A Peruvian Cookery on Main Street East
Culantro Peruvian Cookery | Hamilton, Ontario
This article also appears on Urbanicity.
Peru is truly renowned for its sophisticated food culture and Lima is easily the culinary capital of South America. Located on King William Street for about three years, Culantro moved recently to its new location on 537 Main Street East. It truly is an authentic Peruvian restaurant.
When it reopened, chef and proprietor Juan Castillo invited food enthusiasts to attend a tasting session in April. Since then, I’ve gone back for lunch and dinner, but that session really epitomizes the quality and skill the chef delivers.
Chef Juan Castillo came out to greet his guests one by one. He was very intense and understandably so. When I asked at what time he started his prepping he replied “before 7 AM”. When I put the question to him, the time was already 7 PM!
Chef Juan worked for ten years in San Francisco in five restaurants in total, all of them classic French or Italian. He comes from strong culinary roots, given his Peruvian background, but also from his parents. His mother is still a working chef in Fresno, California and his late father taught him much about cooking and flavours.
After a very short wait time, we were given small golden nuggets of roasted corn as an amuse bouche.
Then began the tasting menu in earnest and here is the sequence with notes and pix:
- Ceviche of flounder: For those who are not familiar with the word “Ceviche” it is simply raw fish cured in citrus. In this case, the Chef filleted a whole flounder and added ingredients in very small quantities achieving a wonderful balance between heat and citrus. Small pieces of yellow peppers and tiny celery bits show technique and know how.
- Shrimp Ceviche: this not your traditional shrimp ceviche, almost creamy sauce and a great balance of flavours.
- Causa de Pollo: “Causa” in Peruvian street language means close buddy hence this little dish made of chicken pieces “hugging” a mashed potato with hockey puck look.
- Another Shrimp Ceviche: this is the traditional one with a strong citrus flavour
- Salchi Pollo: deep fried chicken with fries and a pink aoli. Very tasty.
- Jaleo de pescado: fried whole red snapper with two filets of tilapia. Great presentation and taste.
- Pollo a Brasa: rotisserie chicken but with a twist. The chicken was seasoned with soya sauce among other things. It reminded me of my days in Hong Kong and Macau where similar seasonings would be applied to poultry and birds. The flavours once again are balanced and delicate.
- Finally desserts were served consisting of small size pastries called “Alfajores”.
The whole experience was an absolute pleasure as the dishes showed mastery of seasoning, balancing difficult and hard-to-marry flavours but Chef Juan showed his talent and hard work by orchestrating a symphony for the palate.
Not all the dishes will be available for lunch as some require time to prepared and would be available only with the dinner menu. There is versatility and many flavours in Chef Juan’s cuisine, allowing delicious pairing with your choice of water, beer, or red or white wine.