Inca spots: Peruvian cuisine in Florida
The latest Latin American export to make a splash in Florida is Peruvian cuisine.
Ten years ago, Peruvian cuisine in Florida was a rare and exotic taste, as fresh as a bite of cool, citrusy ceviche, found only in a few locations.
Today, however, Peru's ceviche and tiradito crudos can be found throughout Florida - from strip centers and roadside stands to white-tablecloth establishments in Miami and elsewhere.
Menus go beyond ceviche - even though today's chefs can turn out a dozen or more seafood cocktails, from scallops to tuna. Some come bedecked with herb sprigs and modern garnish; others feature traditional corn nuts and slices of cold sweet potatoes.
For all its beans, corn, pepper fish and chicken, Peruvian cuisine has been hailed as the most uniquely sophisticated cuisine in South America, combining Spanish, tropical and Indian influences with flavors that reflect a century of Chinese and Japanese immigration.
Look for saltados, a peppery stir-fry borrowed from the Chinese, papas Huancainas of potatoes and cheese, fried seafood jalea, skewered anticuchos of grilled beef hearts, causa mashed potatoes and chaufa stews, steaks with tacu tacu (crispy rice and broad beans) and pollo dorado, possibly the best rotisserie chicken on the planet.
Pair them with the bubbly nectar of Inca Kola at lunch or a nutty pisco sour at dinner.
Sarasota / Bradenton
Selva / Darwin Brewing Co.
On the Gulf coast, the Peruvian explosion that began with Selva Grill in downtown Sarasota has now expanded north and south. Darwin Santa Maria, the pioneer Peruvian- American sous chef who started Selva and the now-shuttered Darwin's on 4th, has moved to Bradenton to follow his newer love: Craft beer. His Darwin Brewing Co. Has a large brewery, beer garden and a tap room with a Peruvian accent, including chicha, a corn ale from the Andes. He also operates a food truck.
Embarcadero 41 / Coya / La Mar
Miami is now a hub of a worldwide network of designer brand Peruvian. Carlos Huerta, the fusion-minded chef behind Embarcadero 41, has opened his first U. S. location with slick stone, glass and wood in downtown Miami. He brought with him brightly presented ceviches and escabeche that charm a dozen upscale locations in Peru and Ecuador.
For evidence that both Miami and Peruvian cuisine are the jet-set menu, look to Brickell downtown for the first U. S. branch of Coya. Its ornate, antique-filled rooms look like lost palaces, with pisco bars and ceviche counters here and in London and Dubai, as well. Food is as grand, with truffled ceviche, maiz sundaes, a $90 Champagne brunch and a 12-page drink list.
The most refined Peruvian seafood has landed at La Mar in Brickell's Mandarin Oriental hotel courtesy of chef and author Gaston Acurio, who has dozens of restaurants across South America.
Acurio extends his native tradition with sophistication, making anticuchos with sweetbreads and veal heart, tossing wok-fried seafood with udon noodles.
Ceviche House / Pio Pio / China Hut / El Inka Grill
In Orlando, Ceviche House has two locations showing off its seafood, whether fried, broiled or in salad (try the octopus) and, of course, its namesake, cold ceviche, including a $24 sampler plate that would make a sushi chef blush. Pio Pio has combined ceviche, tiradito sashimi and golden chicken with Puerto Rican and Colombian touches to create three locations in Orlando and four more around the country. There's also China Hut, serving two endless menus of Peruvian food and Chinese dishes, which is not a new fusion but a traditional combination in Peru. El Inka Grill has made Peruvian cool for the suburbs in Hunters Creek and soon in Dr. Phillips.\
Naples is one of Florida's newest Peruvian hot spots, with a half-dozen restaurants and bakeries, from small to elegant. Chef Rafael Rottier has held down sleek Inca's Kitchen in north Naples and just opened a second in Towne Centre 10 miles south. His cooking covers the classic Peruvian dishes and Naples luxe with sensitivity to local ingredients and vegetarian concerns. Desserts run from the beloved sweet bunuelos to souffle.
Ceviche by the Sea
In south Florida, Peruvian food is almost as ubiquitous as Cuban. Certainly it's served with smarts and style at top restaurants like 2-year-old Ceviche by the Sea in Fort Lauderdale.
Ceviche and all its friends are now also happily surfing in Atlantic Beach at Ceviche Jax. Up to 10 ceviches come seasoned with a full range of Peruvian peppers: Amarillo, limo and rocoto.
In Hollywood, La Huaca puts on the style and adds imagination with dishes like wok-charred ceviche and quinoa fried-rice style.