Over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the sweetie and I took a day trip up to Montclair, New Jersey to visit the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. The Gardens have been on my “must see” list for several years and we were fortunate to have the time off to catch them during peak bloom time this year. It was well worth the trip!
Also making the trip to Montclair worthwhile was the terrific dinner we enjoyed afterwards at Costanera Cocina Peruana. Montclair has a great restaurant scene, largely BYOB-focused, and I only wish we lived closer and had more time to try sampling the numerous establishments in town. It made for a difficult decision as to where to dine, but I was intrigued by Costanera as soon as I saw they serve Peruvian food. I’ve only had Peruvian a few times before: once at Jose Garces‘ now-closed Chifa in Philadelphia, and more recently at El Tule in Lambertville. The reviews I scanned quickly on my phone all looked quite positive so we decided to give it a try. I’m so glad we did!
We arrived at about 3:30-4pm in the afternoon on a Sunday, so rather in between lunch and dinner service. The host made sure to just let us know that lunch service was over and only dinner was being served, which was fine with us. We had only had a big breakfast earlier in the day so we were ready for a hearty meal. The dining room itself was pleasant, with dark wooden tables and chairs, a coffee bar in the front, and some unique decor on the walls made from disc-cut pieces of wood. Our server quickly opened our wine and also some ice water to cool off from the heat while we looked over the menu.
Costanera offers a wide variety of dishes which made it rather difficult to choose between. There is a selection of raw bar options, either “build your own” or “from the chef”. Of course there are ceviches, some of the most popular Peruvian dishes today, featuring mixed seafood with aji chilies. You can also choose to start with various fritters, soups, salads and kabobs before diving into any of the hearty Peruvian entrees offered like Arroz con Mariscos (Seafood yellow rice topped with salsa criolla) or Seco Norteño (Braised Lamb Shank).
We decided to start with the ceviche mixto, featuring grouper, octopus, shrimp, and squid, and also the beef heart anticuchos—traditional marinated meat kabobs served with roasted potato and choclo (Peruvian corn). While we waited for our appetizers we were brought a tasty little snack of crunchy choclo and plaintain chips, with a spicy salsa verde that was so good, I asked for a refill when the rest of our meal arrived.
The ceviche was light and refreshing, really perfect for a hot Spring day. I liked the contrasting textures of the soft yam with the crunchy red onions, and the seafood was all deliciously tender. It was a perfect contrast, too, to the meaty warm dish of the anticuchos. I’ve never had beef heart before but I would certainly eat it again; there was nothing “organ-y” about the meat, it was more like an extremely lean, thin steak that definitely needed the marinating time to break down a bit.
For our entrees, we chose two of the steak dishes as well: the Churrasco a lo Pobre for the sweetie (Grilled Black Angus rib eye steak with tacu-tacu, maduros, and fried egg) and Lomo Saltado for me (Sliced, wok-seared Angus Hanger Steak with red onion and tomato in soy sauce.) Both of our steaks were cooked perfectly with a great sear and still tender, medium-rare inside. I loved the maduros (fried sweet plaintain) on sweetie’s plate; they were just like I remember enjoying so many times in the Caribbean before. My steak had a really great stir-fry/Asian taste to it while still having that uniquely South American/Peruvian flavor profile.
I didn’t realize the Lomo Saltado would come served on top of french fries, so I ordered a side of fried Yuca…which resulted in a bit of a starchy vegetable overload! But that was all right, I ended up taking most of the fries and Yuca home with me and they reheated excellent the next day for brunch—with our leftover steak sliced up over salad greens.
You might be wondering after all of that food how we had room for dessert. As I said, we boxed up at least half of our entrees to take home and enjoy the next day. Sweetie had to try the Arroz con Leche y Mazamorra Morada: Parfait of vanilla and Arborio rice pudding with golden raisins, and Peruvian purple corn pudding with pineapples, apricots, papaya. This was a huge serving and very soothing on the stomach, not too sweet but completely satisfying.
I wanted to try the Lucuma ice cream as I’d never heard of the fruit before. The flavor is described as being somewhat between maple syrup and sweet potato, but I’d also compare it to guava in a way because it is so luscious and just a little tart. I loved it and only regretted not being able to finish my ample serving.
At the end of the meal we left Costanera with extremely full and happy bellies, glad we’d made the decision to give them a try and hopeful we’ll have the chance to return some time again in the future. The staff were all very friendly and helpful in explaining the menu offerings and being BYOB, it was quite affordable to enjoy a huge feast there—especially as we had enough for an entire second meal at home afterwards. I would definitely recommend Costanera Cocina Peruana to anyone who’d like to give Peruvian food a try and who happens to find themselves in the Montclair area in the future.