Ceviche mixto and causa Limena illustrate Crandall's new Peruvian side.
Peruvian food is having a big moment. Every week in New York, there seems to be a new vendor of the country's fusion cuisine: a blend of Spanish, Chinese, African and Japanese influences. Some of this is thanks to Peruvian super chef Gastón Acurio, dubbed the "Jean-Georges of Peru," whose restaurant empire has been spreading the gospel of modern Peruvian cooking around the world. His Michelin-starred Flatiron restaurant La Mar Cebicheria Peruana closed this summer, but he has other spots in San Francisco and Los Angeles. He also recently opened Tanta to good reviews in Chicago, and has plans to open yet another restaurant in Miami this winter.
But probably the biggest sign that Peruvian food has entered the world stage is the opening of Pakta in Barcelona last March. This is Ferran Adrià's first restaurant after closing his famed El Bulli, and it's Japanese-Peruvian.
Here in Madison, we are also having a Peruvian moment. Inka Heritage has been carrying the flag on South Park Street for a few years, and while others (Pollo Inca, El Corral) have opened and closed, Surco Peruvian recently progressed from a cart to a well-received brick-and-mortar outpost on Cottage Grove Road.
The city's newest Peruvian entry, as unlikely as it may seem, is Crandall's. Crandall's was once a venerated restaurant in the space occupied by Tornado Club. It relocated to the Depot on West Washington Avenue in the early '90s but closed in '93. Ivan Pimental took over Crandall's in '94 and has operated it as a carryout and catering business on University Avenue since.
Now a new-and-improved Crandall's is back downtown, this time at 334 State St. in the location formerly occupied by Chautara. And Pimental, who hails from Peru, is letting loose on some classics from his homeland. The result is a fusion of a whole new kind — Peruvian meets Wisconsin supper club.
It's true. Cheese curds vie with fried yucca root in the appetizer section; a fish and cheese sandwich competes with Lima-style ceviche; and classic Peruvian rotisserie chicken cozies up to a bacon mushroom cheeseburger. The result is a bizarre, bi-continental, comfort-food mélange.
Lunch prices are high for lower State Street, but portions are large. For instance, although the lunch lasagna is $13 (at dinner, it's $14.50 for beef or $13.50 for spinach), it weighs in at nearly two pounds and is loaded with gloriously crispy, caramelized cheese. Likewise, the beef version of the lomo saltado is a heaping mound of umami-laden steak on top of fried potatoes with a side of white rice that can easily serve two.
Daily lunch specials lower the prices some, and a recent chaufa de quinoa special was crispy bits of chicken and quinoa with carrots, potatoes, green onions and two big fried plantains.
The empanadas will become an addiction for some. Thin, impossibly flaky crusts give way to surprisingly wet interiors in all three versions: chicken, beef and cheese. Take the chicken, an experience akin to devouring a spectacular, handheld chicken potpie. Here's where comfort food and Peruvian truly fuse. The cheese variation also stands out, sporting bits of bright green shredded kale.
There is a rewardingly familiar turkey, Swiss and broccoli melt, but why not make lunch ceviche, with a glass of white wine? The wine list is short but serviceable. And the spicy lime-laden ceviche mixto is an elegant dish of shrimp, octopus, calamari and flounder; there's a side of steamed sweet potato with big, nutty Peruvian corn as well as crunchy toasted corn. Here all comfort is eschewed, and the dish is habanero-hot.
The dinner menu features many of the same elements as lunch, and a few more classic dishes from both the supper-club and Peruvian worlds. Salchipapas makes an appearance as an appetizer, but the well-executed South American fast-food comfort dish of fried sausage and potato with a fried egg on top is a full meal.
But Pimental also goes bold. There's a ceviche nikkei — a Japanese-inflected version of ceviche — as well as Peruvian-style sashimi called tiradito. This is exactly the fusion food that has caught Ferran Adrià's, and the world's, eye.
Japanese immigrants settled in Peru over a century ago and developed a full-fledged cuisine. Additionally, modern-day Japanese chefs frequently head to Lima to complete their training. The fish available off the country's plankton-rich coast is an amazing resource for chefs learning their trade. How unexpected, how strangely fitting, to see this year's hottest international cuisine, Peruvian-Japanese fusion, on State Street, offered by a former supper club once famed for its classic fish fry. And for $13.50 — with stellar service — you can still get that, too.