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Posts Tagged ‘pisco sour’

Cuisine: Peruvian

Visit: March 2013

Price: High

From Lima through LA, Buenos Aires to London, Peruvian cuisine became trendy over the past couple of years. My trip to Peru last year confirmed that this South American country has tremendous potential on the global culinary scene. With thousands of diverse ingredients this is the land of plenty that most creative chefs dream of exploring. It is one thing though to get a plate of potatoes or raw fish ceviche on a local market in Lima, and getting the same freshness and a more sellable look on the plates of distinguished diners with deep pockets in the world’s top cities. I have tried peruvian cuisine in many cities outside Peru in the past year and none had achieved, what the recently opened Coya in London’s Mayfair did – creating authentic, high-quality menu with the right level of experimental spirit.

Coya members bar

Coya members bar

Atmosphere: It is dark, with a great vibe created by the almost night-clubby music/cocktail bar you have to pass right after descending into the underground of the secretive entrance in one of the buildings lining up along Picadilly and the nearby St James Park. The bar is fun and there are some tables you can reserve and have a bite with your pisco sour or some other cocktail from the seductive bar list. Currently it is quite hard to get reservation at the restaurant since it became the hottest place to eat at in the city, but if you do not mind eating late just come around 10pm and wait at the bar until a table frees up. At the restaurant you can sit along the ceviche bar behind which the chefs slice and dice some of the cold dishes.

Coya ceviche counter and restaurant

Coya ceviche counter and restaurant

There is also Open Charcoal Grill where the warm meats and seafood are being prepared. This open-kitchen concept is not a novelty but increasingly the interior design choice of most of the new restaurants worldwide. Most diners seem to like the fact that the preparation of their dishes is open to scrutiny of the demanding customers and also it makes it more of an interesting dining experience rather just to stare at one’s plate and people around. At Coya the attentive, super-friendly effective yet casual waiting staff just perfectly rounds up the exciting atmosphere of the place. I was surprised how quickly most of the dishes arrived considering the fact that the restaurant was packed until late hours.

Anticuchos de corazon (beef heart skewers)

Anticuchos de corazon (beef heart skewers)

Food: Authentic as well as innovative using mostly peruvian ingredients in new dishes. You must try one of the signature tiraditos (the Salmon is great) and ceviches from the starters. Ideally ask the staff as they advised us very well on which is the most popular as well as which of them might be better on that concrete day. The with the skin roasted potatoes Patatas Bravas with rich Huancaina (mayonnaise-based) sauce are naughty but really tasty and its heaviness almost disappears if you sip it with a bolder wine such as the full-bodied Argentinian Malbec, the tannic Tannat, the paprika-spicy Chilean Carmenére or for the adventurous of you (as we did) the powerful Petit Verdot. These wines go well with the meat dishes too. The juicy and fatty Spicy grilled beef fillet was tamed by the rich Petit Verdot from the Chilean producer Von Siebenthal.

Salmon Titadito

Salmon Titadito

Do not miss the deserts as it is the sweet selection that shows the most innovation. From Corn Sundae, Lucuma Bavarois to Sweet Potato Ice Cream, you probably have never had none of these combinations. I am curious how many chefs are going to copy these recipes. I have indulged in the Sweet Potato Ice Cream served on the side with Burnt Chocolate Crumble.

Sweet Potato Ice Cream with chocolate crumble

Sweet Potato Ice Cream with chocolate crumble

The fact that Peru has over 3.000 types of potatoes and corn is unbelievable for most people, yet it stirs one’s interest in trying various dishes prepared from these two multifaceted ingredients. The Sweet Potato Ice Cream was deliciously creamy with tremendous depth underlined by the exotic spices, dried fruit and cocoa powder. Peru is also one of the major cocoa producers and I must admit I have a crush on the single origin chocolates from this country. The Burnt Chocolate Crumble was genuine, rather in a raw character where the cocoa stood out and other ingredients such as sugar or vanilla commonly used in chocolate bars and truffles were not overshadowing the beautiful richness of this antioxidant-rich delicacy. The current dessert menu offers many of the Peru’s super-foods such as Lucuma (Vitamin C rich fruit) or Quinoa (great gluten-free source of proteins) so it can make you feel less guilty about finishing your dinner with one of them.

