Kendall swoons for Peruvian powerhouse Pisco y Nazca

Fried pork buns at Pisco y Nazca in Kendall
Fried pork buns at Pisco y Nazca in Kendall

The people of Kendall are hungry for originality, and the hand swooping in to satisfy them is Peruvian.

Here’s proof: Just try to get a table without reservations at Pisco y Nazca any evening of the week, when the sprawling 5,400-square-foot dining room teems with couples, families with grandparents and strollers in tow, and older teens with discerning tastes.

The party-like atmosphere late into the night is the sound of sheer joy coming from Latin suburbanites freed from their chains: Outback Steakhouse, World of Beer, Red Lobster.

This ceviche gastrobar, opened since November, is hectic, loud and lovely.

Turquoise subway tiles and open flames light up the back, where an open kitchen overlooks a mix of booths, high-top tables and a circular bar with carved wooden stools. Warmed by walnut floors, copper and orange accents, and white ceramic vases, the restaurant opens onto a covered patio in the center of the outdoor Town & Country shopping plaza.

The bold, easy-to-read menu is organized by ceviches, adventuresome small plates and traditional entrees. A ceviche sampler provides a good overview of the seafood starters. A trio of blue bowls on a wood tray offers a passion fruit version with mahi, shrimp, large-kerneled corn and a marinade made from the tart, tropical fruit, along with a second knock-out, Japanese-style combo of ahi tuna, mirin, soy sauce, wasabi peas, cucumbers and crispy wontons, and a third traditional offering made from mahi, sweet potato and habanero pepper.

No wispy portions on spoons here. Ceviches come in two healthy-size bowls, with the large easily feeding four or more people. Our absolute fav was the “rocoto,” a festive mix of chilly mahi, shrimp and octopus with slivers of red onion, two kinds of corn, sweet potato chunks, fresh cilantro, creamy tiger sauce with a rocoto pepper kick, and — surprise — sizzling hot, fried calamari.

A sister restaurant to Centurion Group’s Spanish-themed Bulla in Coral Gables, Pisco y Nazca playfully explores Peru’s Japanese and Chinese culinary influences while staying true to traditional dishes like lomo saltado. Executive chef Miguel Antonio Gomez Fernández, a native of Peru, comes to Miami via celebrity chef Gastón Acurio’s first American restaurant, the buzzworthy La Mar in San Francisco, where he was chef de cuisine.

Fernandez’s “causa crocante” starter — a jaunty lineup of panko-fried shrimp balanced atop towers of whipped yellow potato and rocoto-pepper aioli — is presented like sushi on a slim platter. The crunchy-smooth combo teases out the best flavors from each of the layers.

“Plancha pulpo,” a Galician-style octopus served with soft field corn, potato cakes, chimichurri sauce and yellow pepper puree, is another stellar small plate that is, at once, light, earthy and smoky.

The lomo saltado, chaufa fried rice and other Peruvian staples are respectable entrees designed for hearty appetites, but their predictability makes them dull by comparison. A barley-based risotto with stir-fried vegetables and soy sauce was soupy and lacked body.

Better to stick to the tapas-size options, including “butichino,” fried pork buns stuffed with sweet shredded pork and hoisin mayo, with a pickled-salsa slaw of red onions, carrots and fresh cilantro electrifying the multi-ethnic accents. The buns come on a bed of lacy, baked lotus-root chips, crisp and chewy. Two styles of empanadas are equally entrepreneurial, with rocoto pepper aioli jazzing up chicken stew and mushrooms flambéed in pisco brandy.

The five-item dessert menu keeps it fun with orange panna cotta, a brownie with Kahlúa chocolate mousse, and high drama from a dish called the chocolate dome, which collapses under poured hot white chocolate ganache to expose a mishmash of ice cream, caramel, fudge and sweet potato custard.

In Peru, the expression “entre Pisco y Nazca” refers to a beverage-induced state of mind that is loose, relaxed and primed for fun. To that point, seven kinds of pisco are available from the bar, straight up or combined into cocktails, along with a wine menu heavy on sparkling wines and blends, and a collection of more than 100 beers.

Pisco’s wait staff, dressed all in black, is young, polite and on point. Also refreshing: free parking and soda refills, dining pleasures long lost in South Beach and other hot spots. 

There are still kinks to be worked out. One of our dishes went AWOL from our order, and we had to wait while the server put the request in again. Several filet pieces in our lomo saltado were so gristly they were inedible. For a restaurant that encourages sharing, that is hard to accomplish when no sharing plates were delivered to our table. The missteps made for a less-than-superlative experience, but could easily be corrected with effort.

Like food fairies spreading Peruvian pixie dust on South Florida’s suburbs, Centurion has plans to open a second Pisco y Nazca in downtown Doral later this year and a possible third in the Metropica planned community in Sunrise.

Can you hear the chains rattling now?

Critics dine unannounced at the Miami Herald’s expense. Jodi Mailander Farrell: @JodiMailander