Stick-to-your-ribs Peruvian fare gets new name at Los Ceviches

Terry Kirts

Appetizer with deep fried pork and the grilled beef heart and the #44 - Bisteck a la Pobre. New names. New owners. You hope against hope that they don’t strike your favorite dishes from the menu, that they add even more of the one-of-a-kind items that drew you in the first time. When it’s the single purveyor of a nation’s cuisine in an entire metropolitan area, you worry you might lose your sole link to flavors you can’t experience without cashing in your frequent flyer miles. But maybe, just maybe, it will be even better. In the case of Los Ceviches, which replaced Machu Picchu on East 82nd Street about a month ago, things are at least as good, if not a notch better. The only source in the city for Peruvian food or almost any food from south of the Panama Canal, this cheery restaurant continues to showcase the surprisingly diverse cuisine of this coastal South American nation. Still in abundance are the curious Atkins-bankrupting dishes served with both fries and rice. So, too, are rich plates of sautéed spaghetti and a smoky chicken broiled over a charcoal fire. What’s new here is an even greater emphasis on seafood and some more traditional appetizers such as empanadas. Nine types of ceviche, seafood partially cooked in citrus juices, range from a simple fish in lime juice to shrimp, octopus and squid. Despite the preponderance of rich meat stews and the famous beef heart brochette, vegetarians need not picket this joint. Six “platos vegetarianos” include everything from a cold marinated mushroom dish to a delicate cheese and vegetable pie to perhaps the best pesto spaghetti in town, served, of course, with potatoes. En route to Castleton, we fought through the early evening traffic, hoping to stave off the sudden arrival of winter weather with an ancient cuisine that once nourished the Incans scaling the slopes of the Andes. As we entered, a television blasted soap operas in Spanish across the restaurant, clashing with a soundtrack of unmistakably American hits. We had the place to ourselves, which, at international eateries, is always a mixed blessing. If you’ve never had Peruvian food, you’ll be surprised that it has little in common with the cookery of countries farther north. With a terrain that sweeps from arid coastal plains across rugged cliffs to lush rainforests, Peru produces one of the most varied and storied cuisines in South America. You can’t help feeling that you’re sinking your teeth into the millennia-old cuisine of a society that was turning roots like yucca and potatoes into staples while Europeans were tossing them to their horses. Today, Peru produces upwards of 200 varieties of potatoes, giving the tuber a colorful preeminence in the nation’s diet. After glasses of mango and passion fruit juice, we settled into a sampler platter of appetizers ($14). Golden strips of fried yucca came with a Day-Glo but yet quite tasty, peppery cheese sauce. Chunks of deep-fried pork “chicharron” were surprisingly not greasy, and meaty marinated mussels came crowned in hominy with bits of tomato, onion and cilantro. A small sample of that beef heart brochette proved quite tasty, not at all gamey like other forms of offal, with perhaps a bit of cumin and a drizzle of vinegar. An empanada ($5) was a flaky pie with a well-seasoned ground beef filling. Only a dusting of powdered sugar perplexed our American palates. Entrées included a creamy chicken stew ($8) with potatoes and onions served with an artful plateau of rice. Salmon ($12.50) baked in a foil packet was flaky and mild with a whiff of cilantro. A big plate of spicy squid, octopus and shrimp ($12.50) was perhaps the heaviest dish of the evening, lost in a slightly gloppy sauce. The heartiest dish by far was the “bisteck a lo pobre” ($14), which caused our otherwise deadpan waiter to raise a thumb when we ordered it. This macho platter featured a double serving of crisp French fries blanketed by an outsize, sizzling flank steak topped with a fried egg. Giant sautéed plantains framed this he-man feast. The most decadent surprise was the return of a dense, super-sweet cake moistened with four milks ($3) that was sometimes absent at Machu Picchu. Topped with a thick caramel and swimming in one of the sweet milks, this proved the new owners weren’t just maintaining the status quo. By comparison, a competently creamy flan ($1.75) was a little tame, but every lick of it soon disappeared. Had we any doubts we could still savor the regional dishes of Peru in Indianapolis, we stumbled home assured that we could. Los Ceviches 5864 E. 82nd St. 570-8020 Hours: Sunday-Wednesday: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Food : 3.5 Stars Atmosphere : 3 Stars Service : 3.5 Stars

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