fish or seafood “cooked” in citrus juice and chiles (known as “tiger milk”). However, in our research, we found a few ceviche-centric picks that rose to the top, including El Mercado (Hipolito Unanue 203, Lima, Peru) in the trendy Miraflores neighborhood. Mercado is the brainchild of chef Rafael Osterling, and it is known for offering both traditional and nouveau takes on ceviche.

There are no reservations accepted  at El Mercado, so in order to get a table, people line up outside before opening time (maybe using the word “line up” is too strict) to get a table. We heard that lunch was an easier sell than dinner, so we waited outside for the restaurant to open for about 45 minutes. When the restaurant finally opened up at 12:30 we were among the first 20 to get in – and we were very happy to have secured a table (though, to be honest, the restaurant wasn’t full at that point, so we probably could have just arrived when it opened, but YMMV). The restaurant itself was partially open to the elements, and live trees grew straight through the floorboards. We enjoyed the woodsy, convivial environment, and it really felt like you were eating outside. We also liked that there was an open window to the kitchen where we saw a bevy of female chefs at work.

We were surprised by the sheer size of extensive menu of tiraditos, causas, ceviches, salads, sandwiches, sushi and more substantial wood-fired dishes like lobster and whole grouper. If your taste is not necessarily for ceviche, there will still be dozens of options for you. There are inventive starters including a suckling pig spring roll and scallops in spicy ceviche “tiger milk.” Despite all this choice, we were most intrigued by the two classic categories of Peruvian appetizers: tiraditios, thinly-sliced fish with citrus; and causas, Peruvian potatoes mixed with chilis and other fillings like fish and avocado. We decided to sample the Causa Tumbesina, with yellow Peruvian potatoes, shrimp, crab and avocado (42 Soles), which was a delicious mixture of textures and mild spiciness that we were not expecting.

However, the stars of the show are Mercado’s ceviches, of which there are 8 varieties, inspired by different areas of Peru, and the ingredients local to each region. In a dish with relatively few component, every element of the ceviche has to be absolutely perfect, and M certainly has a critical eye for ceviche.  Unique options included the “Galactic ceviche” with Lemon Sole, Bull Crab, and Scallops Cooked in Lime Juice and Sea Urchin “Galactic Milk.” We selected two different types of ceviche: the classic Lenguado (55 S): Lemon Sole in Lime Juice, Chili “Tiger Milk” Red Onion, Cilantro, Iceberg Lettuce, Sweet Potato & Corn and the more avant-garde Norte-Norte (54 S): Sea Grouper, Cockles, Shrimps, Green Banana Majado (fried mash) & Chili.

The seafood in both ceviches was super fresh and delicate, and was some of the best fish we had ever tried. Each was garnished simply with large Peruvian corn kernels- choclo– and mashed sweet potatoes or plantains. The flavors of each ceviche were clean, simple and not over-complicated. M admired the technical perfection of the Lengaudo ceviche, with its perfectly uniform slices of fish, and just the right amount of onions with a pungently citrus-y tiger milk that was not overpowering. Mercado’s rendition was basically a template for everything a classic ceviche ought to be. We were struck by the purple color of the Norte-Norte ceviche, and the tantalizingly smoky flavor of the chilies. Upon consideration, M deemed the Lenguado as his favorite ceviche of the trip. We would highly recommend Mercado for all things seafood, but if you are ceviche lover, it is a must-try!

