“We don’t just serve food; we show Peruvian culture,” said Aldo and Miroslava Tovar, who stress that sharing culture is of the utmost importance for them as the owners of the recently opened Peruvian restaurant Señor de Sipán in Tres Ríos, east of San José. And it shows, from the Peruvian music, to the traditional dishes with historical significance, to the inclusion of art upon entering the space.
The restaurant is small, with a front room – the smoking section – where the artwork is displayed and the main dining room, where we chose to sit. Our booth had nice lamp lighting, which helped mitigate the fluorescent light beaming out of the kitchen, and the surrounding tables had candlelight. The bar area had a busy blender working, and there is also noise from outside traffic, which made for an active atmosphere, perhaps like the bustling streets of Lima.
The service was quite good; our waiter was very attentive, though by about 9:30 p.m. the restaurant was packed and it was clear he was swamped. We received a large plate of fried chips, which included potato, camote (sweet potato) and plantain, on the house – a nice touch, and they were quite tasty, though I was careful to not fill up on them since I could tell by the extensive menu that there would be a lot of food on the way.
When I say extensive menu, I mean it came in a three-ring binder. To me this was a bit daunting; however, it does offer a breadth of options from which to choose.
The menu includes salads, soups, cold and hot appetizers, appetizer platters for two, seafood, fish, meat, chicken and rice dishes, as well as a Chinese-Peruvian fusion section, a children’s menu, desserts and drinks.
We began at the logical starting point of drinks. I ordered a traditional favorite, chicha morada (¢800/$1.50), a refreshing drink made with corn, cinnamon and clove, to name a few of the discernible flavors. It was delightfully served with cubes of pineapple and a decorative straw.
Chef and owner Aldo Tovar explained that this is a very traditional drink for children in Peru, present at every party for kids. The restaurant is child-friendly, offering a children’s menu partly created by the Tovar children, Bruno and Kiana.
We decided to try both a cold and hot appetizer. Little did we know this would make us too full to each get a main dish. The cold appetizer was the causa camarón (¢2,800/$5.40), a square of mashed potato layered with nicely cooked shrimp and avocado.
Drizzled over the top was a sauce that seemed to be a salsa rosada (pink sauce), which in Tico terms means mayonnaise and ketchup. I asked for a hot sauce to accompany the food, which I highly recommend.
The hot appetizer was the enjoyable ceviche frito, or fried ceviche (¢2,500/$4.80), which was really like small, lightly battered pieces of fish. It was presented with an underwater theme, served in a shell-shaped dish, with a lemony tartar sauce served in an actual shell. It was excellent; the fish was cooked to perfection and the lemony flavor of the sauce kept me fishing for more.
Both appetizers were substantial – diners should keep in mind when ordering that the portions here are large.
At this point in the meal we were able to slow down the pace and take our time ordering a fish dish to share. The three-ring binder offers so much to choose from that deciding can be an ordeal, especially for the indecisive. The pescado chorrillana (¢3,800/ $7.30) was a simple corvina served with a tomato sauce with red onion and red pepper, rice and a steamed potato; the care given to the potato was indicative of the importance of the potato in Peruvian cuisine. Our plates came with a dusting of parsley on them, which I found to be a nice touch. The fish was good; I again added the hot sauce, but didn’t go overboard.
Though stuffed at this point, I was set on trying a dessert. The server helped us choose, and his recommendation proved excellent.
The dessert specialty, suspiro limeño (¢1,200/$2.30), a creamy, warm, caramel-tasting pudding with adorable meringue peaks on top, was very rich, but the kind of unique dessert you keep thinking about after you leave the restaurant – perhaps the most memorable part of the meal. To go with it, I ordered an herbal fruit tea, which was served in a small French press.
By the time we had finished the meal the restaurant was quite full, so while we waited for the bill we explored the “art gallery” –really a series of paintings by featured artist at the time Annabelle Núñez Blanco, placed around the front dining room. It was difficult to take in the art with all the people eating and smoking, but if you were sitting in the front room, having the art surrounding you would be an additional element to the dining experience. The paintings rotate each month, and Tovar hopes to display Peruvian sculpture and artwork in the near future.
Those interested in being a featured artist may call him at 367-7076.
Our bill was finally ready. The prices at Señor de Sipán are very reasonable, especially given the portions. As harmless as it was – ¢15,290 for two of us, with the dollar amount of $29.40 and the price per person also showing – the check itself was a highlight of the meal. I have never seen such a clearly detailed check, and it would be great for calculating totals if you were in a big group. Menu prices don’t include taxes.
All in all, it was a romantic and pleasant dinner, with plenty of tasty food and friendly, attentive service. The spirit and energy of the owners and the bustling nature of the space make for an enjoyable experience.
Señor de Sipán is 300 meters west of the cemetery in Tres Ríos, on the right-hand side of the street. Parking is available. It’s open seven days a week, Sunday through Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. For information, call 278-2978.