Evolving from a pop-up vendor to stand-alone restaurant isn’t a new concept in New York, given the amount of open-air markets and food halls occupying the cityscape. But not all fully fledged operations find success outside the safety of their stalls. Chef Jose Luis Chavez is the next in line to roll the culinary dice, hoping he hits the jackpot with a formal version of his popular pop-up, Mission Ceviche.
Chavez’s Peruvian-style ceviches, marinated in bright citrus juices and accompanied by Incan corn and piped potato mousse, are constant crowd-pleasers at Mission Ceviche’s locations inside Canal Street Market and the Gansevoort Market. Here’s why you should try them—along with an expanded menu of brightly reinvented Peruvian delicacies—at his new Upper East Side sit-down spot.
Each dish is a world of flavor.
Peru’s cuisine has always sought inspiration from both native Incans and the country’s immigrant population (predominantly from Japan, China, Africa, Spain, Germany, and Italy), so it’s no surprise you can taste all of those influences through the menu. Chavez’s team handles those contrasting flavors and textures beautifully, as demonstrated most noticeably in the outstanding Nikkei-inspired tuna ceviche that’s prepared with crisped black quinoa, a fluffy ponzu foam, and fresh watermelon. Anticuchos (skewers) of grilled whole shrimp and golden scallops are subtly seasoned but act as fresh and sumptuous neutral bases for their accompanying sauces (chimichurri and Parmigiano Reggiano cream, respectively). As for mains, like the aji de gallina, a creamy chicken stew served with a side of silky white rice, you won’t think about how much dairy is lurking in the robust yellow sauce (spoiler: it’s plenty); just settle into the fact that each bite reminds you that sweater weather is on the horizon.
The most beautifully executed plate is also Mission Ceviche’s tastiest.
It will be hard to contain your awe when the octopus causa is delivered to your table. The star of the menu—a thick roasted tentacle—dramatically drapes itself around a tall potato cake, dressed in a pastel purple aioli. The aioli’s surprising color and briny punch come courtesy of pureed botija olives, the saltiness of which harmonizes with the buttery starch of the potato and the zest of the chimichurri-marinated octopus. Get all three components together in one forkful and you’ve got the perfect bite, one that transports you to a tapas bar overlooking the Balearic Sea.
The signature dessert is worth saving room for.
Your waiter may light up when you say yes to dessert and order a raspadilla, because it’s likely as fun to serve as it is to eat. A few minutes later what appears is a shaved ice mountain doused with chicha morada (a Peruvian drink made with purple corn) and covered in snow-colored lucuma syrup and crushed Oreo pebbles. The bowlful is stunning to look at, but even better to savor. Just eat it quickly—before it melts.
Surprise! Your cocktail might have cheese in it.
The short-but-sweet cocktail menu heavily represents Peru’s signature brandy, Pisco, appearing in two-thirds of the lineup. You’ll be inclined to order a classic Pisco Sour (which is extremely good), but Mission Ceviche’s bartenders won me over with the goat cheese–based Chupa Cabra. Yes, it has the subtle scent of a well-executed cheese plate, but it tastes more like a South American Brandy Alexander. The goat cheese’s natural lusciousness replaces the classic cocktail’s cream base, while an additional sweet hit comes through courtesy of a splash of honey liqueur. Capped off with a lemon juice squeeze and micro cilantro as a garnish, this is a perfectly crafted sipper. We recommend drinking it slowly as you contemplate ordering a second round at dinner.