La Mar Cebicheria is putting Peru back on the map. Not since Patria has this South American cuisine been placed on such a high pedestal, and while reviews have been mixed, we found it to be quite superb.
Without having reservations on a Saturday night, we were able to secure a table by arriving early. The cut-off time appears to be 6 pm. The first thing we noticed from the moment we arrived was a smile, from the maitre d' who greeted us at the door to the hostess who brought us to our table, along with a very accommodating wait staff. The second thing you'll notice is the exquisite space beginning with the shimmering crystals that splash down from the second level to the bar below. When the lights are dimmed they twinkle as if they are little stars. It's the perfect atmosphere for sipping a traditional Pisco Sour (or maybe two or three).
Peru's national dish is cebiche and at La Mar it has a starring role. My guests and I sampled three; Elegance ($19) which is a traditional cebiche made with warm water fluke in a citrusy sauce called leche de tigre or "tiger's milk", believed to be an aphrodisiac. While the portion is small, the flavors are not. The fish pieces are topped with red onion, Peruvian corn and bits of yams that resemble little melon balls. The Limeño ($19) is also excellent. The mix of Spanish octopus, calamari, scallops and blue shrimp take on a red hue from the aji chili pepper sauce, which also has a dash of pisco in it. The third cebiche we tried was the house special. This night it was scallops, still translucent, and laid out beautifully across the plate. Thin strands of red and green chilis adding just the right amount of heat to the dish. If offered during your visit, don't pass it up. It was probably the best of the three. La Mar also offers a cebiche tasting; three varieties for $24.
One of guests, a native of Peru, had high praise for the anticuchos ($11), skewered meats (in this case heart), served with smashed fried potatoes and a huacatay sauce. The meat was very tender and juicy. For those squeamish about eating heart, it's also available in beef, chicken and fish. Another Peruvian favorite, Jalea ($18), is also worth trying. A mound of crispy fish belly, octupus, shrimp and calamari is served with fried yucca and plaintains. My favorite was the Arroz con Mariscos ($28), the Peruvian equivalent of fried rice. It was filled with juicy scallops, shrimps and bits of octopus served with a spicy salsa criolla. The only weak spot was the grilled hamachi ($26) which arrived rather limp next to a pile of cilantro-infused rice, although I couldn't help but notice that the plate was still cleaned.
La Mar also provides a taste of some traditional desserts like a flan made with the fruit of the lucuma tree, and picarones ($12), Peruvian fritters that resemble zeppoles served with a spiced chancaca honey. They are simply delicious and provide a perfect end to a wonderful meal.
By now, you're probably realizing that a meal at La Mar doesn't come cheap, but most good things in life don't.