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Wood-fired Baja Californian cuisine at Leña Brava

Mexico FlagBy now, it is pretty much common knowledge by now that Rick Bayless has something of a Mexican food empire in Chicago. In 2016, that empire grew by two more – Leña Brava (900 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL) and Cruz Blanca. These two restaurants are more modern, updated spots in the always-buzzing Randolph Street corridor in the West Loop. Cruz Blanca’s is a brewery with a taco bar, and Leña Brava is all about the wood-fire grilled seafood, Baja California-style. When choosing between the two we knew we had to go with the wood fire! In any case, they are basically connected, so you don’t necessarily have to choose -if you want to grab an after-dinner drink at one or the other.

laminado The interior of Leña Brava is sleek and stylish, and seems to draw a similar crowd, fitting with the location. The massive wood-fire grill is one of the features of the restaurant, and it is in full view of diners on the first floor. Not everything is wood-fired, though. The menu is divided into both hot and cold items – in sections called “ice” and “fire.” The cold menu is composed of oysters, ceviches, seafood cocktails, aguachiles (similar to a ceviche, but with a super-spicy broth) and laminados (raw sashimi-style fish – above). On the hot side of the menu, you can get grilled fish, pork belly, scallops or even roast chicken for two. We decided to sample items from both the hot and cold sides.lenapastor

From the cold side we knew we had to start with a ceviche – there were 3 versions ($15-16) – classic Lena with albacore, lime and ginger; spicy Verde with yellowtail and green chiles; and the Asian-inspired Maki with nori, sushi rice and avocado. We tried the verde version, we were also intrigued by the laminado, so we picked the Hiramasa, with yellowtail, chamoy and papaya ($15). From the hot side we tried the scallops in salsa macha, these were oven-grilled with pasilla-almond salsa and mashed plantains ($25). Finally, we couldn’t resist the wood oven-roasted black cod with “al pastor”-style marinade and a sweet pineapple salsa ($27), inspired by our favorite tacos al pastor with a bright-red chile and achiote marinade. The fish in each of the dishes was extremely fresh. The raw preparations highlighted the unique flavor combinations of sweet, sour, spicy and acidic really well, and we especially loved the unique flavor combinations of the laminado. We were also impressed by the surprisingly delicate “salsa macha” and we just may have to steal the idea of an almond-based salsa for ourselves. Both of the hot seafood dishes were cooked perfectly, and we felt that the wood fire definitely imparted a little extra flavor to the sear.

scallopslena

We also appreciated the variety of unique desserts (prickly pear ice cream with grilled pineapple, for example)  and the selection of teas from the Rare Tea Cellar (we sampled the hibiscus mango). On the beverage side, there are also a large amount of specialty cocktails, rarely-seen Mexican wines and over 100 Mezcals, one of the biggest lists anywhere. We finished our meal with creamy horchata custard topped with puffed hibiscus-scented rice and blueberry preserves – a flavor combo we never knew we needed in our lives. We really enjoyed our meal at Leña Brava – everything was fresh and the flavor combinations were memorably innovative. Leña Brava felt very different from the more buttoned-up Topolombampo and the more casual Frontera Grill, and was definitely modern and accessible. We can’t wait to go back and try more off of the menu. Maybe next time we will get a grill-side seat!

lenabrava

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On our way to Peru!

​If you’ve been keeping up with our Instagram, you will see that we’ve been featuring photos of the dinner we recently had at Next Resatuarnt in Chicago, with the theme of South America (specifically Peru). We really enjoyed the meal (review coming soon), and it helped prep us for our trip to Peru, which starts today! On that note, ETW will be taking a summer break until July 15. If you have any last minute Peru recommendations let us know!

Ceviche from Next Restaurant

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Nuevo Peruvian comes to Chicago at Tanta

Tanta
118 W Grand Ave
Chicago, IL

peru As interest in Peruvian food continues to grow in the US, and especially in Chicago, we’ve seen an increasing number of haute Peruvian restaurants open up – the surest sign a cuisine is taking on a big audience. Tanta, in River North, is one of the most recent high-end Peruvian restaurants to open in the city, and we were eager to give it a try. Its menu seemingly sets it apart from its competitors, with an emphasis on some highland dishes (most “Peruvian” food in the US is from central coastal Peru) as well as nikkei dishes inspired by Peru’s heritage of Japanese immigration. Overall a bit pricey for the fare, we were overall impressed by Tanta’s offerings and ambiance.IMG_4939

Our amiable and perfectly attentive waiter began our evening with fried choclos (large Peruvian corn kernels), a typical starter snack. We quickly paired these with the anticuchos – marinated and grilled beef hearts served with potatoes, corn, and huacatay ($9). We also got some plantain chips served with aji amarillo. This sauce gave us a clue for the evening: Tanta does not skimp on spice levels.

