monday, may 21, 2007

Sonia

Twenty-eight years ago, the wife of a fisherman in the beachside town of Chorillos near Lima opened a little restaurant with four tables and an abiding respect for the bounty of the Peruvian sea.

Sonia Bahamonde's restaurant, Sonia, has gone from that humble beginning to taking its place as one of the premier seafood restaurants in Lima.

The restaurant earned a smidgen of international renown last year when it was featured in an episode of Anthony Bourdain's show, No Reservations. He was brought to Sonia by Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio who, on the program, explained his reason for selecting the establishment thusly:

"Because the owner is a fisherman. Because his wife is a cook... And because this is the real flavor that Peruvians love."

And it is. This is the straight forward unadorned blast of tastes and textures that authentic Peruvian food provides. There is no real need for affectation if you stick to the basics and let the sheer power of the ingredients step forth.

For example, if you want to know what a "real" Peruvian ceviche is supposed to be like, look no further than the Ceviche Ganador. It is chunks of sole meat mixed with red onion and soaked for a few minutes in lime juice. Add a garish of boiled Peruvian corn and camote, or sweet potato, and it is ready for the table.

Each bite is a wallop of flavors that, despite their intensity are perfectly balanced. The strength of the dish is the quality of the ingredients and the preparation lets them shine.

The menu touts this as "in the fisherman's style" and that means the fish caught in the local waters. Which creates a sharp difference between the Lima-area ceviche, which feature sole and the ceviches of the north which feature grouper.

But, as exemplary an example as ceviches go, it's still a by-the-book dish. For excitement, you have to venture further afield across the menu and you certainly don't have to go far to be rewarded. The tiraditos are a stunning example of how Sonia's can take the classical dish and make its possibilities explode into something special.

A tiradito is similar to a ceviche in that it consists of raw fish 'cooked' with lime juice but it is usually thin strips of fish that need less lime juice to prepare and are served with a traditional sauce such as aji amarillo.

And I've never had a better tiradito than the Tiradito Sonia y Fredy - named for the owner and her husband, Fredy Guardia. It is strips of sole in an aji amarillo sauce that has been infused with lime juice. The other half is black oysters topped with fresh onion and cilantro.

Instead of the acid sharpness of a ceviche, the aji amarillo is a soothing counterpart to the flavor of the fish and, in the next bite, the rich flavor of the black oysters are highlighted by the crisp sharpness of the onion. Eating the dish is nothing less than a delightful rollercoaster of tastes that you wish wouldn't end.

If these wondrous repasts were not enough to stuff yourself to a state of immobility there are still an abundance of main courses to choose from, and they are well worth partaking of.

The Chicharones Mixto is an overflowing plate of fried seafood done to perfection. A collection of fish, octopus, squid and crab, as well as a shrimp or two cover the large plate and present a formidable challenge. These are prepared as ordered with a simple flour batter and fried quickly in a sauté pan. The result is a light crisp taste that isn’t bogged down with the oils. Salt – often used to cover the taste of cut-rate ingredients – is at a minimum.

The side of homemade mayonnaise works better than tartar sauce and there is a hot sauce of aji limon that will appease the palate of the gourmand desiring a more intense experience.

In addition there are various boiled and grilled fish platters that deserve attention as well. A good example is Chita a lo Macho, baked Sargo covered with a rich seafood sauce. The meaty abundance of the fish is perfectly set in the luscious sauce of squid and octopus. A hint of hot pepper widens the deep tastes and piques one palate in a way that ensures you will do your utmost to finish. This is a dish as decadent as any you can find in New Orleans, and that surprised me a bit.

So to find Sonia's you might have to search a bit. It is located in Chorillos, a municipality on the far east end of Lima's bay. That puts it on the edge of most municipal maps and entirely off the radar of any guidebook.

Once you get to Chorillos, you might have to wander a bit trying to find it since it sits nestled in a side street off the malencon, or main seaside street. The sign is placed high on the second floor of the building so it is easy to miss. But look for Fredy ‘s old fishing boat in front and you will know you found it.

Once inside you find cozy dining room lined with bric-a-brac collected from the seaside locale and Fredy's poetry on every wall. These are plain tables and settings you would find in any house in the city and you find them just as comfortable given the repast provided.

It is a bit amusing in Bourdain's show that the New Yorker comments that the food is inexpensive because, by Peruvian standards, Sonia is somewhat pricy. A plate of ceviche, costs two or three times what a lunch meal at a good cevicheria, in... say, Chiclayo would cost.

But unless you are willing to wander through the 2,000 cevicherias in Lima looking for a place with as much quality - and similar standards of health - you'll do much better just visiting Sonia and learning from a true master of the craft.


Sonia
Agustin Lozano La Rosa 173
Chorillos, Lima, Peru

Phone: 51 1 467-3788
Website: www.restaurantsonia.com
Open: Monday - Saturday, 12 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

more:  Food | Peru | Restaurant Reviews 

posted by kleph @ 2:00 am |

comment posted by: Paul Makishi on december 22, 2009 @ 8:54 am
Sonia's cevicheria quality fish and dishes are without a doubt excellent. However, I visited Sonia's a couple of days ago (Sunday DEC 20, 2009)and left the restaurant somehow dissapointed. I lived in Boston, MA and I m a fan of Anthony Bourdain show and the only reason I visited Sonia's was to try their dishes that according to chef Acurio was one of the best and most original in Lima. I ordered the "Lenguado Ceviche" and the "scallops alla Chorrillana" that were the signature dishes of the restaurant. The excessive acidity of the lemons used on these dishes made them sour and bitter not only to my taste but also for my peruvian friends. All the other dishes ordered were delicious, the atmosphere was relaxing, and the live peruvian music was very enjoyable. If Sonia's is or was considered one of the best hiring places in Lima, in my opinion they need to go back to the basics on the making of these dishes to make them delectable.
 
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