In time for Peru’s bicentennial on Wednesday, July 28, another entrant to New York City’s dining scene is serving up delicious, globally influenced Peruvian cuisine.
POPULAR, a new Peruvian restaurant on the Lower East Side, extends the moment the cuisine is having around town. The eatery follows on the heels of hot spots like Llama Inn and Llama San in Brooklyn, Mission Ceviche on the Upper East Side, and others.
Chef Diego Muñoz, who created Popular’s dishes and is running the kitchen, attributes the, um, popularity, of food from Peru to a mix of great, indigenous ingredients and hard work by all of the culinarians who came to the city.
“I think it is the result of many years and countless people working with authentic passion,” he said, “exploring the country’s resources, digging back into our own culture and heritage, being proud of this and doing it with enthusiasm. Peruvian food is really vast but I think there is always something for everyone.”
Muñoz previously ran the Word’s 50 Best Restaurants’ number-one rated Latin American restaurant, Astrid&Gastón, in Lima, Peru. Michelin-starred chef John Fraser is lending his operational experience to the project.
POPULAR delivers fun and surprising dishes. There’s an entire ceviche bar, with six varieties that include ingredients unknown to most Americans’ palates, such as vegetable tiger’s milk, and surprising elements like parmesan and ponzu.
But the menu also has a section for wood-fired dishes, with highlights such as the 40 Hour Short Rib, and wok cookery also is showcased on the menu. Yes that equipment is generally associated with Chinese cooking, but Muñoz noted that Peruvian food has a variety of influences, including “a large number of Chinese restaurants—called chifas—in Peru,” that immigrants brought to the county.
The Sticky Prawns dish in the wok section, which is served with chow mein and toasted peanuts, is a particular standout that’s memorable weeks after eating it. On the dessert front, the Pina Colada Cachanga (fried dough) also was delectable. But a big part of the menu, and of Peruvian cuisine in general, is Pisco, the national spirit. Popular has a number of Pisco cocktails that pair well with its dishes.
Part of the restaurant’s buzz surely comes from its location inside PUBLIC Hotel New York City, a chichi boutique hotel by Ian Schrager, the nightlife impressario who co-created Studio 54 and now drops cool hotels around the world. But POPULAR also gets its street cred by using super fresh ingredients found in Peruvian cuisine that it can get from NYC-based suppliers. “Our fish is sourced primarily locally, along with our potatoes and vegetables. We are lucky as well to have a good supplier of Peruvian chilies, toasted corn (chulpi), and other products.”
Diners, including Peruvian food and Pisco experts, have taken notice of POPULAR.
“Diego Muñoz is perhaps the most highly trained chef from Peru and he's trying to make something relevant for this time and place,” said Nicholas Gill, co-founder of NewWorlder.com and co-author of The Latin American Cookbook. “
It works well.”
Food and beverage consultant Francine Cohen, who knows Pisco inside and out, as well as Peruvian cuisine, called the restaurant authentic and noted, “Pisco is an integral part of Peruvian gastronomy and clearly they are not ignoring it at Popular. It’s unlikely you’d be welcomed to someone’s home without being offered a Pisco sour; one of POPULAR’s cocktails.
Added Gill, an American who lived in Peru for several years, “The menu is a mix of really nice local ingredients and Peruvian flavors. It's fun and playful. It's a nice addition to the growing number of Peruvian restaurants in New York.”
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