In operation for over seven years in Lince, on the border of San Isidro and not far from Jesus Maria, El Merlin de Cabo Blanco enjoys a devoted following.
The restaurant is a two-story building with comfortable seating and a pleasant, simple decor. The premises were very neat and simply decorated. We took a tour of the kitchen and found it to be very clean and well functioning. The terracotta/lucuma-colored walls were complemented nicely by the black tables with glass tops and the black and yellow chairs. The Chulucana pottery (plates and vases in brown/white and black/white combinations originating from the northern area of Piura) that was hung on the walls and placed in various areas throughout the restaurant provided a nice contrast. I also enjoyed the nautical touches, which included bamboo poles on the ceilings and rope wrapped around the columns.
The menu offers over 160 different items, as well as photos of many of the dishes. El Merlin de Cabo Blanco is a seafood restaurant that is well known for its specialization in cuisine from the northern coast of Peru. On offer are also a variety of ceviches, tiraditos, causas, criollo dishes and several oriental dishes. Even though the menu is heavy on seafood, the meat lover can find several options. Most of the portions are generous and could be shared by at least two people.
Once we sat down, a pitcher of chicha morada arrived at our table. After one sip, we noticed something different in this chicha. Besides the typical purple corn and cloves that are used to make this popular Peruvian drink, this one contained ginger, which really made the beverage better than most.
We began our dining experience with the tamalito verde (5 soles). This was probably one of the best green tamales I have had in Peru. The recipe from Piura was moist and full of tasty cilantro and corn. What set it apart from other tamales I have had was the delicious juice/broth of the baby goat (cabrito) that is spooned over it.
We enjoyed eight other dishes after this wonderful tamale. The ceviche and tiradito were decent. We moved on to three typical dishes you would find on the northern coast of Peru: seco chabelo (a base of mashed green banana with dried beef tenderloin jerky, 24 soles), cholo fuerte (32 soles) and carne alinada (aged pork prepared with a typical northern dressing, 24 soles). These three dishes would be a good variety to order if you want to sample the northern cuisine. My favorite was the cholo fuerte. The dish consisted of a large fillet of robalo, which was grilled and then covered in a special sauce made with black shellfish and accompanied by creamy pureed yuca. This dish was unique and the flavors were not overpowering as they sometimes can be when using concha negra.
Some of the most popular dishes to come out of the kitchen were the tacu tacus. Tacu tacu originated as an Afro-Peruvian dish and has evolved over the years. The simple version is made from rice and beans, which are seasoned with onions, garlic and hot peppers and fried in vegetable oil. Often you will find the typical oval-shaped compact rice and bean mixture accompanied by chicken milanesa or a steak with a fried egg on top. As tacu tacu has progressed, you now find it offered in many restaurants filled with lomo saltado, seafood and other combinations. We sampled two of the 10 different tacu tacu varieties offered on the menu. The tacu tacu huancainero (32 soles) comes with a generous portion of crispy fried shrimp and the entire combination is covered with a creamy huancaina sauce. The tacu tacu titanic (39 soles) was even more of a crowd pleaser. The rice and bean concoction was filled with camarones (prawns) that were flambéed with a touch of pisco and accompanied by crispy calamari and onion rings. The sauce that was drizzled over this mixture was a special white sauce.
To say that the tacu tacu dishes are large at El Merlin de Cabo Blanco is an understatement. The 10 that are offered on their menu are all huge and can be shared between at least two people.
On my recent return visit to El Merlin de Cabo Blanco I ordered the cabrito a la nortena (35 soles) since baby goat is one of my favorite northern cuisine dishes. The goat was de-boned, tender and juicy and accompanied by creamy beans and rice. I was not able to finish this plate due to the size, but I did have an eager “helper.” I also ordered the leche de tigre (10 soles) on a whim. This is a concoction of macerated fish, lime juice, peppers and tiny bits of fish, which is basically the juice that remains after you make ceviche. It was delicious and had the perfect bit of heat. At many restaurants you receive a large shot glass of this concoction, but here it arrived in an ample glass with at least 6 oz. of the juice/liquid and accompanied by a jumbo shrimp.
On our first visit we dined at El Merlin de Cabo Blanco on a Monday afternoon when there was a decent crowd, but no need to make a reservation. When I returned a couple of weeks later on a Friday, I was glad that I had made a reservation since the restaurant was filled to capacity and a large group of people were waiting for tables inside and outside the restaurant. I can only imagine that the weekends enjoy larger crowds. I would strongly advise making reservations Friday through Sunday.
El Merlin de Cabo Blanco
Av. Cesar Vallejo 1502, Lince
Hours: Monday – Sunday: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Seating for 170
Appetizer Platters to Share: S./50.50-53,80
Rice Dishes: S./23.80-34.50
Tacu Tacus: S./25.80-38.80
Fish Filets: S./23.80-47.50
Chifa Dishes: S./23.80-34.50
Special Dishes: S./26.80-34.50
Criollo/Northern Dishes: S./23.80-35
Combination Dishes: S./31.80-32.80
Cover photo: El Merlin de Cabo Blanco Facebook Page