Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Lima Peruvian Cuisine & Lounge In Los Angeles

In keeping with the celebration of Lima's founding, I finally made it out to Lima Peruvian Cuisine & Lounge in Tarzana, located in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles.

There are currently dozens of Peruvian restaurants in the greater Los Angeles/Orange County metropolitan area, a far cry from what it was like during my childhood growing up behind the Orange Curtain.

Back then, finding a Peruvian meal other than one made by mom entailed a long trek up the 5 Freeway to a hole-in-the-wall in Hollywood where there were few tables, the requisite pictures of Machu Picchu and a couple of llamas, and home-style Peruvian food served by bona fide Peruvians who, back in the day, were also few and far between.

Fast forward to 2008, and there are now Peruvian places from Chatsworth to Torrance to Irvine. That's quite a territory. But, most Peruvian places I've been to (and I admit I haven't tried all the Peruvian places in metropolitan Los Angeles) tend to be mom-and-pop type places, usually with a very homey décor, a home-style presentation, a variable price-quality relation, and catering mostly to Peruvians (who also seem to be everywhere these days) and the smattering of foodies and cognoscenti in search of the culinary wonders of Peruvian cuisine.

Sadly, here in LA (unlike our neighbor to the north, the City by the Bay) there was no Peruvian place that seemed a bit more hip and upscale, with dishes presented in a stylized, more contemporary, manner.

At least, until now.

The new kid on the Peruvian restaurant block here in Los Angeles is Lima Peruvian Cuisine & Lounge in the almost hoity-toity west San Fernando Valley area of Tarzana.

Lima is the brainchild of Javier Neciosup, Juan Morillo, and Henrik Strater,
a Puerto Rican and two Peruvians, known in the LA area as Latin American music promoters. They've worked with such heavyweights as Peru's Eva Ayllón and Morillo is manager of one of my favorite Afro Peruvian dance and music troupes, Perú Negro (who are getting ready to embark on a North American tour ... but more on that in a later post).

The partners conducted extensive research on the current state of Peruvian restaurants in the Los Angeles area (48 by their count) and knew if they wanted to stand out, they would have to do something different.

Under the direction of Chef Javier Chan, trained at Lima's Le Cordon Bleu and formerly of the well regarded El Rocoto in Gardena, they created dishes that maintain their authenticity but are presented with a contemporary twist. They decorated their locale (formerly a Persian cabaret) in a sophisticated, modern style. Admittedly, some of the décor could still be improved, but the overall feel is light-years from other Peruvian places I've been to in LA.

In keeping with the name, there is a welcoming lounge area as you enter, which leads towards a garden-like outdoor patio, perfect for dining in the balmy Southern California weather. In their main dining area, the tables and chairs could be improved, but they need to be easily moved because on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, the restaurant closes down and transforms itself into a nightclub featuring salsa and Latin American music.

What really sets Lima apart is the food and its presentation. On our visit, to get us started, we were treated to chifles, banana and sweet potato chips, accompanied by a very nice and spicy Peruvian green sauce.

Since everything on their menu looks quite good, we opted to start with a trio of appetizers: Choros a la chalaca, mussels served in the style of El Callao, topped off with fresh red onion and hot peppers, Langostinos en causa, breaded langostinos lightly seasoned with the Peruvian hot pepper ají panca and served on top of a delicate mounds of potato causa, all lightly drizzled with a sweet maracuyá sauce, and the pièce de résistance: an absolutely perfect Peruvian ceviche.

We accompanied our meal with a decent pisco sour, and Lima's own take of this classic Peruvian drink: a maracuyá sour. Maracuyá is passion fruit, and after one, I felt it was a drink I could feel passionate about. I would have liked to have seen other pisco drinks (I've been craving a Pisco Punch since I tried one in the other Lima for the first time back in September) and maybe they'll expand their drink repertoire in the future.

Our main dish, which was more than enough for two, was a tasty Arroz norteño de mariscos, rice cooked in a cilantro base and packed with all types of delicious seafood. Unfortunately, by the time the main dish arrived we were either too engrossed in conversation or too enamored of the pisco sours to take a proper picture. Oh well! It just means I'll have to go back there very soon, poor me!

Photo: Canelita

Photo: Canelita

My dining companion and I had to arm wrestle to see who would get to drink this little glass of pure heaven. On top was cancha, the toasted corn which accompanies most Peruvian meals, but beneath it was an exquisite leche de tigre, the tiger's milk, meaning the tart and spicy marinade of the ceviche, with little bits of seafood thrown in for good measure. I won. And, I didn't cheat. Too much.

We finished our long lunch with the perfect foil: a scoop of lúcuma ice cream, made from the sweet tropical fruit all Peruvians love.

As I said at the onset of this post, I haven't been to all the Peruvian restaurants in the Los Angeles area. I tend to save my money so I can eat to my heart's content (and stomach's galore) in Lima (the city). But, with Lima (the restaurant) so promising and so close by, I may be going to Lima even when I'm not in Peru.

Lima Peruvian Cuisine & Lounge
19540 Ventura Boulevard, near Tampa
Tarzana, CA 91356
(818) 758-3902

Website: Lima Peruvian Cuisine & Lounge

Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana


Gretchen Noelle said...

It is great to see you actively writing here again. I am enjoying your tidbits about Peruvian food in the states. Look forward to more!

::Alejandro:: said...

Thanks Gretchen! I appreciate your comments...

Anonymous said...

Great post and great pics, Alejandro! Lima definitely deserves a try.
*I'm glad you fessed up...I suspected there had been some cheating going on. :)

::Alejandro:: said...

Jajajaja Canelita...¿are you calling me a cheater?

Gracias por tu comentario...

KirkK said...

Hey Alejandro - This looks and by your words sounds great....definitely one for my list! Wow, I don't check for 5 days, and now there's a lot of catching up to do!

::Alejandro:: said...

Kirk, I was convinced...I'll have to keep going back ... to conduct research, of course!