There’s a new Peruvian restaurant in town that I have to tell you about! It’s called LiMA and opened up last week in Todos Santos Plaza in Concord, which is conveniently close to Bart with plenty of free public parking (gotta give the ‘burbs some love for that). The chef-owner John Marquez has an impressive background working with some of the most celebrated chefs around and it shows in the beauty of the food, which will stun your senses in the most magical way. It is interesting that like his mentor Gastón Acurio, the champion of Peruvian Cuisine, Chef Marquez’s first restaurant, Artisan Bistro in Lafayette is French, and having a solid background in the classics as well as the experience of working with masters of the craft such as Daniel Patterson, Julian Serrano and Thomas Keller really elevates the cuisine.
The first thing you see when you enter is a display case filled with colorful folk art, dominated with the image of Torito De Pucara, or Little Bull of Pucara. They are thought to be protectors and bringers of good fortune and are usually placed on the rooftops of homes and businesses.
To the left of the entrance is a cozy bar area which is dominated by a colorful photo of the San Cristobal shanty town in Lima. The restaurant’s wine list consists mostly of California vintages, plus select craft beers including two from Peru, they expect to have a full bar by the end of the year. Until then, they are making artisinal cocktails with wine and champagne.
The dining room is spacious and airy with beautiful arched windows where you can see a fountain farther on towards the courtyard in back.
They make the Maracuyá passion fruit juice ($4) in house, it was sweet and pure, like drinking liquid sunshine.
I love seafood and so of course had to try the Ceviche, which is considered to be Peru’s national dish. We had the Ceviche Mixto ($18) an assortment of fish of the day, octopus, prawns and squid. It is vibrantly colorful with the bright green of the micro cilantro, thin slices of red onion, thick slices of orange sweet potato and yellow corn. The bold flavors are excellent, the tender seafood is infused by the Leche de Tigre marinade made of lime juice, onion, salt and aji chile peppers. A scoop of starchy boiled corn (choclo) and surprisingly flavorful sweet potatoes (camote) balance out the strong and spicy flavors. For an additional texture, dry roasted corn kernels (cancha) add a delicious crunchiness. In the first bite, I knew this was the best ceviche I have ever eaten, even the sweet potatoes were delicious!
A range of climates in Peru, from high altitude to low, makes for an unparalleled diversity of produce. They have over 3800 kinds of potato (apparently there’s even a potato museum), and many varieties of corn and other grains (hello quinoa), and native chilies that are puréed into everything. One ingredient that really brings even the simplest foods to life is ají, a type of chili pepper that gives “the flavor, the color, the essence of Peruvian food — like wasabi and soy sauce for Japanese or tomato and basil and garlic for Italian.” (– Gaston Acurio) Tiradito is a variation of ceviche with a Japanese twist, the fish is sliced into thin strips like sashimi, then served with a sauce of puréed aji amarillo, soy sauce, and mirin. Our plate of Tiradito al Fresco ($17) slices of halibut marinated in an ají amarillo emulsion, peruvian corn, and cilantro looked like a beautiful stylized sun.
Our server brought us a little cup filled with a spicy housemade hot sauce. It was delicious but very potent.
After reading this article by Serious Eats, I had to order the Jalea ($20) a mound of battered and fried calamari, fish, mussels, prawns and yuca with salsa criolla. The ubiquitous Salsa Criolla is a perfect brightly tart compliment to the rich flavors of the seafood, it is prepared with red onions, aji amarillo, lime juice and freshly chopped coriander. We delightedly dipped crispy bites into the unexpected scoops of creamy tartar sauce which were nestled on each corner of the plate, it really is the combination of the ages – the seafood dish to rule them all…
Mr. K was drawn to the Ají de Gallina ($17) a classic Peruvian dish of shredded chicken served in a creamy stew made with ají amarillo, ground walnuts and parmesan cheese, served over garlic rice, hard-boiled egg and olives. The sauce is mild but piquant, the aji’s bite softened by the rich creamy sauce served over rice with boiled potatoes. Our server smiled and told us that Peruvians love their carbs, pointing to the corn kernels in the rice and the thick slices of potato. It was totally warming and satisfying, comfort food at its best.
Did I mention that Mr. K and I were invited to dine as guests of the house? I loved the food so much that I returned a few days later to try the Tallarín Verde con Bistec ($19) and found it to be heavenly! Perfectly grilled, moist skirt steak served over a bed of creamy basil pesto spaghetti noodles and rich, spicy Huancaína sauce. The steak was thin, but had deliciously charred edges and was tender and a beautiful juicy pink inside.
We finished our meal with a bowl of Mazamorra Morada, a purple corn pudding with cinnamon and drunken prunes. It is made with the same water used for chicha morada (minus the sugar and lime juice), with the addition of dried fruits, sweet potato starch, and sugar and is full of antioxidants. It was warm and comforting, like something your grandmother would serve at the end of a feast.
Afterwards you can walk off your meal around the beautiful plaza. Thanks LiMA so much for an excellent meal, I still can’t get over how good everything was, but was especially in love with the ceviche!
2151 Salvio Street, between Mt. Diablo and Grant Streets
open daily from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. for lunch and dinner.
Free off-street parking in nearby garages, plus street parking, is readily available. For information and reservations, call 925.309.7774.