Peruvian food is having a moment — and nowhere is that more evident than at Tito's Ceviche & Pisco, a new upscale Peruvian restaurant on Magazine Street.
The last time I visited Tito's, it was fairly late by Uptown standards — past 9 p.m. on a Tuesday evening — and the dining room was packed. Inside, white linen-topped tables were filled with diners eating delicate quinoa salads or digging into giant platters of arroz con mariscos. Outside, a smattering of folks braved the crisp fall air to sip on pisco sours under the branches of a towering magnolia tree.
Service is poised and informative, which adds to the elegant dining experience. A television above the bar runs a loop showing Peruvian landscapes, which is a little distracting and doesn't fit with the upscale ambience.
To start our meal, golden-fried cancha — crispy corn kernels — arrived alongside a creamy and deceptively spicy cilantro sauce. Next there were plates of delicate ceviche — the restaurant's namesake, but hardly its only offering. The ceviche Criollo features a Gulf fish such as drum layered with thinly shaved red onions and sweet potatoes, swimming in the country's ubiquitous leche de tigre, a citrusy elixir with the soft heat of aji amarillo peppers.
Part of what makes Peruvian cuisine fascinating is the country's diverse culinary influences, stemming from China, Spain and Japan. The latter's presence is most obvious in dishes carrying the nikkei name, a hybrid cuisine with both Japanese and Peruvian influences. In the nikkei tiradito, thinly sliced tuna is served with slivers of avocado and lightly drizzled with lime, soy and sesame oil for a delicate and flavorful finish.
Tacu tacu con lomo saltado is a dish that seems emblematic of chef Juan Lock's Chinese and Peruvian heritage. A crispy rice cake made with fried rice and creamy canary beans is topped with seared tenderloin tips, tomatoes and onions, all in a soy-rich "oriental" sauce, which soaks into the rice, lending each bite a delicious umami kick. The same canary beans find their way into a warm, creamy stew served with an enormous braised lamb shank drizzled with a cilantro sauce, a hearty dish appropriate for autumn.
A traditional take on a Peruvian causa — mashed potato terrines flavored with lemon juice, aji amarillo and olive oil — is layered with sweet lumps of crabmeat and avocado, topped with chopped hardboiled eggs and black olives. The indulgent starter is more than enough for two people to share. Also delicious are skewers of grilled veal hearts — crispy and earthy without overbearing gaminess — tucked beneath a blanket of garlicky chimichurri.
Portions run large with many dishes, and to cap off an evening here, alfajores (buttery shortbread cookies) are the perfect finishing touch. A simple treat filled with a rich and sweet dulce de leche, they're all diners need to complete an elegant meal showcasing Peru's multifaceted cuisine.