Costanera Cocina Peruana
Most people could not tell you what Peruvian food is, much less find it on a map. Sure, they would point to South America, but even I get confused as to which is Argentina, Chile or Peru. Since I’ve been to Brazil several times, I just know its on “the other coast”, and I have to remember their famous native ancestors were the Incas not the Mayans. If you need a geography lesson, its kind of it as if it were Los Angeles in reference to New York, or vice verse. Its Northwestern South America.
In any case, its a costal country and about as long as California, so, there is a lot of fish. Probably the most famous dish from Peru would be the ceviche, which most people can’t grasp the concept of. Its simply raw fish cured in lime juice, there is no “cooking” as in flames or heat. But as many should know, the acid in lime juice is strong enough to burn through anything, including your stomach. If you don’t ever want to get sick from something you eat, be sure to have some fresh lime juice to go along with it, a cocktail would be perfect. However, if its ceviche as an appetizer, that’s all you really need for the rest of the rest of the meal if you were worried.
Pictured above at the top of the photo is ceviche. One of the best I’ve ever had, it included fluke, shrimp, octopus, scallops, scungilli (conch), and you can’t really see all that because they topped it with sliced red onion, but trust me it was delicious and you would never know its not “cooked” with traditional heat. They use “leche de tigre” (Tiger’s Milk) which is basically lime just marinade, salt, cilantro and juices from the fish, so between the salt and the lime juice, nothing to worry about. The white kernels you see are corn of some sort, and of course the orange is a yam. While that was good, there is nothing more I love more than fried oysters. The only thing that would have made these “Po Boy” sliders any better, is if they toasted this sesame seed bun. But no complaints, they were fried with a quiona-lime crusting and topped with red onions. I found them very tasty, and even better with that green sauce they served with the fried corn kernels. I don’t know what it was, but it was very spicy and delicious.
I was conflicted as to what to order as my main course. Since Lent started, I’ve tried to avoid meat, but at the same time, I’ve been eating so much fish, vegetables and pasta, I hesitated, however, but “fish of the day” didn’t seem very exotic to me, so I wanted to try the Parihuela Costanera, a Peruvian bouillabaisse seafood stew. They have snow crab legs in Peru? No questions asked… bonus!
Shrimp, calamari, clams, mussels, crab, scallops, in a Bouillabaisse sauce. Wait, how did French cooking enter this scene?? I understand the Chinese, the Spanish, even Polynesian of sorts, but French? Well, I just have to let this go too, I guess every culture has its version of fish stew, and its always in a red sauce, the only thing that varies is the type of fish, and of course thats always regional.
Things I rarely order out are pasta or steak, usually because I can cook both really well, so why would I order it out when I can cook it at home better? Well, not the case here. This was probably the best piece of steak I ever tasted, juicy, flavorful, a bit rare, but it was all quality, all fresh. Currasco a lo Pobre is supposed to be the “working man’s meal” and is a batch of things the African slaves put together (usually leftovers), but this is a carefully plated flame-grilled Black Angus Rib Eye beef, tacu-tacu (fried rice and chickpeas), maduros (sweet fried bananas), and topped off with a fried egg (as if you really needed that, but its part of this traditional dish). Again, I don’t know what the green sauce/salsa topping is, but it was good. And, I can eat a plate of the fried rice and chickpeas alone and be happy. Again with the thin sliced red onions, they seem to accompany every plate, is it a garnish at this point or I must eat it with the food to get the full flavor/experience?
Now what would anything be without a side of potatoes? Better than that, is Yuca. I remember the very first time I had this. It was at my girlfriend’s apartment in New York, and it was served with olive oil and chopped crushed garlic. Tasted like potatoes to me, and its basically a starchy root vegetable like potatoes, but a bit firmer. Still delicious. Steam or fried? Well, for me, fried, just as I remember them the first time I had them. Think of them as “steak fries” if you are going out for Peruvian food.
I am not much of a sweets person, especially on one of the coldest/windiest days in Feburary, the last thing I wanted was ice cream, but this caught my eye: Peruvian Lucuma ice cream with Tahitian vanilla bean. Wow, simply the best ice cream flavor ever. And, trust, me, I’ve had gelato in Italy, and Baskin Robbins Kahlua & Cream, this is up there with my top 5 flavors of all time. Lucuma is a subtropical fruit indigenous to Peru and looks like an avocado from the outside, but inside its an orange, and said to have the taste of maple and sweet potato. Sounds odd, but you taste this ice cream and you will be back for a whole bowl.
Like asking loaded question, as when ordering an espresso, I already know the answer. I didn’t expect it to be exceptionally good. But, I was there, I was not going to stop at a coffee shop, I had to give it a try. Being 99% satisfied with everything, I felt I had nothing to lose. And, I didn’t. It was not bad, just not good espresso, and trust me, its very very hard to get good espresso.
Very happy, very satisfied, even the prices, while not the cheapest, were not bad. I think we walked out of there with 2 appetizers, 2 main courses, we brought our own wine and the scoop of ice cream was free — $93 plus $20 tip cash. You could do worse in a few of the surrounding places, but the meal was exceptional, the staff was friendly and the crowd and climate (not just the atmosphere but they had the heat on to 73F +) and that is all A+ in my book for a cold February afternoon.
PS – its BYOB (no alcohol served, so bring your own, if you wish)
Costanera Restaurant (973-337-8289) www.costaneranj.com
511 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair NJ 07042