This San Francisco pop up is big news in Peru. Gracing the front page of Peru's biggest newspaper, El Comercio, Lima Peruvian is bringing Peruvian street food to San Francisco just like it's done on the streets of Lima -- filling in a gap in San Francisco's food scene with a yin to La Mar's high end yang.
Seattle-born Christopher Kese worked at La Mar after ditching at thesis in Peruvian history to go to culinary school when he realized he was really in love with the country's cuisine. Christopher met Chio Burga, co-founder of Lima Peruvian when he was living in her hometown, Lima. They were best friends for ten years, until, Christopher adds sheepishly, "they added a romantic element to their relationship." This Peruvian fusion power couple plans to make San Francisco fall in love with the food of Peru by bringing an authentic Peruvian experience to the Bay.
And this isn't an antiquated Peru either. They're looking to capture a Peruvian hipster vibe to accompany their exquisite ceviche and anticuchos.
Despite mixed feedback, they are holding fast to their logo written in the Peruvian Chicha street art style. This bold and stylized writing that harkens back to the 1960s is popping up with Banksy-like hype all over Lima. Lima Peruvian is going for a colorful and celebratory experience, calling all of their pop ups a party. A soundtrack of Barreto and Nova Lima, new styles of music that blend traditional Afro-Peruvian with electronic and reggae beats, certainly helps.
Though music and art are burgeoning in Lima, Peruvians are most proud of their food. Mistura, the largest culinary festival in the Americas, will draw 15,000 tourists to Lima this year. More importantly, however, it is a congregation of Peruvians from all over the country who gather to celebrate their enormously diverse cuisine. Peru not only has 2,000 different types of potatoes, but also boasts influences from cuisines all around the world. Kese highlights the similarities between Asian and Peruvian cuisine. Peruvian ceviche is more similar to Japanese sashimi than to other ceviches in the Americas because, in preparation, it only is marinated in lime juice for two minutes. "Any more than that is too much," he says. "It's all about presenting something that's as fresh as it can be."
Lima Peruvian sources all of its ingredients locally --Christopher points to the dock where he picks up the yellowtail for his ceviche as we walk down The Embarcadero-- except for the aji panca, a red pepper native to Peru and irreplaceable in Peruvian cuisine. This pepper is boiled repeatedly to make a marinade that is infused with the aroma rather than the spice of the pepper.
They also hope eventually to incorporate kañiwa, a grain similar to quinoa with even more of the Andean super food's super powers.The couple was initially unsure about how the public would react to anticuchos, a skewer made of beef heart, but because "the streets of Lima smell like anticuchos" they had to bring some along to their first Off The Grid three months ago.
Though it was the ceviche that had sold out by the time I made it to Fort Mason last Friday, these anticuchos have intrigued adventurous eaters and had Peruvians coming back for more. I tried one of these "anticuchos clásicos" and found the meat tender and suffused with the aroma of aji panca. The skewer lay atop a bed of boiled yucca, drizzled with a Peruvian cheese sauce. These quasi steak fries accompanied the anticucho with a sweetness to complement the meat. The heart muscle is certainly chewier than other parts of the cow and is something of an acquired taste, like any unusual animal part might be.
San Francisco's Peruvian community has been both Lima Peruvians most loyal and trickiest customers. "They will always show up, we don't have to convince them to come," Chio says. "But sometimes they complain about the prices. They say, 'I can get much more than this for a few pesos in Lima.' Or they want more salt because a lot of home cooking is very salty in Peru. But they keep coming back."
The Lima Peruvian crew remember fondly a Peruvian boy who tried their food at Off The Grid and brought his dad back the next week. "The dad looks skeptical as they were ordering," Christopher says, "but I looked over later and saw him smiling and licking his fingers." Yes, this means you get to eat Peruvian food with your hands.
You can find Lima Peruvian at the FoodLab every Wednesday from 5:30 PM - 10:30 PM and follow them@LimaFood to stay up to date on menus and other locations.