Near the quaint colonial square of Usaquén, La Mar was launched under the watchful eye of Chef Diego Oka. In his late twenties, Oka can tout another successful dining venture – La Mar in Mexico City – and this restaurant has very few kinks to work out.
On a rainy Thursday, not a lunch table was free. This multi-level, 220 seat spot follows the nautical theme of its Mexican counterpart, complete with outdoor terrace, aquatic blue menus and a giant chalkboard highlighting the day’s specials. Fun and flair abound. The wait staff has taken to heart the call to bring Peruvian food, especially of the Limeñan variety, front and center.
“Gaston Acurio has revolutionized the subject of Peruvian gastronomy throughout the world,” says Margarita Henao, one of the restaurant’s managers. And his passion spreads. Our waiter considerately explores the menu with us as we munch on the crunchy choclo nuts. A classic tiradito, followed by a causa and octopus… all jewels of Peruvian cuisine and displayed just so. The tiradito of sea bass, albeit fresh, was sliced a little too thick, but the leche de tigre and ají amarillo (yellow pepper) invigorated our palate. Causas, or layered whipped potatoes can seem ho-hum, here they are served with casual elegance. Ours, the ‘nikei’ was presented as four fluffy towers holding a sweet tuna tartare, judiciously balanced with rocoto pepper and sliced ginger.
The anticuchos de pulpo or grilled octopus, were cooked on point. Not sloshed with chimichurri, but laced. Gently wilted arugula and crispy beets provided the garnish. This dish found under “otras entradas”, while generous, is too good to be shared. As we finished our last starter, a plate of rice whizzed by. Its aroma cast a spell. The chuafa la mar thankfully appeared at our table without much delay. The lambent rice, abundant with shrimp was simultaneously sweet and salty. Silently, we ate and enjoyed the silkiness and flavor of Peru’s ultimate fusion dish.
Such artistry on the savory side, hastened our call for dessert. Why settle for just one, when four could be had? A La Mar sweets degustation became a must. A tiramisu, arroz con leche, buñuelos, and a suspiro Limeño arrived on a bright rectangular platter. The chocolate in the tiramisu overpowered the gentle flavor of the lucuma cake. The lucuma, native to Peru, looks like a cross between an avocado and a pumpkin and would benefit from a more compassionate pairing. The arroz con leche, layered with strawberries was pleasant, but not memorable. Now, the buñuelos and the suspiro, that’s a different story. The buñuelos could be described as a molten chocolate cake disguised as a round fritter. The chocolate sauce oozed out and pooled excitingly around the banana ice cream. Yum. However, the suspiro Limeño provided the ultimate close to this very good meal. The mousse of manjar blanco was topped with a soft burgundy tinged merengue, itself subtly flavored with port.
Gaston Acurio may not consider himself a restaurateur, but rather a missionary who wants to transform the image of Peruvian cuisine. He is succeeding. His San Francisco outpost has been awarded two Michelin stars. Could Bogota be next? This Katz-Acurio combination is a sure winner. Is it happening? Yes. Might the table not be ready? Yep. Loud? Uh huh. Worth it? You bet!
Calle 119B No. 6-01