What a lovely change to find a simple, homey restaurant away from the conglomeration of trendy eateries housed in shopping malls!
Casa Peru, once a private home, has been converted into a family-style restaurant serving typical Peruvian home cooking in Pozos de Santa Ana, southwest of San José. If you’re interested in formal dining and service, forget Casa Peru; this hospitable establishment gives the feeling you are visiting a private home for dinner.
The main dining room is simply furnished with dark wood tables and chairs, with woven Peruvian wall hangings adding color to the surroundings. We chose to sit at a banquette on the breezy patio, from where we could see chef Vanessa Arévalo and her assistant cooking up a storm in the small kitchen.
Casa Peru is not licensed to serve alcohol, so while we waited for dinner we enjoyed the chicha morada, a traditional nonalcoholic beverage made with purple corn, fruit juice, cinnamon and cloves. It has a unique flavor well worth trying.
Our attractively presented appetizers arrived, and all were deemed very good. I ordered the flagship of Peruvian cuisine, the ceviche de pescado. Chunks of corvina marinated in lime juice were covered with a generous portion of sliced purple onion and white corn kernels, both fresh and toasted. This was accompanied by slices of camote, or sweet potato. Our server asked me if I wanted it natural, red, yellow or green; I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about until he explained that ají, Peruvian chili, comes in different colors. Yellow is mild, red is medium and green is extra hot. I chose red, which added a hot, spicy flavor to the tangy, seasoned lime juice. This ceviche put its Costa Rican cousin to shame and was perhaps the best I’ve tasted outside of Peru.
The other appetizers, octopus in a creamy black olive sauce and an octopus and black olive causa – a Peruvian specialty of mashed potato with a choice of different additions – were also delicious.
Our main courses continued in the same authentic manner. The shrimp salteado consisted of shrimp sautéed with garlic, onions, tomatoes and Peruvian chili peppers, served with French fries. The ají shrimp served with rice was covered in a creamy, cheesy sauce, and the corvina a lo macho, breaded corvina in a spicy, mixed-seafood tomato sauce, couldn’t have been tastier.
Skipping the flan and caramel meringue parfait desserts, we offered our congratulations to chef Arévalo for her culinary talents. Originally from Lima, she has lived in Costa Rica for nine years.
“I started cooking when I was 7 and still use my mother’s recipes,” she said, adding that she doesn’t cook gourmet, trendy fusion food, but uses only traditional recipes from different regions of Peru.
Peruvian owner Jalil Sacin works at the nearby Forum business park and has cashed in on the lunchtime crowd, offering an executive menu with choice of appetizer, main course, dessert and fruit drink for ₡4,950 ($10). Sample prices from the regular menu are ₡3,500 ($7) for appetizers and ₡7,000 ($14) for main courses. Prices do not include 13 percent tax and 10 percent service. The restaurant also offers express or takeout service.
If you are a fan of authentic Peruvian home cooking, Casa Peru is certainly worth a visit.
Location: 175 m north of the Catholic church in Pozos de Santa Ana
Hours: Tuesday to Thursday, noon-8 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, noon-10 p.m.; Sunday, noon-4 p.m. Weekday executive lunches are served from noon-3 p.m.