Anticuchos and choclos.

Anticuchos and choclos.

Given the bold flavors in the starters, M was particularly excited to try the ceviche. Sparking our interest was the leche del tigre flight ($15), which will definitely merit a try on a return visit. “Tiger Milk” is the name given to the mix of citrus marinades left at the bottom of a bowl when one finishes eating a ceviche. Typical protocol requires you to pour the remainder in a shot glass and drink it straight; Tanta does one better by offering a full flight. Still, M decided to go with a more traditional cebiche tasting menu ($28). While it typically includes three of Tanta’s best ceviches – clasico, mixto, and nikei, the kitchen made a small mistake so we actually received a fourth, the criollo. The mixto (“Mixed”) and clasico (“Classic”) are old standbys for any Peruvian restaurant; the former at Tanta showcasing mahi, squid, shrimp, and rocoto; while the latter always includes whitefish (in this case fluke) marinated in lime juice, red onions, and cilantro. Both impressed M with the powerfully authentic spice level, and showed that the kitchen was not willing to compromise on authenticity. The criollo was a small twist on the mixto – the same proteins, only this time marinated in the aji amarillo that was such a hit on our first course. The nikei, however, was the big hit of evening: tuna and avocado marinated in tamarind and garnished with cucumber, this was a great fusion ceviche that is worth a full plate at Tanta.

 

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From left: cebiche clasico, nikei, and mixto.

Ceviches downed, tiger milk drank, we were already getting full. But on this night on the town, we still had our mains coming. We chose a selection from the “Del Chifa” section of the menu, which came with a blurb: “In the 1800s, people from Canton immigrated to Peru and brought their amazing culinary culture.” Representative of this, and recommended by the waiter, was the chaufa aeropuerto ($23). A hot stone dish was served to us containing pork fried rice, a shrimp tortilla, and accented with spicy garlic. Mixed all together this dish was a big hit, a marriage of bold and trans-Pacific flavors that are distinctly representative of the history of Peruvian cuisine, and rarely featured on other Peruvian menus. Tanta’s offerings include many other dishes in this vein, and we are eager to return to try more.

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Chaufa aeropuerto

 

Overall, Tanta’s bold flavors and spices, crossed with its trans-Pacific emphasis, really impressed us. The trendy atmosphere was a bit much, and the prices perhaps a little high, but the quality and inventiveness was there, perhaps moreso than at any other Peruvian restaurant we have tried in the city. Great for adventurous clients, or a foodie date you want to impress, or someone who wants a great cross-section of Peruvian history through food.

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Agua y Sal: Adventures in Mexico City’s Best Ceviche

Agua y Sal Cebicheria
Campos Elíseos 199-A
Polanco C.P. 11560
Mexico, D.F., Mexico

Mexico FlagAgua y Sal (“Water and Salt”) is widely acclaimed as one of the best seafood restaurants, if not one of the best restaurants in general, in Mexico City. We wasted little time in placing it on our list of “must-trys” in Mexico City. While (as will be demonstrated in forthcoming posts), we really came to the D.F. for street food and markets, the lure of some of the best ceviche in a great ceviche country was too much to pass up. And Agua y Sal delivered: from flawless Mexican service, to adventurous and innovative ceviches, to the fresh seafood necessary to pull them off, this was a treat well worth the high (by Mexican standards), but not unreasonable, price.