Toknar 2007- 100% Petit Verdot

Toknar 2007- 100% Petit Verdot

Drinks: We went for the adventurous 100% Petit Verdot from Vina Von Siebenthal in Chile’s Acocangua Valley. Petit Verdot is a very tannic and robust grape varietal usually used in a small volume in blends (red Bordeaux wines are the most famous). Yet as with most of grape varietals they show differently in a different terroir. Malbec and Tannat are both good examples. Malbec in Argentina is much more fruity and round than in France, the same applies to Tannat in Uruguay and Brazil where its harsh tannins are balanced by its juicy fruity character. Tannat in South-West French region of Cahors is rarely drinkable on its own and is blended. The Toknar 2007 from Chile has higher alcohol (14.5%on the bottle), but you could not detect it much on the palate. The depth expressing rich concentrated dark fruits with chocolate, caramel and nutmeg might be too much for some wine drinkers, although perhaps not for the Parker-like palates loving concentration. Fatty meal such as the grilled beef we had befriended this wine, yet the fish and seafood dishes were practically not possible to match. Pisco Sour is marvellous with ceviche as well as most of the tiraditos, so if you are starting with this grape-spirit-based cocktail save it for these fishy starters.

Opening hours: Mon- Sat: Lunch: 12:00–14:45, dinner: 18:00–22:45;

Pisco bar: Monday to Saturday 12:00 pm – 1:00 am.

Address: 118 Picadilly, Mayfair, London, W1J 7NW, UK

Contact: Tel: +(44) 0 20 7042 7118; email: nico@coyarestaurant.com

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Pisco sour

Pisco sour

Cuisine: Peruvian, modern blend with Japanese – Nikkei cuisine

Visit: December 2012

Price: Medium to high (by many diners in 2012 it was “the best ceviche in Buenos Aires so it does not come cheep, yet not too crazy).

Intimate yet buzzing atmosphere in the back room

Intimate yet buzzing atmosphere in the back room

Atmosphere: Young creatives, buzzing and quite low-key considering that it is located at a fancy neighborhood hotel Palermitano. The service is off-beat but effective. Wear anything you want, although anything youthful looking would fir in the most.

Ceviche

Ceviche

Food: Ceviche is a must here and was refreshing, juicy and intense as it should be. The white fish was fresh, corn kernels crisp, onion invigorating and the lime-based “Tigre di leche” sauce the server poured over it just after laying the plate on our table was not too sour, just right to add even more zest to the dish.

From the starters we got the Spicy shrimp, that were to our taste a bit over-flavored. The shrimps were sautéed in sundried chilly, garlic and yellow pepper sauce, served on fancy spoons to slip easily into your mouth at one bite. Unless you had a mouth of a whale you ended up hardly chewing the contents of the spoon as there was almost no space to chew in your mouth. I found it easier to grab each shrimp with my chopsticks and dip it in the rich sauce if needed, but to my taste not much of it was necessary.

Spicy shrimps

Spicy shrimps

The Tiracuya Salmon tiradito (thinly sliced fish) had a perfectly delicate texture, yet it is better to share it with at least three people other wise you might end up a bit “over-salmoned”. It was served with passionfruit sauce bringing sweet and sour tone and with a crispy thin noodle-like topping, that was a bit tasteless yet fun to crunch on.

The Sipan roll looked superb, yet the super-sweet home-made teriyaki sauce made it more of a dessert rather than savory roll with shrimp, salmon tartar, cream cheese and avocado.

Sipan roll

Sipan roll

From the warm main courses we went for Seared seafood with vegetables that we saw our neighbors were having. We though that they could not finish it because of the portion being too big for them, yet, as we tasted in just a couple of moments later, it was too salty that eating it all might cause you a heart attack. The seafood was of a great quality and well cooked, just someone had to add an extra pinch of salt each time he stirred the veggies with the seafood.

Seared seafood

Seared seafood

Overall, I would come back to this restaurant as it was better than the legendary South American chain of fancy peruvian eateries Osaka, but I would order just pisco sour and all kinds of  ceviche from the menu.

Drinks: I had one of the best – if not the best – Pisco sours in my life here. Go for it as an aperitif before your dinner or sip this refreshing cocktail based on a grape spirit pisco, egg-whites, lime and sugar during your meal. Pisco sour works wonderfully with the modern peruvian dishes. Wine is an option too. Alsatian Riesling, steely Pinot Gris or even the spice-bomb of a Gewurtztraminer are my favorite choices with this type of food. Although Argentina makes some of the later as well. We got a bottle of Gewurtztraminer from Rutini and liked it, except it was a bit more sweet than we craved for, so keep it in mind.

Address: Hotel Palermitano, Uriarte 1648, Palermo, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Contact: Tel:+(54) 11 4897-2100 or +(54) 11 4311-6875

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Cuisine: Peruvian, peruvian tapas style

Visit: May 2012

Potato Causa with beetroot

Peruvian cuisine is a big hit worldwide this year. With the world’s top chefs, including Ferran Adria (El Bulli in Spain), flying over there in search for inspiration and new ingredients, the news spread across the globe quickly. Now you find peru-influenced restaurants almost anywhere outside Latin America from Los Angeles and New York to European capitals including London. I have been to Peru and dined on incredible local dishes so I am a harsh critic when it comes to tasting this food elsewhere in the world. They do a pretty good job in Santiago de Chile, yet as one gets further away such as to LA, the authenticity and quality tends to deteriorate. It is seductive for the chefs to devise over-complex dishes, yet the peruvian cuisine is elaborate enough, so any even the slightest retouch of the dishes can spoil everything. Using high quality and authentic ingredients also makes a difference. Peru has over 3.000 types of potatoes and you cannot just use any one kind to make a causa, the traditional potato dish. The London’s ceviche though is serious about its endeavor. No wonder, since most of its staff comes from Peru and they are proud of their heritage.

