Americans may have fallen in love with raw fish because of sushi, but the Japanese dish is hardly the only raw seafood being served in South Florida restaurants today. Ceviche is a common dish in menus across Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, even at restaurants that aren't Peruvian.
Known as the national dish of Peru, ceviche is traditionally made with raw whitefish, lime juice, limo pepper and cilantro. It's usually garnished with sweet potato, Peruvian corn and raw onions. Ceviche can also include mussels, clams, shrimp, octopus and other seafood.
The dish is also popular in many other Central and South American countries. Colombians often add ketchup to their ceviche, while Mexicans add tomatoes or avocado. Black-clams ceviche is very popular in Ecuador.
"Every coastal town, from Central America down to probably Chile, you have some kind of ceviche, not just in Peru, even though it's Peru's national dish," says Sam Gorenstein, executive chef of My Ceviche, a fast-casual ceviche restaurant in Miami. "In reality, it's about personal taste, and what the local farmers are offering. So as you start traveling down, you start seeing all different preparations of ceviche. But they all come from the same principle: raw seafood, freshly squeezed citrus juices."
On local menus, you can find ceviche in all shapes and sizes. While some restaurants stick to traditional Peruvian recipes, others reinvent the dish with Latin, Asian and European flavors.
CEVICHE BY THE SEA
2823 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Oakland Park; 954-999-0751, CevicheByTheSea.com
At Ceviche by the Sea, you'll find Peruvian dishes with a touch of international flavors in a fine-dining atmosphere. The restaurant features traditional ceviche, seasoned with limo, rocoto and yellow peppers, but it also offers innovations such as spicy tuna mango ($17,95), a mix of spicy tuna, mango, panca pepper, blood orange, scallions, sesame seeds and wonton crisps, or the shrimp colada ceviche ($17,95), mixing tiger shrimp, passionfruit, coconut milk, pineapple, limo pepper and plantain. You can ask to have your ceviche made with corvina, which will cost a bit more but it will be tastier than the more common swai fish. Sporadically, chef Carlos Delgado will make black-clams ceviche with live clams from Maine. Ceviche by the Sea also puts a spin on the mimosa, making it with chicha morada, a traditional juice made with Kulli corn. The restaurant calls it the Chismosa, which means "gossiper" in Spanish. On Sundays, bottomless mimosas and Chismosas cost $10 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"Peruvian cuisine has 500 years of fusion if you look into it," Delgado says. "You have Italian, Chinese, Japanese, the French bakeries and European bakeries, African roots, even Indians. They all put some ingredients in our cuisine, and that cuisine has been evolving for so long that we had made it part of our culture. So I decided to take this cooking experience and ingredients to make something fun, and different than just Peruvian. Most of our clientele here is not Peruvian."
RAW BAR 2 GO
With Raw Bar 2 Go, Keyla Castillo takes ceviche back to its roots, as the dish is often eaten by the ocean in Latin American countries. Castillo drives her boat around Biscayne Bay, often stopping at the Haulover and Nixon sandbars, selling fresh ceviche to boaters and beachgoers. She carries two types of ceviche: fish ($13) and mixed seafood ($15). She makes it Peruvian style, and she's picky about her ingredients. She only uses sea bass or corvina. She seasons the ceviche herself, measuring the right amount of cilantro, salt, pepper, garlic and spices. Her ceviche comes garnished with onions and sweet potatoes, and the portions are big enough to share. On her boat, Castillo flies the flag of Venezuela, where she grew up eating ceviche and shrimp cocktails on the beach. After moving to South Florida, she developed a passion for boating.
"One day, I was in my little boat on the sandbar, and it was sunset time, and I said, 'Oh, my God, I am very hungry but I don't want to go to my house,'" she recalls. "It's a very nice idea to have somebody to bring nice food to your boat, like fresh, healthy and delicious. And that's how the idea came, because I was hungry."
1396 SW 160th Ave., No. 6, Weston; 954-385-1102, LaPerlaRestaurants.com
La Perla chef Jose Bazalar wants every ceviche that leaves his kitchen to be perfect. And he can tell if the balance of ingredients is right by the smell of the dish. In his restaurant, fish is cut into small pieces. La Perla's eight ceviches ($11-$15) are mostly seasoned with traditional Peruvian ingredients, including limo, yellow and rocoto peppers. The restaurant is also a good place to have a drink. Besides having a full bar, they prepare 11 drinks with pisco, including the Piscotini, the Piscopolitan and the Piscojito.
"When Italian chefs cook, they do it with a glass of wine, and they sing," Bazalar says. "Here, I sing. I don't have a glass of wine, but I sing. And the passion for cooking is the most important thing. I cook with my nose and my hands."
VICTORIA'S FINE PERUVIAN CUISINE
111 S. Third St., Lantana; 561-588-9606, VictoriasCuisines.com
This is a place for people who care about ceviche garnishes as much as they do about seafood. At Victoria's Fine Peruvian Cuisine, traditional ceviche ($13.95-$17.95) is served in big portions, with plenty of sweet potato, yucca, corn and onions. It can be ordered with fish, shrimp and mixed seafood, but the seasoning doesn't change.
