By Erik Mathes*
photos: Adeline Ramos** and SFG
The “in” ethnic cuisine these days hails from Peru. More than any country in Latin America, Peru is the quintessential melting pot of cultures, races, origins and foods where history and the great migrations of past centuries translate into one of the best cuisines in the world.
Marked by its native crops of beans, large-kernel corn, literally thousands of strains of potatoes, and fruity-hot chilies, Peru creates a unique fusion by mixing these Latin American staples with sauces, spices, noodles, produce, and other goods brought over by immigrants from Spain, China, Italy, Africa, and Japan. This means that seemingly Spanish specialties will be livened by splashes of soy sauce, and your Saturday night Shanghai-style stir-fry will be scattered with spuds. But these are wonderful things, rest assured!
A proper description of Peruvian cuisine would begin by saying how vibrant it is in both color and flavor. And one chef who is able to transcribe all this onto a plate is Christopher Cramer, executive chef of Panorama in the Sonesta Hotel in Coconut Grove.
If you’re a fan of fish and a supporter of seafood, you’ll be charmed by the endless spins on ceviche that Peruvian chefs come up with: expressive herbs like cilantro meld together with piquant peppers, sweet, earthy onions, and the freshest catch of the day, under the Mediterranean influence of acidic juices of limes, oranges, and/or yuzu, a pungent yellow citrus fruit from Japan. If you love hearty meat dishes, you’ll want to elope with lomo saltado, a quick stir-fry of tender chunks of beef with onions, tomatoes, and, wait for it...French fries (!), kissed with a red wine vinegar-soy sauce.
To specialize in food as quirky as this, a chef would need to be naturally creative with a passion for executing dishes at a supreme level of technical proficiency.
Chef Cramer knows a thing or two about the food of Peru -- he took a culinary research trip there five years ago when Panorama’s GM decided it was time to take his run-of-the-mill dinner menu in a bold new direction. What was supposed to be a short stay for Cramer turned into something much more fantastic when our protagonist not only fell in love with the country’s cuisine, but also with one of its beautiful citizens.
Chef Cramer eventually married this pretty Peruvian princess and moved back to Miami with her, and he’s now continuing his journey along the road to mastering the culinary realm he adores. Through extensive experience traveling through smaller Peruvian cities and villages, to the influence his new family has had on the way he approaches certain dishes, chef Cramer has gleaned some serious insight into the best methods for making his take on Peruvian cuisine pop
. And, luckily for you, now you can sample Cramer’s culinary conceptualizations any time you’re craving in Coconut Grove.
Located on the eighth floor of the Sonesta, Panorama present diners with gorgeous views of Biscayne Bay as you savor chef Chris’ inventive interpretations of causa rellena (unctuous and fragrant potato purée doctored with aji amarillo, topped with melt-in-your mouth grilled shrimp and tempered with a soothing avocado salad); conchitas a la Parmesan (baked scallops with bubbling melted cheese), tacu-tacu (a deep-fried rice and bean cake served with meat), and other Peruvian classics. His chupe de camarones — a Peruvian bouillabaisse — is remarkable, with a creaminess that cradles the shrimp and diced potatoes while softening the heat from the aji amarillo. This soup will single-handedly bring you back for a second meal without a doubt.
Panorama also sports a separate menu just for ceviche, featuring classics like snapper marinated in garlic and lime, and innovative interpretations like lobster with mango, papaya, and citrus. There’s also the crema de rocoto and crema de amarillo, mélanges of shrimp, squid, and snapper with the respective indigenous chilies in mellow-hot cream-based sauces. If you’re into sushi, try ceviche on for size -- it’s like sashimi on steroids.
No less exciting are main dishes ($12 -$19) like a
seco de pescado ( left) filled with moist grilled fish and plump shrimp set over tacu tacu in a fragrant cilantro-based sauce or the
lomo saltado (right).
Arroz Chaufa comes with vegetable fried rice with chicken, beef or shrimp;
Aji de Gallina - Shredded chicken in yellow pepper parmesan cheese sauce;
Lomo a lo Pobre con Tacu Tacu — or beef hanger steak with rice and bean cake, sweet plantain and egg, and Seared mahi mahi with a cheese filled corn cake and rocoto shrimp sauce.
All this in addition to the traditional restaurant fare of Caesar Salad, herb roasted chicken, pasta, sandwiches and hamburgers or Turkey burgers.
For dessert, order the cucharita de suspiro a la limena de lucuma, a play on dulce de leche with luscious lucuma, a fruit that’s intrinsically Peruvian. This creamy confection has a custard-like consistency and is reminiscent of butterscotch mixed with maple syrup. A few spoonfuls of this delectable sweet will round out any savory feast chef Cramer sends your way.
The next time you’re searching for a hot date spot or you want to have a meal that satisfies to the core and doesn’t make you feel ripped-off, drop by Panorama at the Sonesta Hotel in Coconut Grove. You’ll treat yourself to the talents of a truly gifted chef who cares deeply about quality and customer experience, and you’ll finally get to taste what everyone’s talking about.
* Erik Mathes is a Personal Chef, In-Home Cooking Instructor, blogger of “Rantings of a Chef” at kitchencoach.tumblr.com. and founder of www.kitchencoachFL.com .
** Adeline Ramos is a professional photograher at www.sweetadelinephotography.com
Panorama Restaurant and Lounge on the 8th floor of the Sonesta Bayfront Hotel Coconut Grove
2889 McFarlane Road
Coconut Grove, FL 33133
Open for Breakfast, Lunch, Happy Hour and Dinner
Includes several types of Ceviche, Tiraditos, Lomo Saltado and Aji de Gallina from its Peruvian selections, as well as "American Classics With A Twist" such as Burgers, Salads and Sandwiches.