Peruvian chef preparing food

Price: medium to low for central London; medium to high for elsewhere.

Atmosphere: Vibrant, young and refreshing. The staff is extremely friendly and helpful in explaining everything about your dish. You can sit right at the bar on your right side as you enter Ceviche. From here you can watch the chef with his aides preparing colorful peruvian dishes in the speed of a 100 metres world champion runner. The demands are high as the place is currently extremely popular and the nature of tapas – smaller portions so people order more than two or three dishes – creates the buzzing atmosphere. If you prefer low chairs and sitting at your own table you walk further back and sit in a cosy room full of mirrors and after 7 pm of eager diners. Below I took the picture of the room around 6pm, so early for the dinner rush hour in London.

Ceviche tables at the back

Food: Authentic in a fashionable wrap. The dishes are arranged attractively on the plates, but do not be confused, they still taste as they would in Peru! Using quinoa, potatoes, corn, onion, seafood and meat is crucial in peruvian cooking. The only think I missed was the bony and delicate guinea pig, so popular in Cuzco where all the tourists acclimatize themselves before they take off to Machu Pichu. I did not miss the surgical work inseparable from eating this tiny animal. It is a delicacy though we will not probably savor in Europe any time soon. My favorite, and now a trendy superfood, was the Quinoa salad. I can eat it day and night, on its own or with poultry, fish, seafood or even meat for its refreshing properties. Delicate quinoa paired with crunchy onions, melting avocado and mango sauce is an exotic and unique dish. I recommend starting with it.

Quinoa salad

Or you can start with ceviche, Peru’s most famous food invention. Raw fish diced in cubes, tigre di leche sauce with lemon reduction taking off the fishyness from the meal, ever-present onions and sometimes corn, mushrooms and sweet potatoes such as at Ceviches’ “Ceviche del dia” version. Nice ceviche, but this one I get better in Peru, maybe because the fish is different.

Ceviche del dia

From here you can move to something heavier. A vegetarian option, and a very tasty one, is Potato Causa with beetroot. Causa is made of a bed of mashed sweet potatoes on which a wide variety of ingredients are piled up. Avocado mash, creamy red beet chop topped with a crisp platano (big, not sweet banana used in American cooking) chip call for a glass of wine to help you digest this rich tower of ingredients. Something with higher acidity such as Sauvignon Blanc will do the job.

Chicken skewer with chicharon (corn)

Meat aficionados will devour the antichuhos – marinated meat skewers. From chicken to beef hearts and livers, the peruvians jab through everything on the stick. It may sound horrific, but it tastes good. The antichuchos are served with a corn knob and usually a slightly spicy or creamy sauce. The chicken skewers at Ceviche were juicy and supple.

Drinks: The wine list is short but suitable for the dishes. From lighter wines to more concentrated reds and sweet wines. There are lots of Chilean wines but also some from Argentina. We are at a peruvian eatery though , so pisco, the grape spirit is a must! At Ceviche they make a wide variety of seductive cocktails based on pisco, but I am devotee of pisco sour – pisco with lime juice, sugar or sirup and egg white – so I had to get one. It was excellent! Even though I am a wine buff, next time I would drink pisco sour with peruvian food instead.

Wine list

Opening Hours & contact: Monday to Saturday: 12pm till 11:30pm; Sunday: 12 noon til 10:15pm; Phone: +(44) 020 72922040

Address: 17 Frith Street, London, W1D 4RG

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Cuisine: Japanese-peruvian

Visit: March 2012

Location: 9575 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90035, US

Price: medium to low for LA (simple dishes between $5-8; more complex nibbles start at$9)

Causa - all you can imagine on a bed of potato mash

Chef: Lima-born Ricardo Zarate has been cooking in Lima, London and Los Angeles. One would wonder why he hasn’t named any of his own restaurants in LA just “L” for the letter has been following him throughout his career as a chef. In 2011 he was awarded as the “Best New Chef in America” by Food & Wine Magazine. He earned the fame with his performance at his first restaurant Mo-Chica, opened in summer of 2009 in Downtown Los Angeles.

Atmosphere: It is humming there with energy of hippie cool youngsters, after-office intelligentsia, creative minds of all ages as well as robust business-savvy Asians. Design is a stronghold here. Smart, casual and modern. On two floors you have plenty of diverse options how to enjoy your evening out.

