We’ve all been exposed to regional foods over the course of our lives, but let’s face it, the food available to us in the past wasn’t anything to write home about. Growing up, Chinese food was bright red sweet and sour chicken, greasy noodles overloaded with soy sauce, and fortune cookies. Italian was Bertolli’s “all you could eat” spaghetti, a mushy, tomato-laden expression of food from my Grandfather’s homeland. Mexican food was most often represented by pre-fab taco shells stuffed to the brim with packaged spices and inexpensive ground chuck. The fifties and sixties brought us a variety of cultures, but our simplistic palates and fast food expectations kept restaurants from preparing dishes that accurately illustrated the food of their native cultures. Instead we got an almost cartoon-like iteration of these foods from across the globe. We were a people who wanted what we knew, and we wanted it fast. If one wanted to experience any real form of global cuisine, one had to travel.
The past several decades have seen these sub-par ethnic foods all but vanish. Though they can be found, they are now the rarity, rather than the norm. I am thrilled that Oakland boasts some really bad ass representations of authentic, uncluttered, and uncompromised, ethnic delights. Personally, I’m always on the hunt for a new one. It’s my new thing. My entire staff helps me hunt down and identify these new dining experiences. Several months ago, my paralegal suggested we try a new Peruvian Restaurant that had just opened a few blocks from my office. I’ve had measured success finding good Peruvian, and my expectations were, quite honestly, very low.
We hit them early on, when they’d just opened. There were a few bumps, a component here or there, but wow. Just wow. The flavors were unique and everything was just, well startlingly delicious. The Chef, Patricia Rios, had really hit on something good. We let the Peruvian Paralegal (did I mention he’s from Peru?) order his favorites, and he took us through the menu masterfully. Since that first visit, we have returned often, as there is just only so long a person can do without this food.
Let me start at the beginning, with the ceviche. Peruvian Ceviche is a bit different from the standard Mexican fare you might be used to. It’s bathed in acidic “milk” rather than just the citrus cure that is more common to Latin fare from North America. Both are effective, but the Peruvian version is definitely different. The pictured version is a whitefish, but Chef Rios does a beautiful olive & calamari ceviche that’s absolute bliss as well.
Next up, the tasty “amuse” of yucca balls. We’ve had these every time we’ve been, and they really set the palate up nicely for a Latin meal. Bursting with flavor, these tiny, cruncy mouthfuls are a huge hit with our little group of diners.
Peruvian food feautures a lot of beautiful seafood. We happen to love seafood– it is a big favorite in our little band of adventurous diners. She does a particularly luscious giant shrimp atop a beautiful potato mixture (I’m not remembering the Spanish for the dish, I apologize, will try to add later) and the end result is a tangy, delicious blend of creamy starch and toothsome crustacean. Patricia really knows how to cook seafood: her shrimp are always perfectly cooked and bursting with the moist briny flavor of the sea. The sauce is a creamy drizzle of local spices which I personally find absolutely delightful. There is something familiar, yet unknown about her combinations of flavor that keep me returning over and over.
Generally we have two or three appetizers, and one or two of the bigger dishes, all shared between four people. We like to try something new that she’s come up with, in addition to our stand by favorites. Among those favorites are the large seafood combo (as you can see, chock full of mussels, shrimp, and all manner of delectable seafood) served atop rice, somewhat reminiscent of paella, and the Llomo Saltado.
We are absolutely mad for the Llomo. This is a Peruvian take on “Shaken Beef” though its name translates more accurately to “Jumping Beef,” the origins of the dish are traceable when eating these beautifully seasoned, moist and flavorful chunks of beef with a vaguely Asian twist. The meat is nestled on a platter of piping hot fries, and all of the components have been blanketed with a light beef gravy. The salty fries meld perfectly with the lovely tang of the meat sauce. I can’t accurately describe how mind-blowingly tasty this dish is, but it is something we have gone back for again and again.
Patricia Rios is a passionate and imaginative Chef, who is continually reinventing her food in order to give her patrons a new dining experience on each visit. The combination of new treats and old favorites keeps Tambo from ever getting too static, though she’s smart enough to maintain enough of her customer’s favorites on the regular menu, to keep us all coming back to re-experience this stunning new cuisine in its many incarnations.
Tambo Peruvian is an outstanding addition to the East Bay Food Scene, and my suggestion is that you check it out for yourself. Break some bread and make a few memories of your own!