Lunch at La Mar in Lima
Parihuela, ceviche, and chocolate cake
La Mar really needs no introduction. It’s the cevichería founded by Gaston Acurio, the chef that put Peruvian food on the map so to speak. There are several other locations in other cities around the world including Miami, Santiago, and San Francisco. The one in Lima is the OG. They don’t take reservations, and there’s a line pretty much during the entirety of service, especially on popular days like Sunday.
Third Time’s a Charm
This was our third attempt to secure a table on the weekend. If you arrive right at noon when they open, there will already be a short line. Much after that, you’ll have to wait for tables to open up, and lunch at La Mar isn’t a speedy affair, nor should it be.
The surrounding neighbor exudes calm, but immediately when you walk in you realize that La Mar is a bustling place1. The aqua blue chairs and table settings give the restaurant a beachy vibe, but there’s an undercurrent of energy that is unique to La Mar.
There are swarms of waiters busy taking orders and answering questions about the menu in English and Spanish. You’ll hear about an equal split of English and Spanish. Looking straight back gives you a glimpse into the kitchen but only a glimpse. In the far left corner is an horno, a traditional clay oven, along with a parrilla that cranks out grilled seafood specialties.
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The name, “La Mar” translates to “the sea2” so it makes sense that the menu focuses on seafood. There’s fresh seafood all over Lima, but La Mar is known to have the freshest of the freshest. Their menu has changed since the last time I visited. This time it was entirely seafood. The tallarin saltado had fish and seafood, the steak was a tuna steak, and the anticuchos featured seafood in the place of the traditional beef heart.
The menu is a bit more compact than before, but it still offers a wide range of appetizers, ceviche, grilled plates (planchas), and pasta and rice dishes. There was a section of the menu featuring camarones from Arequipa, but since we’re headed there soon, we’re holding off until then. Finally, there are daily specials displayed on the walls in colorful chalk.
You Can’t go to La Mar and Not Order Ceviche
Usually, I will steal an extra moment a couple of days prior to going to a restaurant to pare down what I want to order to a couple of ideas. However at La Mar, I wasn’t sure we’d get a spot so we ended up ordering on the fly.
In the rush, I almost forgot to order ceviche! We debated between ordering a classic ceviche or something with a twist. Finally, on impulse, I ordered the Ceviche de atún Lima Seúl which is was tuna ceviche with Korean flavors.
The ceviche featured fresh tuna, Gochujang, rocoto, sesame seeds, cilantro, scallions, onions, and pieces of Kimchi. It was an interesting take on ceviche but the flavors didn’t quite come together. Also, the ceviche was a bit too liquidy for our taste.
A Gran Parihuela
I ordered a Parihuela to share because it features many different kinds of seafood, and I love soups. We ended up getting much more than we bargained for.
Parihuela is Peru’s answer to Bouillabaisse. It features a variety of seafood cooked with shell and all in an aji panca seafood broth.
The menu wasn’t kidding when it said that this dish is meant for sharing. La Mar’s version packed in a whole fish, a whole crab along with a medley of shrimp, clams, and scallops in a heaping bowl. Plus, there is a couple of pieces of Yucca at the bottom in case you are missing your carbs.
The star of this dish was the crab. Oftentimes the crab in Parihuela feels like an afterthought, with the shell just being there to flavor the broth. This was definitely not the case at La Mar. The Parihuela featured a large whole crab with loads of meat.
They used cangrejo popeye or “Popeye Crab” which I’m guessing gets their name from their meaty claws. They conveniently supplied us with a pair of crab crackers to extract all of the juicy meat. I often joke to Mariela that we should always carry a crab cracker just in case. Luckily, this time we didn’t have to bring our own.
We leisurely enjoyed our Parihuela, feasting on the fish and crab meat and gradually picking our way through the shells. We noticed that new tables had sat down and left while we working our way through our Parihuela.
In my opinion, the broth could use a little more kick, but this was easily the best crab I’ve had in Peru. All of the seafood in the Parihuela was tasty, but the scallops also stood out as being especially delicious.
The real reason we went to La Mar
La Mar is known to have the best chocolate cake in Lima. I’ll tell you now-the cake wasn’t a lie. As a side note, I’m starting to see chocolate cake on the dessert menus at quite a few cevicherías. It seems like an interesting foil to the acidity of ceviche.
The cocktails at La Mar were phenomenal. We ordered three cocktails featuring fruit and Pisco: the Vichayito, Punta Hermosa, and Una tarde en Totoritas-all named after beaches in Peru. I ordered the Vichayito which contains mango, pineapple, eucalyptus, and ají panca3 because I love spicy cocktails. The Punta Hermosa combined raspberries, ruby red grapefruit, Cynar, and tonic water (honestly, I had to look up some of the ingredients in writing this). The “Una Tarde en Totoritas” with lychee, elderflower, and Pisco was our favorite.
The overall sensation from the cocktails was that they were refreshing and extremely well-balanced. We’ve been to several fine dining restaurants in Lima where the cocktails simply were not on the same level as the food. La Mar was definitely on top of their cocktail game.
I’m already thinking about our next meal at La Mar which will probably be months in the future. Even though the menu feels a bit smaller than in previous iterations, it is still quite large which means that you can have completely different experiences, depending on what you order.
Next time, I think it would be interesting to sit at the bar on a weekday. We’d probably order the ceviche clasicó along with a grilled seafood plate. We’ll definitely order more cocktails.
Lar Mar is bustling but in a socially distanced way. The tables are spaced apart and the staff all wear masks. They check for vaccination cards at the door. The building has an open layout so there’s plenty of ventilation which also means that it can be a bit chilly.
Language tidbit-the word, “mar” in Spanish is masculine so in ordinary usage, you’d say “el mar.” However, “La Mar” refers to the sea in a poetic sense. Since I always have food and restaurants on my mind, I often mistakenly say “la mar” instead of “el mar.”
Ají panca is one of the major types of Peruvian peppers. It’s used a lot to flavor classic dishes like anticuchos and in soups and stews such as adobo and parihuela (making the cocktail a great pairing for this meal).