Peruvian Diversity at San Francisco’s La Mar
Sitting on the San Francisco waterfront, La Mar Cebichería Peruana does not even have to be that good to lure in local and visiting diners in staggering numbers. But it is. It is that good.
The restaurant is located at the historic Pier 1½ building and has a dockside patio overlooking the bay. The inside is broken into various sections with large group tables, booths, and bistro-style tables for two.
Sea water-inspired colors and dark wood work perfectly in the dining room, the lounge area, and the bar, where it is good to start an evening with some specialty cocktails, like the classic Pisco Sour or the tangy Blood and Sand with blood orange.
On the night we dined, I had a weekly special – El Piscosito – with Pisco Encanto, mescal, honey, chipotle bitters, yellow Chartreuse and lime juice in a chipotle salt-rimmed glass (couldn’t go wrong with that).
La Mar’s humongous exhibition kitchen looks like a pirate ship from a Hollywood movie – with a handsome all-male crew in black bandannas efficiently operating with open fire and sharp appliances.
Recently appointed executive chef Diego Oka, a native Peruvian of Japanese descent, was part of the team that opened the first La Mar Cebichería in Lima, Peru, followed by additional venues in Mexico City and Bogotá. Now in San Francisco – the foodie paradise – the chef’s creations seem to find their perfect match in appreciative city gourmands.
The La Mar menu, originally conceived by the chef/owner Gastón Acurio, showcases traditional Peruvian seafood dishes, authentic meat preparations, and culinary influences from large Asian communities – integral in the country’s population.
Family-style dining is encouraged, and the menu includes numerous small plates of cebiches, causas, empanadas, and anticuchos.
Cebiche mixto of fresh tuna, calamari and shrimp has giant white corn kernels in its mix, and is marinated in limey leche de tigre and bathed in aji Amarillo peppery sauce. A vegetarian causa casera is formed out of yellow whipped potato and topped with a delectable mixture of artichoke, asparagus, avocado, and tomato confit in basil cilantro oil. Empanada de aji de gallina is a cozily deep-fried piece of ultimate comfort food with stewed chicken filling.
I was thoroughly impressed with anticucho corazon, a traditional skewer of grilled beef heart and a Peruvian classic. Chewy no-fat organ meat, now gradually making its comeback to the North American plates, was served with Peruvian corn and two sauces – spicy panchita and mild-ish rocoto.
Among the traditional and modern main courses arroz norteno – fried rice-based seafood combination, sautéed with black beer and huancaina sauce – is a good representative of the seafood bounty, while short ribs seco over white beans is made irresistible by lightly-marinated shaved red onions lending spring-time freshness to the dish.
A glass of Spain’s own Tempranillo or Argentinean Malbec from the restaurant’s wine list pair wonderfully with the food, and the dessert menu is not to be neglected no matter how full you are.
La Mar’s pastry chef, Jose Carlos “Charlie” Cardona, created a little art piece for the spring season, called esferita. It’s a kind of an Easter egg made of white meringue, split in half and filled with purple corn sorbet. It sits on a bed of apple, pineapple, and white corn relish, and is perfectly divine.
On April 30, La Mar Cebichería Peruana will host the Casa Lapostolle Winemaker Dinner beginning with cocktails at 6 pm. The evening’s menu, prepared by La Mar chef Diego Oka, will consist of five courses, each paired with Casa Lapostolle wine. The cost of the dinner, with wine, is $89 per guest, excluding tax and gratuity. Call (415) 397-8880 or email to fatima @ lamarcebicheria.com to reserve seats for the dinner. Credit card-secured reservations are required and space is limited.
La Mar Cebichería Peruana is located on Pier 1½, on the Embarcadero in San Francisco. The restaurant is open daily, serving lunch from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm, dinner Sunday through Wednesday from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm, and Thursday to Saturday 5:30 pm to 10:00 pm.
For more information and reservations call (415) 397-8880 or visit their website.