None of us at our table had heard of the restaurant Don Fernando before we came here to dine, but evidently it is very well known among locals and with good reason. It is located in the district of Jesus Maria, which is not known as a trendy food area, but more of a residential district. Don Fernando was full of people on this Monday afternoon, a day that is usually considered a slow business day in the restaurant business. Don Fernando has been open at this location since 1992, but in business since 1985.
The restaurant is named after Don Fernando Vera, whose family is from the area of Guadalupe in the north of Peru. The restaurant serves regional food from the northern coast. It is a classical family house, which was converted into an eatery. The 2nd floor has several separate dining rooms which are perfect for reserving for either a small gathering or a couple of larger dining areas for private business meetings or family parties. The first floor of the restaurant is where the main dining area is located.
As I was glancing through the menu, I noticed most of the items are primarily fish dishes, but with several options for chicken, beef, cabrito (baby goat) and duck. First to arrive at our table were large shot glasses of Leche de Tigre, courtesy of the restaurant for all diners. Leche de Tigre (Tiger’s Milk) is the juice that results from making ceviche. You taste the flavors of lime juice, onion, aji limo and fish. This leche de tigre was quite delicious for those of us who like the taste of ceviche.
We sampled several of the popular cocktails of the restaurant such as the Chilcano with Ginger, Algarrobina, Mamey Sour and a classic Pisco Sour. Our favorites were the Chilcano with Ginger which was very refreshing and the Mamey Sour which was very unique, with a creamy and sweet tropical flavor.
The next "cocktail" to arrive at our table was very intimidating in looks due to its black color. The Martini de Conchas Negras is the house "cocktail". It really is a combination of a cocktail and an appetizer. It contains erizos (sea urchin), conchas negras, vodka and lime juice and it was quite delicious. It was obvious they have a very good vendor who supplies their conchas negras. Conchas negras come from the mangroves in northern Peru and are rumored to be an aphrodisiac. The raw black shellfish contains a black ink similar to what is found in squid. It is difficult to describe the flavor, but I would say it is a cross between an oyster and a mussel. The flavor was fresh and the "cocktail" had quite a bit of potency from the vodka. I normally do not recommend conchas negras to people, but if you would like to try them, Don Fernando’s would be the perfect place.
Next we moved on to the appetizers with the Ronda de Ceviches which were served on a very large platter with four totally different styles of ceviche: sea urchin (erizos), sea bass (corvina), camarones (crayfish) and concha negras., all absolutely fresh and delicious. The price for this platter was 60 soles and well worth the price considering its size. Four of us shared this dish. Many diners at various tables were ordering ceviches, which tells me that the quality is excellent and the ceviche is popular at Don Fernando. The Muchame de Atun was a nice sized platter for sharing at the price of 38 soles. A high-quality tuna is dried, smoked and then sliced and served with slices of avocado and crackers. I eat this dish on a regular basis at various restaurants and this was decent.
One of our favorite surprises during our visit to Don Fernando had to be when one of the cooks came out with a huge grouper (mero). The grouper was so large in size that he was struggling just to carry it out to the dining area to display to the diners. They also brought out a large platter of various whole flounder (lenguado), chita and corvina for us as well. As I mentioned before, they have a high-quality fish supplier that they use which makes all the difference in the quality of the food.
We sampled three different main dishes, which were all generous portions. The Camarones de Arequipa were very special. I say this because you can only get camarones a few months of the year here. Some people know the word camarones to be shrimp, but camarones in Peru are actually crayfish. They come from the various rivers in Peru. These were also special because of the size, tenderness and flavor. This dish was served in a large bowl with a creamy red sauce and broth. The price was 60 soles, which may seem to be on the high side, but for the quality and portion it was correct. Our next main dish was the Arroz con Pato a la Chiclayana (Duck with Rice – 29 soles), which was very tender. It was prepared in the style typical to the city of Chiclayo (northern Peru) using chicha de jora and loche (pumpkin). A huge success story at our table had to be our next dish which was the Guiso de Pato or Seco de Pato (Duck Stew – 29 soles). This dish arrives at the table in a casserole platter. The duck is roasted for two hours along with various vegetables, peas, potatoes and rice. This duck dish was even more tender than the one that was served before and we could not get enough of the sauce and juices. We finished every last drop of the stew. The flavors were impeccable. Definitely a "must order" next time I am there.
The desserts we were served were Picarones (the infamous Peruvian-style "donuts" made out of pumpkin), Leche Asada (a custard prepared with milk, cream, vanilla, eggs and sugar) and something I had never had before, which was Queso con Miel de Cana (a country-style strong cheese with a sauce prepared with sweet molasses). The cheese dessert would be a good option if you want something on the less sweet side. After dessert we sipped small glasses of Mosteverde Gran Cruz Pisco. I highly recommend this pisco. It was perfectly smooth. I normally do not drink pisco straight, but this was so full of flavor and smooth that now I have this pisco in my home for sipping and "medicinal" purposes.
This restaurant was a breath of fresh air for me and a bit of a culinary secret. Sometimes it is nice to take a break from all of the fusion restaurants out there and eat simple, good food prepared in a cozy, family environment. Great value for the money as well. The family takes great pride in the food they serve at Don Fernando and now I know the reason.
Don Fernando Huarique Norteno
Address; Av. General Garzon 1788, Jesus Maria
Phone: 463-2656 or 261-0361
Full typical Cocktail Menu: most 15 to 20 soles
Wine List – wines from Peru, Spain, Chile and Argentina
Cold Appetizers (11): 11 to 49 soles
Hot Appetizers (11): 5 to 55 soles
Soups (8): 9 to 35 soles
House Specialties (7): 27 to 40 soles
Ceviches (12): 19 soles to 48 soles – also offer half or full portions
Tiraditos (4): 26 to 55 soles
Pescados/Mariscos (17): 27 to 48 soles
Desserts (8): 6 to 8 soles