Word of mouth travels fast, and five recommendations in two weeks about the new Peruvian restaurant La Mar Cebichería Peruana is enough to titillate anyone’s taste buds. Connoisseurs of Peruvian cuisine have a great treat in store with this new eatery, part of a chain from Lima that can also be found in Mexico City and Panama.
The demanding palates of residents and visitors here have given rise to a variety of culinary arts, including Peruvian, considered by many as one of the most diverse in the world. A cultural melting pot with a variety of climatic zones, the Andean nation of Peru has developed characteristic tastes and cooking methods influenced by regional differences and the cuisines of Europe and Asia, particularly China.
Located in the new Plaza Momentum on the Santa Ana-Belén road, southwest of San José, La Mar is a comfortable family affair on two floors. The upper one is the best choice; it’s pleasantly breezy and offers a view of yet undeveloped, open fields.Wooden tables and chairs, a peacock-blue color scheme, paper mats and napkins offer a totally unpretentious ambience; however, the presentation of the food and the service is first-class.
A party of seven of us visited La Mar recently for Sunday lunch. Despite the fact that the place was hopping, our waiter, who spoke halting English, gave us courteous service throughout our meal.He never made us feel rushed, and made sure our orders appeared at just the right time.
The menu is extremely large and imposing but easy to read, and prices include the 13% sales tax. It’s all in Spanish, so those unfamiliar with the language should take a dictionary or a friend who can translate. A member of our group, who was paying a return visit, recommended we order an assortment of appetizers, forget the main courses and leave room for dessert.
We commenced our delicious lunch with a sampling of the menu’s 17 varieties of cocktails created with pisco, the national liquor of Peru,made from distilled grapes.We ordered traditional pisco sours served in martini glasses, the maracuyá sour made with passion fruit, and a pisco Bloody Mary, as well as a bottle of pleasant Chilean sauvignon blanc. All proved to be excellent choices.
The food arrived and we started with “the flagship of the coast,” ceviche, or cebiche as it’s spelled in Peru. La Mar has many varieties of this marinated fish or seafood dish, and we opted for the classic corvina with tiger’s milk, which is used in quite a few recipes here. Rest assured, it’s not what it implies but rather the tasty juice obtained from the ceviche ingredients.
Tiraditos are the Peruvian version of Italy’s carpaccio or Japan’s sashimi.We ordered one made from raw tuna and another with shrimp, as well as samplings of the causas, mashed potato topped with smoked trout, avocado and various other fishy ingredients.
The appetizingly presented plates kept appearing, including fried squid and sizzling platters of mixed fish and seafood. All were first rate and succulent, except the classic papas a la huancaína, boiled, sliced potatoes covered with a rather bland yellow sauce.
La Mar is heaven on earth for fish and seafood lovers, but it does offer a couple of steak choices and the old standby, arroz con pollo (rice with chicken). Nevertheless, it’s probably not the best choice of restaurants for dedicated carnivores or those not impressed by what is gleaned from Neptune’s garden.
After stuffing ourselves with appetizers, we decided to skip the main courses, which included more fish and chifa cuisine, that popular fusion of Chinese and Peruvian flavors.
We pondered the dessert offerings and eventually ordered the suspiro limeño, a classic caramel custard, and lúcuma pie – the fruity, golden berry filling was delicious, but the pastry on the tough side. The custard apple (anona) volcano spewed forth a tart treat from a meringue base, while the sinful chocolate fondant, a freshly baked chocolate sponge cake, gushed forth a hot chocolate sauce that dribbled over the accompanying vanilla ice cream. The profiteroles seemed totally incongruous on the Peruvian menu, until it was discovered La Mar was founded by renowned chefs Gastón Acurio and Astrid Gutsche, who studied at the Cordon Bleu in Paris. Obviously, they just had to add a taste of France to their Peruvian bill of fare.
We had no complaints about the bill, considering what we ate and drank. It came to ¢94,763 (about $190), including tax and 10% service. Divided by seven diners, it worked out to about ¢13,500 ($27) each.
For aficionados of Peruvian cuisine, La Mar is highly recommended.
Location: From thePróspero Fernández Highway
, take the Santa Ana exit. Turn right on the road to Belén and continue approximately half a kilometer.
The entrance to Plaza Momentum is on the left, directly opposite Auto Mercado.
Hours: Monday, 11:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Tuesday to Saturday, 11:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 7 to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 11:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.