With all the new restaurants opening we yearn for something different.
St. Clair West has always been a smorgasbord of good dining options, but now on a corner once claimed by Catch, we take the bait and are immediately reeled in by the new Peruvian restaurant, Kay Pacha.
What is Peruvian cuisine? It’s one of the most delicious cuisines in the world. So why aren’t there more Peruvian restaurants in Toronto? Is it the availability of indigenous ingredients? Not necessarily. Peruvian cuisine is a historical fusion of influences from Japan, China, Africa, Spain and Italy along with traditional Andean and Amazonian cooking, combined with the imagination of the Chef. It’s the authenticity of the chef that makes the difference. Here, Chef Elias Salazar transports us to Peru.
We begin with a dish of Chifles Mixtos. These are not ordinary “chips”; these are the most addictive, thin, lightly salted, crisp strips of plantain, taro and purple potatoes that I have ever crunched. OMG they are so good. Adding to the crunch we order a dish of Yuca Frita that puts all other potato wedges and frites to shame, and compliment it with a palette of dips like citric yuzu, garden fresh chimichurri, creamy huancaina, and piquant aji rocoto that set our taste buds dancing. The perfect pairing is with the quintessential Peruvian beverage: Pisco Sour. Kay Pacha uses the right Pisco (an Acholado from Pisco Porton), and knows how to blend a smooth, balanced cocktail with a creamy texture and the right amount of zing to make me order a second one.
Traditional staples are made with a twist. A thick and luscious Causita estilo Lima is composed of tender pulled chicken, avocado and quail egg on a puck of whipped Yukon Gold potato with decorative flavours of yuzu, aji Amarillo and huancaina. This is fresh Peruvian soul food at its best. Potatoes originated in Peru, where there are literally thousands of different kinds. Many Peruvian dishes include potato, corn and other staple ingredients, but they are apportioned with such care that we could enjoy them in every single dish and not have the same taste experience twice. Ceviche also originated in northern Peru. Tiradito is thickly cut ceviche. We order the Tiradito Nikkei (which means derivative of Japan) and are delighted by a medley of textures from beautifully silky yellow fin tuna lacquered in passion fruit and tamarind sauce and a purée of avocado and wasabi, to watermelon radishes and a togarashi-dusted wonton. The Concha a la Parmesana is too good to order just one. Baked on the shell in aji Amarillo and pisco butter with a delicate crust of parmiggiano and panko—this jumbo scallop from Maine is the most succulent scallop I’ve ever savoured.
A Chinese influence in Peruvian cooking is the Lomo Saltado. Wok-fried beef tenderloin, tomatoes and onions are typically paired with rice, but Chef Salazar redefines this dish with linguini in huancaina sauce and micro cilantro that, when all mixed together, is one of those surprisingly tantalizing dishes for which I say, “Ok, I swear this is my last bite,” over and over again. Not to be outdone, the Aji de Gallina bowl of creamy pulled chicken in Amarillo sauce sprinkled with toasted walnuts and parmiggiano and served with jasmine rice is the height of comfort food with a subtle smoky essence. There is no better antidote to a cold winter than this warm Criollo goodness. We eat with our eyes first, but the harmonious balance of colour and texture in each generous portion is music to my palate.
For dessert I am tempted by the lucuma ice cream made in-house from organic lucuma pulp, and accompanied by puffed up quinoa and a hint of kiwicha. This is dessert that actually makes me feel like I’m doing my body good, because despite it’s richly sweet quality these are healthy ingredients indigenous to Peru. This is the authentic Peruvian cuisine that Toronto has long awaited.
~Kay Pacha, 744 St. Clair Ave. W , 416-658-0568~
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.