Peruvian is the new South Indian.
Or so it seems in the city lately. Not too long ago Fresca and Limon reigned supreme when it came to cebiche and all things Peruvian cuisine. But things are about to change because there are some new kids on the block looking to steal some of the limelight.
With Limon falling victim of a fire a few months back, the owners took the opportunity to keep the Peruvian dream alive and opened Limon Rotisserie on 21st and South Van Ness. The focus may be rotisserie chicken, but the appeal is the lower-than-low bill at the end of the meal. We went for Sweetie’s birthday last month and were astounded that we got out for less than $20 for two people. Justification: they didn’t have a liquor license when we went so there were no drinks on our tab, but an oh-so-familiar black and white text heavy sign in the window promised that they were in negotiations. Based on the current pricing structure, we don’t imagine they’ll go for the $12 cocktail. Though we do wonder if they plan to serve Pisco Punch.
La Mar Cebicheria, a stroll away from the Ferry Building at Pier 1 ½, has a different idea about how much good Peruvian cuisine should cost. La Mar promotes authenticity and so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try their take on Peru’s national dish—Cebiche—and one of the Causa appetizers (which — we had to ask — is a traditional Peruvian small plate that, simply put, amounts to intrepid miniature mounds of mashed potatoes with interesting ingredient enhancements like quail egg).
Unlike Limon they do have a full bar where the star of the show is the Pisco Punch and the Pisco Sour. Pisco Punch, a San Francisco original, seems to be making a return to bar menus, and having experienced our first sangria-like glass we think we could get behind the movement. In fact, we enjoyed everything at La Mar, but the two small appetizers and the drink (plus tip) came to $50. For one person that’s quite an investment, especially when the appetizers hardly qualified as dinner.
These Peruvian price wars have us wondering exactly how much Peruvian food San Francisco wants to embrace and how much we’re wiling to pay for it. The Fresca menus have always been mid-range to higher, and regular Limon definitely leans toward spendy.
But there still seems to be room on the block for at least one more Peruvian hot spot hopeful, and that’s Pisco Latin Lounge, which just opened this week on Upper Market near Octavia. Like La Mar, they’re going for authenticity, but being more bar than restaurant, the appeal weighs heavily on the somewhat exotic Pisco Punch. Word is, they’re the only ones using the original recipe created right in this city over 70 years ago.
The tapas menu up on their site indicates prices a slight step lower than La Mar, but from experience we know that tapas style dining can get expensive quickly when the prospect of trying a little of everything leads to a lot of dollar signs.
All in all it seems to be a good market for Peruvian cuisine; nonetheless, with the recent headlines, it will be interesting to see if a shaky economy effects the appetite for the trend.
[Photo of causa appetizer at La Mar Cebicheri via Alexis Wright]