"The key is to do all ceviche by order, so it's not overcooked," says Luis Gutierrez, Victoria's general manager. "A ceviche can be made in minutes. The older theory that a ceviche needs to be marinated for hours is false."
105 NE Third Ave., Miami; 305-577-3454, Ceviche105.com
In 2008, Juan Chipoco opened CVI.CHE 105 after studying cooking in his native Peru. The restaurant has a full bar, a lounge-like atmosphere and large dishes. It serves more than 20 ceviches ($13.95-$21.95 ), including fish, mixed seafood, shrimp and octopus. The ceviche comes with less onion than usual but the fish and seafood are always fresh. He says the trick to making good ceviche is finding the right lime juice. Most of the time, he imports his limes from Peru.
"Ceviche in Peru is an emblematic dish," Chipoco says. "Everybody loves ceviche, and the real ceviche is Peruvian because we have an amazing fusion of different cultures: Chinese, Japanese, French and Italian. You have to use the right lime juice. If you find Peruvian lime juice, it's amazing because it's kind of a different flavor."
2086 N University Drive, Pembroke Pines; 954-499-7711; and 2576 NE Miami Gardens Drive, Aventura; 786-440-7851; SrCevicheRestaurant.com
Sr. Ceviche serves 13 ceviches, prepared with octopus, black clams, shrimp, mixed seafood and, of course, fish. Ceviche can be is seasoned with olive oil, yellow pepper, Peruvian black mint and traditional hot limo pepper. To try multiple flavors, order the Juerga de Ceviche ($30), which comes with three ceviches, or Piqueo de Ceviche ($42), featuring four. Both dishes are perfect for sharing. The fish is cut in large pieces, resulting in juicy ceviche. Sr. Ceviche is a family business. Eduardo Jordan and his son Alonso Jordan run the kitchens, while the oldest son, also named Eduardo Jordan, manages the restaurants.
"The secret of the ceviche is in the hands of the cook," Eduardo Jordan, the son, says. "Because you can look up the ingredients online. I know all the ingredients, but you can't compare my ceviche with the ceviche that my brother or my father make."
1250 S. Miami Ave, Miami, 305-960-7825; 232 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, 786-558-8715; 235 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, 305-397-8710; 5900 SW 73rd St., Miami, 305-669-5000; MyCeviche.com
For Sam Gorenstein, executive chef and co-founder of the fast-casual My Ceviche, there's one basic rule in making ceviche: use fresh fish and freshly squeezed citrus. The other ingredients are interchangeable. Growing up in Colombia, Gorenstein didn't eat traditional Peruvian ceviche. His version had ketchup and sometimes tomatoes or mayonnaise. In his restaurant, customers can mix and match ingredients, ordering garnishes such as avocado, mango, tomato and radish. My Ceviche has six citrus-based sauces, with ingredients from several countries. Some of the sauces are made with orange juice instead of lime. Diners also have the option of ordering ceviche with rice or quinoa, which is very unconventional. Instead of serving ceviche with Peruvian canchita, a type of crunchy corn, My Ceviche provides a side of popcorn, made in-house. Ceviche costs from $12.95 to $14.90.
"There's a lot of myths and misunderstandings on how to prepare ceviche, how to eat it, where to source it, where to buy it," Gorenstein says. "So I wanted to simplify the whole process. Here at My Ceviche, we do everything in front of our customer, and they actually get surprised when they see how simple it is. It's putting fish, shrimp, octopus, and adding a little vegetables to it."
1119 16th St., Miami Beach, 305-777-3555; 49 SW 11th St., Miami, 305-960-7097; 401 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-656-3663; 2751 N. Miami Ave., Miami, 305-501-5010; SuViche.com
SuViche mixes Peruvian and Japanese cuisine, so don't expect conventional food. Although the restaurant serves traditional Peruvian ceviche, its strength is in mixing Peruvian peppers with Asian spices. The restaurant combines traditional ceviche sauce with teriyaki in its chifa ceviche ($7-$13.95), and serves a Mexican ceviche garnished with avocado and tomatoes ($7-$13.95).
"Everything started because I used to live in Brickell, and there was always the same things to eat: Italian, or sandwiches, or overpriced places," SuViche owner Aliosha Stern says. "The business started as a way of getting something new, different, healthy, not very heavy."
JAGUAR CEVICHE SPOON BAR AND LATAM GRILL
3067 Grand Ave., Miami; 305-444-0216, JaguarHG.com
Jaguar Spoon Bar and Latam Grill's ceviche mixes Peruvian flavors with other Latin American and Asian ingredients. Chef Oscar Del Rivero invents ceviche for countries that don't traditionally make the dish, such as Brazil and Argentina. The ceviche spoon sampler ($14) comes with six small portions served on Asian spoons. The menu includes traditional Peruvian ceviche for people who like to keep it simple. Located in the heart of Coconut Grove, the place also serves tasty pisco sours in martini glasses.
"What I like is that the ceviche is all over South America and Mexico, and I enjoy learning from all the ceviches and all the different techniques, and all the different flavors," says Oscar Del Rivero, Jaguar's chef. "I feel like nobody really is the first creator. We were eating in Mexico, and we were eating in Peru, and we were eating in Ecuador, and nobody knew what the other was actually doing."