Peruvian Flair: Pisco
Posted on June 1, 2018
Walk into Pisco and your eyes are instantly drawn to a rainbow of parasols lining the ceiling. The décor hints of the Technicolor dishes to come and conveys just part of the pizzazz of one of South America’s most vibrant culinary cultures. Carlsbad’s new Peruvian gem is a feast for the eyes during service, but even if you show up long before opening in the early-morning hours, you’ll see a kitchen alive with preparation, devoting hours to slow-cooked sauces, marinades, and more. That craftsmanship makes for dining enjoyment for those seeking a delicious taste of Peru.
The new coastal spot is the latest for impresario Sami Ladeki, who may be best known for Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza & Grill. Ladeki opened the first Pisco in Liberty Station, and explains, “I traveled to Peru and fell in love with the cuisine — the fresh seafood, produce I’d never seen, and new techniques mixed with ancient ones. I felt it was the perfect time to bring Peruvian flavors to San Diego. Carlsbad’s burgeoning dining scene was an ideal second location for us.”
Both locations are helmed by Chef Emmanuel Piqueras, a culinary celebrity with a Latin American TV food show and stints at top-rated restaurants around the country. “From coast to coast, I try to introduce as many people to Peruvian food as possible. Through Pisco’s modern Peruvian dishes, I’m able to bring a piece of my culture to Southern California,” Piqueras says.
Formally known as Pisco Rotisserie & Cevicheria, the restaurant’s namesake liquor made from wine grapes makes it into a number of house cocktails, including a lovely take on the classic Pisco Sour. Frothy egg whites give the tipple a luxuriously coating mouth feel, while bitters dashed atop that pillowy cloud add zesty, spicy aromatics to each sip. Not in the mood for the hard stuff but still want to drink in Peru? No problem. Wines and popular lagers from that nation are available, along with Old and New World versions of each.
The robust list of appetizers is perhaps the best way to experience Pisco. Papa a la huancaína is a simple plate of fork-tender fingerling potatoes topped with a creamy, corn silk-hued sauce of chiles and cheese garnished with a hard-boiled egg. Potatoes are whipped into airy, chimichurri-infused perfection and served with huacatay, an herbaceous mint sauce, in a tasty chicken causita. No show of Peru’s dishes would be complete without empanadas. Pisco’s are flaky and well browned; hardly the misnamed pseudo-calzones other eateries offer.
Then there’s the ceviche. With so many iterations available in San Diego and nearby Tijuana, it might be easy to pass over possibly the most exciting part of Pisco’s menu. This would be a mistake. Peruvian ceviche gets its character from the clean-heat of leche de tigre, or “milk of the tiger.” It is a mix of lime juice and spicy chiles. Aji Amarillo brings taste bud enlivening zing to a martini glass filled with plump shrimp, calamari, bay scallops, fish, and octopus with tentacles cut small enough to blend in nicely rather than becoming a chew toy.
Pisco prides itself on its rotisserie chicken. A 96-hour marinating lends moisture, but more importantly, adds great seasoning, including salinity that permeates the skin. Diners can order a three-pound bird with a variety of traditional sides such as garlic rice, potato wedges, and white beans, or enjoy that succulent poultry with thick-sliced yams and huancaína in a homey dish called aji de galina. Other mains include braised lamb shoulder with huacatay, a beef-tenderloin stir-fry flavored with soy, garlic, and jalapeño, and their take on pork-fried rice, chaufa aeropuerto.
The restaurant offers a heartfelt, realistic taste of Peru, and that extends to its welcoming, comfortable, easygoing environment. It’s the mood that would accompany this highly-flavorful food in South America, and Pisco does a superb job of establishing that aura in sweet home SoCal. 760.438.1212, piscorotisserie.com Brandon Hernández
Photography by Vincent Knakal