Friday, January 09, 2009

Peruvian Fare in Fog City

We all have our hazy moments, and our moments of intense clarity.

I have often wondered why – beyond the weather -- San Francisco has been dubbed “Fog City.” Perhaps the heyday of Haight-Ashby had something to do with it. Yet every time I visit, there is that moment of intense clarity. The city sits in sharp relief against the skyline. The brilliant clang of the cable car is heard. The locally-grown produce is beautifully vibrant. It’s like stepping into one of those Mary Poppins Technicolor chalk pavement pictures.

Then, there’s the food. It is one of those bracing winter evenings and we are finally off-duty for the day. My companions are the delightful and ever-resilient Miss Tera and the always regal Dairy Queen. I am certain that our affable host in Fog City, Papa Bear, has a Zagat data chip imbedded in his brain. He has referred us to the restaurant La Mar at Pier 1.5 on the Embarcadero. It promises “Peruvian ingredients, Peruvian flavors, Peruvian traditions from our times.” Not to mention, that kind of transcendental moment of clarity, only to be found in Fog City.

Let’s start with what might quaintly be referred to as “the appetizer” – cebiches (pictured above). It is the national dish of Peru, made with fresh fish and shellfish and marinated briefly in “leche de tigre” or lime juice and peppers. (My friend Buenos Aires Gus has – in the past - reminded me in no uncertain terms that I have screwed up the spelling of this delicacy. However, I am completely accurate with this spelling, because Diary Queen charmed our waiter and scored a copy of the menu.)

We sample four. As DQ puts it, “People! We’re researching. We need a little of everything.” Cebiche Mixto is Mahi Mahi, calamari, octopus and habanero pepper marinated with cilantro, red onion, Peruvian corn and yam. Cebiche Chifa is Baja California Yellowtail with peanuts, scallions, pickled carrots and daikon, flavored with habanero pepper, cilantro and sesame. Cebiche Nikei is Ahi Tuna, avocado, Japanese cucumber and tamarind. Cebiche Classico is California Halibut and red onions with Peruvian corn and yam. The fish is exquisitely tender and the seasonings sharp, biting and crisp. A mere hint of habanero can bring stinging tears to the eyes.

For their main courses, Miss Tera and DQ choose Cordero – roasted scallops in a clam and mint broth with tiny potatoes and sweet peas and corn risotto. The risotto is luscious – tiny pearls infused with subtle flavors of the garden and the sea.

I select Lomo Saltado, traditional Peruvian style stir-fry of sautéed beef tenderloin, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, soy sauce, and garlic, with fried potatoes and rice. More clarity. Your basic meat and potatoes never tasted like this.

We sample several desserts, but the standout favorite is crisp pumpkin fritters accompanied with a smoky fig sauce of dark, tempting viscosity. Our waiter describes it as street food in Peru, while Miss Tera declares it “eyes rolling-in-the-back-of-your-head good.”

“This ain’t no Krispy Kreme,” says Miss Tera, barely able to contain herself.

You can’t get more clarity than that.

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Bon Weekend said...

I think my mouth is still burning a little from that Cebiche Chifa -- so tasty! Like DQ, I've never been a big fan of ceviche/cebiche, but now I'm a believer! As for that fritter: the last picture speaks more than its share of 1,000 words. They had me at 'fritter', but that fig syrup...

Joie de vivre said...

It looks like you had an amazing time! I'm glad you had nice weather, when the sun is shining in SF, it is beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Next trip to SF, I have to try this place. The food my husband had on a recent visit to Peru didn't sound as interesting as these dishes. Great indoor photos, too.

Anonymous said...

Must be that Lima and coastal Peru is very different from Andean and jungle Peru. No LLama? No Cuy? No Kiwichi? Sounds delicious.

~~louise~~ said...

I like to think of myself as a Meat & Potato type gal (your meal looks quite enticing) but, I would have to go with the elegantly plated Cordero. Oh my, I'm in heaven just pining for it.

Nice trip to "kick" off the New Year, T.W. If you're still In S.F. on the 25th, remember the Buena Vista for Irish Coffee Day!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Bon Weekend - it was shockingly good, and so much fun!

Joie - I think SF is a jewel of a city, no matter the weather.

Lydia - sometimes I really luck out with the photos - wish I knew what the secret really was!

Ted - The other voice from the Perfect Pantry - Welcome! I didn't quite believe that fig sauce is the side for street food in Peru, but what the heck. It was delicious!

Louise - isn't that broth an amazing color?

Rochelle R. said...

I know nothing of Peruvian food but it sure looks delicious. The Cordero looks especially yummy to me.

Anonymous said...

The Lomo looks like my kind of dish and you can't go wrong with fried dough!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

I have never had anything but exceptional meals in SF. It's like they don't know how to make a bad meal. Thanks for featuring this unique restaurant, TW. I'll have to remember this for the next time I visit SF.

Anonymous said...

Ahh...San Francisco is my favorite city anywhere! I've never had Peruvian food...sounds spanish...but soy sauce in the beef leads me to believe that there is some oriental influence?

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Rochelle and Maryann - looks like an even split between the two dishes! I'd order both!

Susan - well worth a visit, and it looks like you can sit out on the bay in the summertime.

Veron - I passed your favorite bake shop in the Ferry Building and sampled the macarons!

Lori Lynn said...

I love this place! We had lunch there last month. Your photos are great, I am reliving the experience.