El Mercado: Rafael Osterling's new Lima ceviche restaurant

El mercado, the new ceviche restaurant in Lima, Peru by Rafael Osterling.
El Mercado, the newest foodie's dream in Lima, Peru. (Photo by Caroll Ortiz)
 See a slide show of the visit to El Mercado.

By Kim Allen-Jones
Photos by Caroll Ortiz

By all indicators Chef Rafael Osterling has done it again. Already one of the top chefs on the Lima food scene, he now has the very delicious El Mercado to add to his list of accomplishments.

El mercado, the new ceviche restaurant in Lima, Peru by Rafael Osterling.
El mercado, the new ceviche restaurant in Lima, Peru by Rafael Osterling.
Top, Rafael Osterling. (Photos by Caroll Ortiz)
See a slide show of the visit to El Mercado.

In August, members of the LivinginPeru.com team and I had the pleasure of eating at El Mercado. When we drove up to park the valet made sure we had a reservation before he would even park the car. We arrived at 1:15 in the afternoon to an empty restaurant; by 1:30 the place was packed with everyone who is anyone in Lima.

The restaurant is a canopy-covered patio with rattan-backed chairs. The wooden tables are set with charming retro print place mats of a girl on a bike waving a fish above her head. The large menu is presented on crude workmen’s clipboards adding to the market atmosphere.

We were well into our starters when the chef arrived. Rafael greeted everyone in the restaurant with kisses on the cheek and handshakes before heading behind the counter to the lead station at the open-air grill. We were impressed by all of this action in the dining area but our main focus was on our four delicious starters. The most beautifully presented of the four dishes was the Ceviche Pejerrey (Silverside fish). Small filets of pejerrey were perfectly lined up in a bright yellow lime, aji amarillo marinate. The fish melted in my mouth and the spicy marinate flavored but did not overpower the delicate flavor of the pejerrey.

The Pulpo a la Parrilla was served atop hearty slices of seasoned roasted potatoes tossed with mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and capers drizzled with bright green parsley sauce. The octopus was cooked to perfection and with all of the other components included in this dish; I could easily order this for a main plate. Our next dish was the perfect starter.

The Causa Original was a thin layer of silky smooth yellow potato surrounding mixed seafood and shredded lettuce dressed with avocado aioli. The plate was garnished with hardboiled egg and aji cream. Our final starter was the Ceviche Mercado. This is a classic “catch of the day” ceviche. Served in a traditional enamel bowl, the fish marinating in leche de tigre is topped with fried calamari that gives this dish a nice contrast of textures.

By now the kitchen and wait staff are working at full steam. We had a few minutes before our waiter got back to us to take our order for the next course, which is a good thing because we ate every last bite of the starters. Choosing the next course was a bit of a challenge. The menu has no less than fourteen dish categories to select from. Our main plates started with Chita. This is a whole cooked fish seasoned with garlic cloves and herbs piled high on a bed of mixed vegetables. This was easily enough for two.

Our next dish, Curry Thai, was the one of the real hits of the afternoon. A large piece of mild white fish topped with sautéed banana slices is swimming in a fragrant green curry sauce garnished with manila clams and cherry tomato halves. The sauce is packed with Thai flavors but not to spicy. Perfect!

Another Peruvian favorite is Tacu-Tacu. This is not a dish that I normally order. I usually find the rice and bean combination too heavy. The Tacu Tacu Amelcochado at El Mercado was delicious. The mixed seafood sautéed in white wine, pisco and aji amarillo served over a surprisingly light mixture of rice and beans made for a tasty combination. Also on the menu are several Chinese inspired dishes. Our selection, Chaufa Nipon, was served in a clay pot filled with stir-fried rice, chicken and pork, mixed seafood and baby vegetables.


El Mercado

Hipólito Unanue 203 (with Mendiburu, one block from Av. La Mar), Miraflores, Lima, 221-1322.

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, noon-5 p.m.

As we contemplated the dessert menu the action at the tables didn’t let up. At the table next to us the waiter delivered a delicious looking bowl of pasta with clam sauce. We didn’t try any of the pastas but I’m thinking this is a must have for my next visit.

For dessert we sampled Creme Volteada de Dulce de Leche con Helado Chirimoya. This is a turned-out mold of cooked cream served with both caramel and frozen Chirimoya sauce. Next was Tres Leches Caser con Crema Helada de Citricos. Tres Leches cake is on of my all time favorite Latin desserts and this one was no exception. The frozen citrus sauce served on this plate was the perfect paring to off set the sweetness of the cake. Our finally offering of the afternoon was the Chocolatazo. This dessert is a dark chocolate lover’s dream. The chocolate truffle tart is served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a garnish of red fruit cream.

While we fought over the last bites of dessert things in the dining room were starting to loosen up a bit and people that didn’t have reservations were starting to be seated. Their wait will have been well worth it. Congratulations to Chef Rafael on his latest success.

Note to self: Don’t forget to make reservation!