Picca from the above

At the level 1 you can either immerse yourself in the hum of the bar crowd or watch the kitchen staff sweating over the grills at the kitchen counter.

Moving upstairs taking the semi-private table at the back is ideal for little parties and the chairs along the balcony are perfect for the voyeurs like me as everything from the kitchen, bar and downstairs tables is just in front of you.

Food: Picca means to nibble and you will be tasting a lots of tapas-sized dishes here if you want to be sated.

Ceviche Criollo, causa snow crab& spicy yellowtail

When eating peruvian food, you cannot miss a ceviche. It is a savory and refreshing dish based on chunks of raw fish in a zesty lime sauce often called leche de tigre for its milky hues. At Picca they do it quite well. I am a harsh critic though and I have visited Peru twice last year so I must say that their ceviche is rather the average than an exceptionally good. The fish is fresh and of a high quality though.

Causa is almost a national dish for peruvians. Its name comes from an important era in history of the country and there are so many variations of this potato based dish as there are potato varietals in Peru (known to count over 3.000!!). It can be light and refreshing with seafood or chicken in any imaginable kind of marinade and condiments sprinkled over the tall bun. I had the causa snow crab on the menu from this lighter realm. Once mayonnaise is part of the relish like in causa spicy yellowtail even the spicy wasabi does not make it a light bite. The core of cause is the mashed potato bun on which all the ingredients pile up. I was disappointed by how boring this staple of peruvian cuisine was at Picca. I guess it is hard to bring over the right kinds of potatoes from Peru as I had some flavorsome yet delicate varietals of this tuber in Lima.

The restaurant was originally thought to be named “Anticucho” after the wood-grilled skewers so popular for its simple and fast preparation. There are many to choose from. My favorite dish of the evening was anticucho tomatoes with burrata and black mint pesto. Black cod was also nice, but not overwhelming as well as the beef fillet as I was missing more sauce. You can try some more wild skewers such as beef heart with rocoto walnut pesto, but I rather moved to a more trustworthy artichoke. Perhaps, it s not correct to compare a take on one dish by various cuisines, nevertheless, after trying the oily and slightly burned artichoke at Picca, I must admit I was thinking of the French delicately boiled version melting  in mouth like a butter petal on hot pan. The sauce was excellent though. Overall, at Picca they do everything half way to perfection in terms of food. There is always something brilliant in each dish, yet something is too much or just not balanced right.

Drinks: The two bars are fast enough to create hundreds of mesmerizing cocktails per night – from the peruvian staple pisco sour to mojito served in a tea mug. There are some peruvian beers such as Cristal and Cuzquena as well as Californian brews.

Pisco is a peruvian brandy, which is an alcoholic drink made from grapes. The majority of Peru’s grapes are used in the production of pisco, although there are some wineries in the country producing a lower-alcohol drink – wine.

Pisco sour

The wine list is smart. It is concise, yet resourceful in the Spanish-speaking universe. There are wines from Spain, Argentina and Chile. Most of them are served also by the glass starting at $9. From the whites I have started with a Crisp and aromatic Sauvignon Blanc from Chilean Lapostolle as an aperitif. Chilean Sauvignon Blancs never disappoint me with their refreshing flair. There are not many dishes though on the menu that would not overpower this wine as the food is richer and complex. On the other hand Salentein reserve Chardonnay from Argentina goes perfectly with almost all fish and vegetable dishes on the menu. From ceviche to grilled artichoke. Bodegas Salentein from the Andes surrounded Uco Valley produce one of the best wines in the region and they do not overplay with oak so the wine retains its fruity character. In the red realm Pinot Noirs from both Chile and Argentina with their distinctive character and again the fruit-emphasis of the New World wineries plays wonderfully on the palate with the smokey grilled meat anticuchos. Argentinian malbec will take any meat dishes with a flair. To finish the meal a glass of port or a dry sherry, as the cheapest alcoholic drinks at Picca, will help you digest while won’t ruin your valet.

From non-alcoholic specialities I must mention the purple corn iced drink chicha morada which in Peru is at least as popular as a caffeine-boozing predecessor of coca-cola – the Inca kola. Both of the later used contain a small amount of cocaine as they were made from the coca leafs blooming all over the Peruvian rainforest.

Pica is for an energy-seeking crowd expecting to shout at their friends or at least excitedly talk about their crazy day at work with their friends, first-time dates and long-term couples seeking an uplifting night out. I would not bring kids there though. It is a truly adult spot. There is a valet parking outside and super-friendly staff inside so one feels sufficiently pampered.

Contact & opening hours: (+1)310-277-0133; Sunday-Thursday: 6pm – 11pm
Friday-Saturday: 6pm – 12am

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