La Mar Cebicheria Peruana: Peru Beside the Bay
By Monique Burns
If you thought you couldn’t find a good Peruvian restaurant in our hemisphere, book a ticket to San Francisco and a table at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana. The restaurant is at Pier 1 ½, at the south end of The Embarcadero, beyond the seaside attractions of Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. With a big high-ceilinged dining room, a lounge, and a large patio facing San Francisco Bay, you’ll feel as if you’ve dropped into the hacienda of a wealthy Peruvian acquaintance. Even in laid-back San Francisco, this is one of the city’s most relaxing restaurants, whether you’re escaping lunchtime crowds at Fisherman’s Wharf or seeking a romantic bayside dinner.
Serving 240 guests in several dining areas, La Mar Cebicheria has a superb kitchen capable of flawlessly preparing large numbers of dishes from its extensive menu, and charming but business-like waiters who will see that you get your meal without delay. Start with a cocktail, preferably made with pisco, the colorless grape-based liquor that’s the Peruvian national drink. Traditional pisco cocktails include the pisco sour, made with lime, simple syrup and bitters, and topped with egg-white froth, and chilcano de pisco, made with ginger beer, lime juice and Angostura bitters. A local favorite, pisco punch, with pineapple and lemon juice, was invented by San Francisco bartender Duncan Nicol in the 1850s. You’ll also find updates of old standards like daiquiris, gimlets and margaritas, along with the increasingly popular Moscow Mule, made with vodka, lime juice and ginger beer. Peruvian beers—Cusqueña or Cristal pale lager—are on the menu along with sangria, and red, white and sparkling wines. My suave and impeccable server, Scott, suggested I pair my cebiche appetizer and fish-skewer main course with cocktails—a tart but creamy pisco sour, followed by a Bay Flower, ever so sweet with raspberries, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, vodka and, of course, pisco.
Cebiche—the Peruvian national dish and the restaurant’s namesake appetizer—is made from the freshest fish from the Pacific marinated to melt-in-your-mouth tenderness with leche de tigre, a citrusy marinade. My Cebiche clásico was served with red onion, diced sweet potatoes, crunchy yellow corn kernels, habanero peppers, and choclo, large white Peruvian corn kernels. You’ll find six other cebiches on the menu—including the intriguing Cebiche nikei, made with tuna, red onion, Japanese cucumber, daikon, avocado, and nori seaweed—and several more daily cebiche specials. It’s no exaggeration to say that the cebiche here is every bit as good and, in some ways, more creative, than what I sampled in Peru. It would almost be heresy not to try the excellent cebiche at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana.
If you’d rather have a hot appetizer, try one of the potato-based causas like causa limeña, Dungeness crab with avocado puree, quail egg, cherry tomatoes, ají amarillo chili-pepper sauce, creamy huancaina sauce and basil-cilantro oil atop a small dollop of whipped potatoes. Another good bet: homemade empanadas, crisp-fried half-moons filled with beef, chicken or crimini mushrooms, and served with spicy dipping sauce.
Several different cebiches, or cebiche with empanadas, would make a delicious and filling lunch. For an even more substantial main course, order one of the anticuchos. Traditional grilled skewers inspired by Peru’s street food, they include chicken, steak, yellowtail, octopus, and a mixed skewer of beef, chicken and yellowtail, served with spicy sauces. Or have the more rarefied salmón ayacuchano, grilled salmon atop Okinawa purple potato and quinoa salad with watermelon relish and avocado salsa. Also a good choice: lomo saltado, a traditional Peruvian stir-fry with beef tenderloin topped with a fried egg, served with fried potatoes and rice. Vegetarians will enjoy quinoa chaufa, wok-fried quinoa with fresh vegetables, as well as imaginative salads using typical Peruvian ingredients like avocado, hearts of palm and quinoa.
Whatever you order at La Mar Cebicheria Peruana, it will arrive at your table well-prepared and artfully arranged, usually topped with a colorful fresh flower.
IF YOU GO
La Mar Cebicheria. Pier 1 ½, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94111; 415-397-8880; www.lamarsf.com
La Mar Cebicheria Peruana is open daily for lunch and dinner. Menus are similar for all meals. Happy Hour is daily, 3-6 p.m. Valet parking is available at Hornblower on Pier 3. You also can take the F train to a nearby stop or a BART train to The Embarcadero station. If arriving by sea, you can tie up your boat for three hours on the boat deck behind La Mar. To come via boat taxi, contact Tideline Water Taxi at www.tidelinewatertaxi.com or 415-339-0196.