Peruvian food is a melting pot of ancient Incan, European, African and Asian influences that come together in South America’s most sophisticated cuisine. In North Miami Beach, Ají Carbon Peruvian caters to the city’s sizeable Peruvian community with fresh take on favorite dishes.
The restaurant’s name translates as “chile charcoal,” and there are plenty of ají spices, grilled meats and seafood on the menu, along with fried rice, risotto, pastas, seafood soups (spicy parihuela and creamy chupe) and potatoes smothered in cheese sauce.
Brothers Jean Paul and Anthony Verastegui are in the kitchen with Felipe Villanueva, all graduates of the Cordon Bleu culinary school in the Miraflores district of Lima.
The brothers learned to make Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken from their father with the birds marinated in salt and blackened over glowing embers. This style of cooking chicken over charcoal was developed in the 1950s by a Swiss hotelier in Lima who insisted it be eaten with the hands, not cutlery, and that is how it is served here with fries, so feel free to devour the smoky meat like a caveman, using a napkin to mop up the dripping juices.
Ceviche and sashimi-like tiraditos are less messy but pack a punch with red onions, ají amarillo, lime juice and cilantro served with giant corn kernels and chunks of sweet potato. Try the tiradito tuna in a reduction of ginger and vinegar with cream topped with avocado and black sesame seeds or the ceviche Ají Carbon with shrimp, squid rings and octopus slices tossed in earthy squid ink and citrus juices with mild, sweet, maroon panca chile paste. Salmon tiradito brings tender slices in passion fruit juice topped with fried wontons.
Mashed spuds form the base of causa, from the Quechuan word “kausag,” meaning “to life,” referring to the staple tuber of the Andes. The potato cakes are stuffed with shredded chicken, shrimp, tuna or smoked salmon with avocado and mayo sauce or pesto with delicate micro greens.
Save space for picarones (sweet potato and pumpkin donuts) with thick sugar-cane syrup.
Linda Bladholm is a Miami food writer and personal chef who blogs at FoodIndiaCook.com.