WARR ACRES — Peruvian cuisine extended its reach in the Oklahoma City metro area when one of its top local purveyors opened Ceviche House, 5805 NW 50, in the spring.
Peruvian Juan Castro's two decades in the restaurant business have led him through many Mexican restaurants, but his dream has been to share the food of his homeland.
Mamaveca in Norman and Zarate's in Edmond proved Peruvian food would sell alongside Tex-Mex, but Castro wanted to prove Peruvian food could stand alone.
So in 2009, he and two fellow Peruvians opened El Pollon, which was the first restaurant in the city to feature an all-Peruvian menu. El Pollon was never large enough to support all three partners, but its popularity did spur outgrowth. El Pollon is now Naylamp, 2106 SW 44, and former partner Niel Zambrano has Inca Trail, 10948 N May Ave.
Castro and Eduardo Carranza opened Ceviche House in May. The menu initially featured Tex-Mex and Peruvian food but is now 95 percent Peruvian.
Castro was familiar with the space because he'd helped open an ill-fated Chelino's in it. Even the successful Chelino's brand was unable to stem the tidal wave of customers frequenting Abel's Mexican Cafe, which is just across NW 50.
So, Castro and Carranza tried something different.
“We want to offer something nobody has around here,” Castro said. “Authentic Peruvian food.”
Each Latin American country has its specialties, and ceviche belongs to Peru. I've had excellent ceviche all across the country, but the top five ceviches I've ever eaten were in one of the five aforementioned Peruvian restaurants in the Oklahoma City metro.
True to its name, Ceviche House does a phenomenal job with Peru's national dish. Castro and Carranza offer Tiradito, a Japanese-inspired version seasoned with ginger, lime and aji amarillo (mild yellow peppers from Peru); Pescado, a simple Peruvian ceviche; and Mexicano, which includes avocado and the aji amarillo sauce. Then there's the Ceviche en la Copa, which is like a ceviche cocktail. The Camarones Calientes are clash between shrimp and the rocoto pepper, an Andean pepper with Scotch Bonnet tendencies. The Choritos a la Chalaca (say that 10 times fast) weds mussels with salsa fresca.
But the big ticket is the Ceviche de Mixto, which is almost as beautiful to behold as it is delicious to eat. Fish, shrimp, mussels and calamari are sent to heaven in a bath of aji amarillo, rocoto pepper and lime juice with wafer-thin red onions, ultra-crispy choclos, which are corn nuts the way they were intended, hominy and a chilled hunk of sweet potato for balancing texture and flavor. If you like ceviche, you'll love this. If you hate ceviche, you'll like this. If you've never tried ceviche, start here so you know what it's supposed to taste like.
Ceviches are cooked only with the acid of citrus juice. Most read that as raw. Well, read it however you like, but if you take the time to taste it, your palate will thank you and so will your waistline. And those two hate each other.
For those terminally skittish about safety and time-proven worth of ceviche, Castro and Carranza have plenty of traditionally cooked fish, fowl and beef. Their Peruvian style paella is called Arroz con Mariscos. Parhihuela is a traditional fish stew. The Jalea Mixta is a batter-fried version of the Ceviche Mixto.
Lomito Saltado illustrates the Chinese influence on Peruvian cuisine in this stir-fry of beef, onions and tomatoes with steamed rice. Aji de Gallina is another Peruvian classic, consisting of chicken under a blanket of aji amarillo sauce.
Notables from the appetizer menu include Anticuchos, which will improve whatever position you currently hold on the subject of eating beef heart; Papa a la Huancaina, a simple group of boiled, chilled potatoes dressed in that magic aji amarillo sauce; and Papa Rellena, a mashed potato rolled out, filled with beef, rolled back into a ball and batter-fried.
Ceviche House serves Peruvian-style tamales, meaning the chicken-stuffed masa is wrapped in banana leaves rather than corn husks. Its partner in flavor is Salsa Criolla, the thin-sliced red onion mixture.
Ceviche House is open daily for lunch and dinner, for more information call 470-0998