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We walked to Agua y Sal following a day of wandering through Chapultepec Park (and taking it all the sites at the very impressive National Anthropology Museum). Located just north of the park, in Mexico City’s swanky Polanco district, Agua y Sal presents an initially surprising first impression: a marriage of upscale ambiance and casual dining. A green 1950s refrigerator and hipster-style mason jar serving glasses would be much more at home in Wicker Park than Mexico City’s version of the Chicago Loop; but somehow it all works. Less surprising is that the service at Agua y Sal is flawless: attentive without being overbearing, quick but not rushed, and, like any good non-US restaurant, they let you linger without the check long after you’ve finished eating. Our waiter, whose name we sadly didn’t write down, was the best we’ve had in some time. On his and our recommendation, we decided to start and finish with the Cebiches Tasting Menu, a selection of four of the restaurant’s [supposedly] finest ceviches, priced at 185 pesos (about US $15). Check out the photos and descriptions of each below.

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Agua y Sal places an emphasis on fresh and unique flavor combinations, while paying homage to the classics. Take a look at the menu, and you can see the restaurant emphasizes its particularly impressive array of sea salts to be paired with each of its ceviches. As we learned during our time in Portugal, sea salt can make or break the dish, bringing out certain flavors while diminishing others. They certainly did on our first course, the Atun. An interesting ceviche of tuna in a tamarind sauce, the tamarind is well balanced with accompanying cucumber, red onion (always), avocado, and cuaresmeño chiles (a variety similar in spice to a jalapeño, but with milder flesh like a poblano). Using this chile instead of the jalapeño is a smart choice against the powerful tamarind, and all the flavors were brought together by their other smart choice of a little black Hawaiian sea salt. While this was not our favorite ceviche of the evening, it could have gone terribly awry in less competent hands.

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Our second ceviche was the restaurant’s namesake, Agua y sal. One of our constant problems with Mexican ceviches in the past has been their overall lack of leche de tigre, but at Agua y Sal in general, we were pleased to see them using classic Mexican and tropical flavor profiles without sacrificing the precious liquid that makes ceviches of all kind such a treat. The Agua y sal showcases fresh shrimp and chopped mango in a sauce of pineapple and cuaresmeño chiles. Add red onion, peanuts, sesame seed oil, and a bit of Maldon sea salt flakes, and this is a great dish to showcase Mexican ceviches alongside a readily drinkable leche de tigre.

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At this point it is difficult to make a classic Peruano ceviche that really impresses Matt, so Agua y Sal can be forgiven for not blowing us away with its rendition of the coastal Peruvian classic. But they did a very good job. Halibut always seems to be a better choice than tilapia, and their choice was soft and spot-on. Red onion, cuaresmeño chiles, and cilantro accompanied the ubiquitous cancha (Peruvian corn nuts), corn kernels, sweet potato, and Peruvian Andean sea salt. Rarely do the corn kernels and nuts make their way into the ceviche proper, but we were interested by this technique of adding a little liquid to the typically dry corn nuts. A very solid rendition.

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But the big winner and unexpected star of the night was the Veracruzano. Arguably the simplest ceviche of the bunch, this one packed bold and sophisticated flavors that married perfectly together. Grouper – an odd and excellent choice of the main fish – balanced against a sauce of cilantro,  jalapeño chiles (for extra flavor), cucumber, red onion, and sea salt from Guerrero Negro in Baja California. The sweetness and refreshment of the cucumber was a great complement to the peppers and sea salt. This was a big winner, and we would order it for our main appetizer next time!

Overall, we would highly recommend Agua y Sal to anyone in for some ceviche in the notoriously landlocked and smoggy Mexico City. Refreshing, light, and airy, you can linger here for a while; and when you are done, spend some time in Chapultepec or the gorgeous branch of the Pendulo bookstore in Polanco. We’ll be back on our next trip to the D.F.

