During lunchtime one day at Ceviche by the Sea, I ordered the classic Peruvian dish known as aji de gallina ($11). This creamy chicken stew, served here over white rice and French fries, is superb.
It's also what you may call a gateway dish for anyone interested in learning about the food of Peru, among the most-intriguing of South American cuisines, a fusion of indigenous, Spanish and Asian fare.
At dinnertime, however, chef Carlos Delgado turns tradition on its head when he does with aji de gallina what only someone of his talent can accomplish. He uses the same aji de gallina to stuff ravioli ($21). Delgado is just 24 years old. Three years ago, he was voted best young chef at the Mistura food festival, a 10-day annual feast held in Lima, which attracts more than half a million people.
Delgado, a Le Cordon Bleu graduate, does the same thing with classic lomo saltado, a kind of Peruvian stir fry with skirt steak, tomatoes and soy sauce. He puts those ingredients in spring-roll wrappers ($11) and serves them as appetizers.
Open since October, the 55-seat restaurant is a big step up from mom-and-pop Peruvian joints. Painted a subtle gray, recessed display niches hold reproductions of Incan artifacts from the Gold Museum of Peru. Wait staff in black pants, white shirts and orange ties give the place a nice, formal feel, although service was uneven between lunch and dinner. One server did a great job of explaining unknown dishes. Another was not quite as adept.
While it's possible to come to Ceviche by the Sea and not eat ceviche, why would you? Delgado buys whole fresh corvina and grouper, which he cleans and fillets himself. The result ranks among the freshest ceviche I've ever tasted. Servings are huge. Classico ($13) is usually made with corvina, along with lime juice, cilantro, red onions, limo pepper, sweet pepper, large-kerneled choclo corn and toasted cancha corn. Ceviche can be ordered mild, medium or hot.
But my favorite appetizer may be pulpo a la parrilla or grilled octopus ($15), which arrives to the table with its own miniature hibachi grill, so you can crisp up your octopus before digging in. That octopus can also be ordered as part of a grilled sampler trio ($19) with Parmesan scallops and skewers of either grilled tuna or grilled beef hearts. We went for tuna.
I'd also recommend shrimp chowder ($9), a slightly creamy mixture of shrimp, potato, corn, poached egg, rice peppers, shrimp stock and tomato. It's a very hearty starter.
Delgado's seafood entrees taste almost magically full flavored. Salmon chorrillana ($21) features grilled salmon with a sauce of onions, chili peppers, garlic, green pepper, tomatoes and spices. Chilean sea bass ($29) is pan-seared and served with a nice mix of vegetables. Traditionalists can order surf and turf ($30): grilled Maine lobster tail and skirt steak with roasted potato and grilled vegetables. It's served with chimichurri and lemon-herb butter.
Along with that inventive aji de gallina ravioli, there's another pasta dish — skirt steak Huancaína — which combines the beef with mushrooms, asparagus, Alfredo sauce and chimichurri made with chilies.
While the puddinglike torta de chocolate ($6) with cream anglaise was a clear favorite among my co-diners, I was intrigued with quinoa creme brulee ($6), which introduces the Peruvian grain to the classic French dessert. Interesting. Dia y noche ($6) is a purple corn pudding with dried fruits, poached pear and a bit of cinnamon. For some reason — maybe the dried fruit — it reminded us of Christmas.
Whether you're a Peruvian expert or new to the cuisine, Ceviche by the Sea has something for everyone.
2823 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Oakland Park
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Conversational
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot or metersCopyright © 2015, South Florida