You know that jaded New York diner’s query: “So, what do we eat tonight—Chinese, Italian, or Mexican?” Well, in Sarasota, where we can’t seriously consider Chinese, we’re happy to report that we can consider Peruvian.
What follows is the first installment of our review of Red, an upscale Peruvian restaurant on Hillview Street’s “restaurant row.” We’ve taken this unorthodox approach to sharpen our minds and taste buds, to better focus on just a few dishes and unusual wines.
For openers, we limited ourselves to a few representative appetizers paired with wines we’d asked our server to select. Arriving on each table as soon as diners are seated is a tiny bowl of toasted maiz patazca—huge kernels of roasted and salted Peruvian corn. This is accompanied by a pale green sauce of chiles, garlic, and mayonnaise. Our server told us that this was a dipping sauce for the corn, but confided that he puts it “on everything.”
As we waited for our first course, we struck up an easy conversation with the couple at the next table. They were indeed satisfied diners, happy to tell us about their Lomo Saltado, beef tenderloin with tomatoes and rice, and Tacu Tacu con Lomo Saltado, the same tenderloin served with a rice and bean cake, which they pronounced “fantastic.” They went on to tell us they’d already booked a table for six for the following evening so they could bring their foodie friends and family, in town from L. A.
Red’s wine list is eclectic, filled with bottles and wines by-the-glass you won’t find on most lists. Our aperitivo, Cakebread Cellars’ crisp Sauvignon Blanc, was a great way to begin our exploration. A Chilean Pinot Noir, Tierra del Fuego 2004 complemented our appetizer, Camarones al Ajillo. Six tail-on shrimp (and at least three cloves of sliced garlic) filled a small ramekin. Slices of crusty bread and sticks of perfectly deep-fried yucca were good vehicles for the sauce of butter and crema, the Latin American version of crème fraiche.
Our second course was Aji de Gallina, which the menu described as “Peruvian-style shredded chicken in a creamy yellow pepper sauce.” Nice understatement. Here, ‘yellow pepper’ is aji amarillo, ever-present in Peruvian cuisine. It adds mild heat, floral sweetness, and most notably, a clear yellow color to sauces. But aji, a great enhancer of poultry, was just one element in our unctuously rich chicken salad. Garnished with parsley and hard-boiled eggs, the deceptively simple and delicious salad was served warm, on a bed of leaf-lettuce and chunks of boiled potato. With the salad, we enjoyed another Tierra del Fuego offering, a velvety, smokey Chilean merlot (2003).
The prospect of a little late-night street-food, Anticuchos—grilled, marinated beef heart—was irresistible. Red’s version is an uptown presentation of a decidedly downtown snack. Two skewers of vinegar-herb marinated meat were tender and juicy, served with a mild aji dipping sauce and steamed white Peruvian corn kernels. The cabernet sauvignon (Tierra del Fuego 2003) is a decidedly uptown wine, but perfect with this dish.
Red’s chef/owner, Jorge Corzo, has created an imaginative menu, full of personal refinements yet faithful to his Peruvian heritage. Our anticucho (indeed every dish we saw) was elegantly presented on simple stylish white china more reminiscent of a sushi bar. Could this be a nod to Peru’s large Japanese population? Most of us forget that Latin America is as multi-ethnic as the U.S. Peru’s cuisine certainly reflects this, but in quite subtle ways that we look forward to exploring in our next installment!
1960 Hillview Street
Sarasota, Fl 34239