Puerto 511 Cocina Peruana has always been a best kept secret in the Market Center neighborhood. Known for their ceviche and setting in a small space with less than 10 tables, a reservation is always recommended. The restaurant recently reopened in February after taking a 2+ month hiatus. With the reopening comes a totally redecorated restaurant interior and exterior. Last week they debuted their new spring weekend menu so I knew it was time to check out the new digs.
On Friday and Saturday, Puerto 511 only offers their Prix Fixe 6 course menu for $59 per person. Chef Jose Victorio Alarcon came to the table to greet us after we had been seated. He described his menu as an adventure through many different areas.
First and foremost, Puerto 511 is a BYOB establishment. I recommend you look at the menu before you pick out your wine for the night. Don’t know what to pair with it? I like to take my menus to Pinehurst Wine Shoppe for an expert recommendation. For this menu, a 2008 La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva was selected. Not a fan of alcohol? You can always try the Chicha Morada instead. It’s a classic Peruvian drink made of purple corn, pineapple, cinnamon, sugar, and lime. It’s a very unusual combination that creates an interesting flavor. While you taste your wine or sip your Chicha Morada you can enjoy the plantain chips that are delivered to your table as soon as you arrive.
The first course brought to our table was the Anticucho. Anticucho is grilled skewers of veal marinated in aji panka, garlic, cumin, oregano, with grill potato, Peruvian corn, and rocoto sauce. Such a beautiful plate. I’m glad we didn’t have to share. The veal was perfectly cooked to medium. They don’t ask you how you want it cooked, you get it the way it should be eaten. The marinade on the veal was excellent and it hit every mark; sweet, spicy, savory. The sauce added some more spice which the corn and potatoes then helped temper. The potatoes were small yet mighty, although I would have been happy with more. A perfectly balanced dish.
The next course we had was the Empanada de Mi Barrio. The empanada was made with handmade dough, filled with chicken marinated in dressing of the chef’s grandmother and caramelized onion, served with aji and a touch of lemon. I love empanadas; they are one of my favorite things to cook. I normally fill them with cheese but that is probably because I don’t have a recipe for marinated chicken passed down from my grandmother. Luckily, Chef Alarcon does. I love the emapanada, the dough was savory, crispy and held up well to the filling. The aji on the side added the heat and acidity that the dish needed. I also enjoyed the tiny pile of whatever on the side there with parsley and cilantro(?) in it. it added more acid and more flavor. I ate this way too fast.
The next course is what had me coming to the restaurant in the first place, ceviche. The Ceviche Thai was made with fresh sliced fish in exotic coconut tiger milk, pineapple, ginger, aji limo, a plantain chip, cancha, with grilled shrimp. I love ceviche, I love Thai food, this combined two of my favorite things. The ceviche was a perfect balance and creamy and acidity. I love the added crunch of the cancha (corn nut) in each bite. The fish wasn’t too fishy and everything blended really well together. This dish showcases Puerto 511’s prowess as a ceviche powerhouse.
This next course was so pretty. I think I stared at it for a good minute or two before I finally cut in to it. This was the Lomo en Su Causa. Lomo en Su Causa consisted of sautéed rib eye, red onion, tomato, Portobello ,scallion, soy, wine vinegar, with Peruvian potatoes and aji Amarillo. The way this dish was constructed made sure that you got a little bit of everything in each bite.The potatoes took up the bottom layer topped with avocado, sliced steak, and the mix of toppings. It was delicious down to the final bite.
The last savory course served was the Chaufa. Chaufa is wok- fried rice with shrimp, calamari, red pepper, snow peas, eggs, scallions, soy sauce, sesame oil and encurtido of radish. After a lot of smaller dishes this last one did the job of filling me up. This dish was less about seasoning and more about a combination of seafood and vegetables for flavoring. I could have done with less rice and more vegetables but it was still a good dish.
The sixth and final course of the evening was dessert. They served us Picarones de Yuca which was made with cassava (yuca), anise, sweet potatoes, cinnamon, pisco, kiwi, vanilla ice cream, and honey. The honey was organic and homemade by the Chef’s grandmother. It’s hard to get more special than that! It was delicious dish that wasn’t overly sweet thanks to the use of the yuca and potatoes. It was a really well-balanced dish. I love the way it tasted when the ice cream got a little melted and mixed with the sauce and honey. I had to stop myself from licking the plate.
Overall, we had a wonderful meal at Puerto 511 Cocina Peruana! The whole experience reminded us of our trip to Paris last year. We spent hours every evening eating coursed out meals during our time there and it was nice to have the experience again here in Baltimore. So many places rush you through a meal and don’t take the time to stop and smell the roses (or digest). You might eat at a restaurant that serves you 6 courses in an hour but you feel full and gross afterward. Puerto 511 Cocina Peruana has the portions and the speed at which they are brought down to a science. Our servers were kind and attentive and we were visited several times by Chef Alarcon himself. Operating in a smaller space gives you the chance to provide a more intimate and personal experience to your guests. We left feeling happy and satisfied and will definitely return again.