 

 

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‘Ota ‘Ika – Tongan Ceviche

flag-tonga-flagge-rechteckig-40x60The first in our Winter Olympics newcomer series is Tonga. The sole athlete from Tonga is certainly making waves at their first Winter Olympics, the luger, born Fuahea Semi , now Bruno Banani, did not place, but by changing his name he won an endorsement deal from a German underwear manufacturer with the same name. Antics aside, we have always wanted to try Tongan cuisine, since the South Pacific has so far eluded us in culinary terms. Being an island nation, fish plays a large part in the island’s cuisine, along with other staples like coconut, sweet potato and cassava. One of the most iconic dishes in Tonga is ‘Ota ‘ika, known sometimes as “Tongan ceviche,” fish marinated in citrus and coconut milk, similar in some ways to Latin American ceviches. Since M loves ceviche, I can only assume we will be making this recipe soon. Check out recipes from Daily Dish and Radio NZ to get a good start. Are there any other Tongan recipes you would recommend?

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A Taste of Chile in Brazil: El Guatón

chileEl Guatón
Rua Artur de Azevedo, 906
Pinheiros, São Paulo, Brazil

El Guatón was our first foray into Chilean food, and we had to go all the way to Brazil to do it! One of the world’s great foodie cities, São Paulo is known for its range of restaurants. We were excited (but not really surprised) to find a Chilean restaurant among its ranks of eateries.  We heard good things about El Guatón, and looking at their menu online we noticed some similarities with both Peruvian and Argentine restaurants that we had visited before. We were on board!

Dinner at El Guaton in Sao Paulo

Dinner at El Guatón in São Paulo

El Guatón is cute and cozy with red-tablecloths, and a little patio out front. Unfortunately, we arrived on a chilly day, so everyone chose to stay warm inside. We got a small table in the back, which – at the risk of stereotyping Brazilian restaurants – means you will never be served. But the service was prompt and courteous, and even more surprising for Brazil, there was a basket of food placed on our table for zero charge. In the land of couverts, this was a nice change! El Guatón also features an extensive wine list,featuring many Chilean varieties. There is even a bottle of the house red put on the table, and most people do seem to take advantage of it.

Chilean Empanada

Chilean Empanada

One of the most popular items on the menu, according to reviews, are the empanadas (in Spanish) or empadas (in Portuguese), terms basically referring to the same sort of delicious carb filled with meat or cheese. The cost was a reasonable at R$6 for baked and R$8.50 for fried. We ordered a baked cheese, and fried shrimp. The baked empanada was slightly smaller and a had a lighter taste, perhaps it would be good for the “health-conscious” empanada lover (if such a person exists). The fried variety was seemingly twice as big and came out piping hot, with a tender crust and nice oozy cheese. They definitely made both of these varieties to order – and it showed. YUM!

El Guaton Ceviche

El Guatón Ceviche

Beyond empanadas there were a variety of meat and seafood dishes including picanha, fried fish, ceviche and humitas (Chilean tamales). Matt is a major fan of ceviche, and after our successful ceviche meal in Rio at Cevicheria Carioca (review forthcoming!), he wanted another hit. The ceviche at El Guatón was only R$53 for fish ceviche for two. It is plenty large enough for two people, and in many ways simpler and subtler than many of the Peruvian ceviches with which he, and many readers, may be more familiar. This ceviche was simple: just white fish, lime juice, diced white onions, and cilantro – a combination that resulted in a rather tame tiger milk, but still mixed and effectively presented all the great flavors.

We were also surprised to find lúcuma on the menu. A fruit native to mountain valleys in the Andes, Matt grew to love its sweet potato / maple / nutty flavor while living in Peru.  El Guatón featured a lúcuma cake (R$13), which was very tasty, but essentially just a puff-ball of whipped cream on a very thin crust. It needed a little more substance (and definitely a little more lúcuma).

We had a great meal at El Guatón and we wish there were more Chilean places around. We love it almost as much as Peruvian food! Maybe someday we will be back, until then we’ll have to scour for another Chilean eatery. Is there a Chilean restaurant in your neck of the woods?

Lucuma Cake

Lúcuma Cake

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