First Taste: La Mar Cebicheria Peruana

Gastón Acurio wants to make Peruvian food the next big thing. His U.S. beachhead is on the San Francisco waterfront.
First Taste: La Mar Cebicheria Peruana

The Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio likes to work on a big stage—big enough to encompass multiple restaurant franchises in Latin America, big enough to require a reported 1,500 employees, big enough to be a launching pad for his ambition of making Peruvian cuisine as popular and widespread as Japanese or French is in North America. The U.S. beachhead of the Acurio empire is La Mar Cebicheria Peruana. An open room under the arc of the Bay Bridge on San Francisco’s Pier 1 1/2, La Mar is a big restaurant with a big menu: the eponymous ceviches; the Japanese-influenced plates of raw fish called tiraditos; takes on regional dishes and street food from all over Peru; and there’s a blackboard showing off the overflow of the kitchen’s creativity. This is Peruvian food—a cuisine influenced by the whole world and jacked up with heat and—filtered through Acurio’s European training.

There are times when the food feels deracinated (or maybe dumbed down for the American palate), but when it works, it knocks your socks off. You can buy anticuchos, skewers of marinated, grilled beef heart, at street carts all over the Andes; at La Mar they’ve become grilled octopus laced with herbal chimichurri and spicy ají panca, the fruity heat playing beautifully off the slightly bitter char and meaty texture of the octopus. The seven ceviches might be the Goldberg Variations of raw seafood, citrus, and chile, from the perfectly balanced sharpness and heat of the mixto to the lush tropical fruitiness of the Amazona. (You can order a tasting of the leches de tigre used to marinate the fish if you like your flavors straight up.) And the risotto-like regional rice dishes are fabulous, rich with seafood, soft with rice, but with an acid-and-spice bite that lets you know you’re not in Italy. Add the restaurant’s smooth take on the Pisco Sour, and Lima doesn’t seem so far away.

La Mar Cebicheria Peruana Pier 1 1/2, The Embarcadero, San Francisco (415-397-8880;

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