SFoodie's countdown of our favorite 50 things to eat and drink, 2012 edition
San Francisco's first known Peruvian restaurant, Fonda Peruana, opened at the beginning of the Gold Rush, and 19th-century shipping routes between South America and San Francisco brought Peruvian pisco to our saloons, where the brandy was a popular spirit until Prohibition. So you could make a case -- a tenuous one, more poetic than provable -- that this city's adoration for cebiche is written on its cultural chromosomes. Our Peruvian restaurants are stronger, and more varied, than almost anywhere else in the country.
And while Gaston Acurio's La Mar Cebicheria Peruana
serves elaborately reworked Peruvian dishes -- stir-fried quinoa, causas (a sort of mashed-potato terrine) with Dungeness crab and quail's eggs -- the restaurant's take on a classic cebiche mixto is the dish SFoodie orders with our Pisco Punch. Satin-bodied squid, fat shrimp, and cool swatches of yellowtail all wallow in a bath of lime juice and yellow aji chiles just long enough for their exteriors to flash opaque. There's a theory that Peruvian cebiche is Latin America's most refined because of the country's large Japanese community, and when you taste the seafood itself through its sharp marinade, you might be inclined to agree.
La Mar's cebiche has all the requisite ingredients -- the slices of sweet potato, the starchy corn, the slivers of red onion -- all placed in proportion. Your fork seems to understand better than you just when the bite of the leche de tigre (marinade) grows too fierce, and the solace of sweet potato is needed, or when a short shock of raw onion or cilantro microgreens will keep you zeroed in on the dish. Even if the Forty-Niners were as fond of cebiche as we now are, it's hard to imagine they ate this well.
La Mar Cebicheria Peruana
: Pier 1.5, The Embarcadero, 397-8880, www.lamarcebicheria.com
Other favorites in this series: