‘It’ cuisine for 2014 : Cali-Peruvian
It’s about time Santa Barbara. It’s about time for Peruvian cuisine hit our coastline. Peruvian is next big thing in foodie world and I have been waiting for it. I remember reading about Chef Zarate – (He was a 2011 Food & Wine Best New Chef) so when I heard his ‘Chef Zarate Restaurant Group’ opened a place in Indigo hotel (‘Post’ Anchor), I already started drooling. What a perfect location for visitors who get off the train station, strolling downtown from the beach and for locals grabbing a bite before they enter ever-so-hip funk zone for a night. Me being a totally ethnic food fan, I scratched my head over the name ‘Blue Tavern’ but as I looked around my friends at the table, who were mostly non-ethnic, I could totally understand why they decided to take ‘real deal’ down a notch. Just like I would do with my Korean food. You have to break it slowly. ‘Cali-Peruvian’ way.
Honestly, kind of ‘star-struck’ by this up and coming restaurant group, I am totally dressed up for the evening, complete with my high-heels. I wanted to look ‘LA’, ok? I walk in and I have to admit I felt awfully over-dressed. It’s hip but relaxed and casual. It’s like they are so uber-cool so they-don’t-have-to-act-cool kind of way. I’m getting warm, fuzzy and comfortable inside my stomach. I like this. I really like this.
So what’s the story behind this uber trendy restaurant? Here is a run-down : Chef Ricardo Zarate, a native peruvian, who was 2011 Food & Wine Best New Chef and two-time James Beard Foundation Award semifinalist for Best Chef and business partner Stephane Bombet of ‘Chef Zarate Restaurant Group’ opened three successful Los Angeles restaurants ; Mo-chica, Picca, and Paichẽ. And ‘Blue Tavern’ is their 4th restaurant. One of geniuses behind this restaurant group is Blue tavern’s Executive Chef, Alex Carrasco. Being half-peruvian himself, he takes an inspiration from this heritage and infuse it to california cuisine. Yes my friend, Cali-Peruvian is born.
Chef Alex who is new in town (We welcome you with our open arms, chef!) said,
“We are not here to compete with other restaurants. We are here for our food and people. We want to give people different experiences and to be pleased. Each menu items are here for a reason. Many thoughts are put in and our passions are behind each dish.’’
As we were watching people next to us who are literally devouring their food, we all smiled at each other.
“Here, we don’t have any food leftover. People eat every bite on their plates’ General manager, Eric Terry proudly said. And I believed him. I think I licked my plates. Leftover what?
Let’s get into food itself …..it’s peruvian inspired cuisine utilizing local Santa Barbara seafood and produce. It’s Tapas style. So you order bunch and share with your table.
Don’t worry, super friendly staffs will help you ‘design’ your meal. Thats another thing. The staffs are all professional, knowledgeable and so nice. Chef Alex said that’s one of what Chef Zarate’s restaurant philosophies. They treat their employee like a family-which I also take a huge value in any workplaces. It truly shows.
Beets & Heirloom tomato salad with burrata and macha lettuce is something we all familiar with. But there is something exotic in there..that I can’t identify…..’Huacatay pesto’. Huacatay is peruvian herb mix between mint and basil- fresh yet strong. Absolutely fantastic flavor combination. And a surprise crunchiness of beet sugar. It’s an art. At this point, I’m thinking no wonder this restaurant group is so famed.
Sea bass Ceviche is served with crispy calamari, ‘Rocoto Leche de Tigre’, celery leaf. First, I really thought I was eating milk from a tiger. Oh my ignorance….Leche de tigre, (or tiger’s milk), is the peruvian term for the citrus-based marinade that ‘cooks’ the seafood in a ceviche. This leftover fish runoff believed to be both a hangover cure as well as an aphrodisiac. I should have a jar of this at all times. Peruvians knows a thing or two on Ceviche. The best in town for sure. Pan fried branzino comes with roasted vegetable and Huacatay Jalapeno sauce. Now remember we went over what Huacatay was. See? Not so bad, huh? I love getting to know new flavors, new ingredients and new culture!
Oh and don’t overlook their bar either. Designed by well-known Mixologist, Deysi Alvarez, their cocktails are as decadent as their food. I don’t usually like sweet cocktails (I’m a dry gin girl) so my favorite was Pisco Sour : Pisco (Peruvian brandy)+ lime juice + Lemon juice + evaporated simple syrup + organic egg white + angostura bitters and cinnamon tincture. I can just sit at the bar and have 2 more of this.
You think you’ve had a pretty darn good dinner so far, wait…there is more. Pear Crostada and Chocolate passion fruit molten cake with homemade ice cream is worthy of every lick on the plate.
I enjoy seeing diversity of customers here. Tourists who are just back from the beach, hotel guests, locals, groups, groups who speak foreign languages, single diner who leisurely enjoys meal with a magazine, girlfriends who totally dressed up like myself. Original and memorable – I have a feeling that this place will be around for a long time.
Blue Tavern, Welcome to Santa Barbara and we can’t wait to see what more to come in 2014. (Possibly corner food truck that sells 100% peruvian food? ok, I will stop nagging. )