Some days it seems as if you can spot a new Peruvian restaurant on every Miami block. While ceviche is a must-have, my favorite places also offer the homey, hot comfort fare with influences as far-flung as Italy, Spain, Africa, China and Japan.
Embarcadero 41 Fusion, the Lima minichain that put its first U.S. outpost in downtown Miami, does it all — and it does most of it very well.
This large corner spot is popular with families and large groups, especially at lunchtime when quick, friendly service and fair prices make it an easy choice.
At night, the setting, though clean and airy, has all the charm of a high school gymnasium with its bright lights and flat-screen TVs. The clean, aqua-and-white décor lends a bit of warmth.
High-back vinyl booths are cozy and the young bilingual staff welcoming. A spiral-bound, hard-covered menu complete with glossy photographs and beer ads makes ordering a breeze in any language.
On multiple visits we found the appetizers better than most of the main courses. Outstanding ceviches topped the list with an equally recommendable array of tiraditos in bracingly acidic marinades and delightfully spicy sauces.
Another must-try is pulpo a la parrilla (pictured), tender octopus tentacles grilled and served with a fiery chile sauce over slices of white potato and juicy kernels of choclo, or Cuzco corn.
Causas are as brightly arrayed as a street festival, with flavors equally as enticing. Hard-boiled egg halves, sliced purple onion and olives add textural interest.
Mains that work the best are also classics.
The aji de gallina — spicy, creamy chicken; my most-craveable Peruvian special — is one of the smoothest and subtle I have tried, although the rich, yellow stew could have used more shredded chicken and fewer potatoes. Still, the gentle burn and cozy creaminess make me want to jump in the car now to have more. A tiny tangle of lettuce is meant to brighten the plate but works against it.
Another classic, lomo saltado with rough-cut hunks of red onion and peppers, is a perfectly rustic rendition with its irresistible hot white rice and thumb-thick fries. The beef is meaty and tender but still full of flavor and juice.
A signature risotto is a large portion of pretty green rice dotted with peas; good enough, but the dish suffered from the distinct and dusty flavor of dried herbs.
I would steer clear of pastas, including a gloppy huancaína (cheese sauce) that was so overly drenched that it reminded me of nothing so much as canned Campbell’s chowder concentrate.
While servers are all smiling and welcoming, ours disappeared after dropping our check. We found her sharing iPhone pics with a table of young women who seemed to be her friends.
A varied selection of desserts has something for everyone.
I have to suggest the delightful suspiro limeño, the poetically named sigh of a woman from Lima. This silken dulce de leche-like pudding spiked with a bit of port and topped with puffs of cinnamon-dusted meringue will provoke spoon wars.
What better way to finish a meal at this lovely new addition to the growing Peruvian food scene in Miami?
Critics dine anonymously at the Miami Herald’s expense. Follow Victoria Pesce Elliott on Twitter: @VictoriaPesceE.