With its abundant seafood, indigenous vegetables, fruits and spices and wide-ranging influences from the immigrants who have settled there, Peruvian food is colorful and intriguing. At Brasa & Pisco, two young Peruvian brothers, Dante and Luis Valenzuela (their mom is in the kitchen, too) are mixing respect for their culinary heritage with modern artistry. You’ll find familiar ceviches, the fried corn snack that everyone loves, traditional causa (stacked potato) dishes and all kinds of fish, chicken, beef, plantains, yuca, chaufas (fried rice) and that satisfying medley of flash-fried seafood and fried yuca called jalea ($12). But the brothers, along with their chef, Diego Salazar, who all formerly worked in the kitchen at the Ritz-Carlton, put their own artisanal spin on the wide-ranging menu, which includes both small plates and entrées.
Brasa in the restaurant’s title refers to rotisserie (a traditional Peruvian method of cooking meat) and Pisco is the national drink of Peru—a brandy-like beverage made in small batches from the aguardiente grape. The Pisco sour is the house cocktail, and it’s refreshing and bracing.
A half wall of wood divides a huge room into bar area and dining area, although you can eat and drink wherever you want. But the bar side, with its glamorous curving bar, seems more intimate. There’s happy hour daily and music on weekends. The spirits menu is extensive and the craft cocktails are outstanding.
On the Brasa side of the room, marinated, slow-roasted chicken is a house specialty. A whole chicken is $20 with sides—yuca, sweet potato fries and market vegetables. A quarter of this beautifully rotisserie-cooked bird is $6; you add sides for an upcharge. Another house specialty looks like a towering, stacked burger, but it’s nothing of the sort. The stack is composed of a layer each of a piece of marinated grilled strip loin, tacu tacu (Peruvian version of beans and rice combined), sweet plantains, Peruvian onion slaw and on top a fried egg, with chimichurri sauce on the side ($18). The minute you cut into this, the tower collapses and the yolk of the egg seeps into the other layers. Outrageously satisfying and fun to conquer.
But my favorite dish is the quinoa risotto. Grilled fresh fish of the day (it’s usually tuna, barely cooked) sliced into rectangles is arranged on a bed of tricolor yellow pepper quinoa risotto and sprinkled with a few clumps of snowy queso fresco cheese ($18). This is the highest and best use of quinoa ever. The texture is simultaneously silky and slightly gritty and the blend of seasonings renders the whole dish flavorful but mild. The risotto is a lovely companion.
Dishes are presented with genuine talent. The causa tartare, a yellow pepper-potato terrine with avocado and tuna tartar, is party-gorgeous and comes topped with black sesame and orange reduction for $15. Another causa small plate, this time with octopus, chicken salad and shrimp, is similarly lovely and tasty at $15.
A section of the menu is devoted to ceviches, which range in price from $7 to $15. I can recommend the mixto, which combines rough chopped fish, calamari, octopus, shrimp and mussels, onions and cilantro. It’s served on a salad plate with choclo (huge, tender white corn kernels on a half cob), fried crunchy corn and pieces of sweet potato.
House-made desserts are three and noteworthy. A New York style cheese cake is flavored with lucuma (a sweet super-fruit that looks like an avocado) and drizzled with dulce de leche sauce for $6. A chocolate mousse is served with a cinnamon rolled chocolate wafer and a sprinkling of fruit caviar and at $6 will more than satisfy a sweet craving. And the picarones are something I’d have with strong coffee in the morning for breakfast. They’re similar to beignets but made with spiced sweet potato and butternut squash and topped with fig syrup ($6).
The service at Brasa & Pisco is prompt and affable, and the ambiance is casual with cloth napkins but bare wood tables. Be sure to notice the restaurant’s approach to putting a little vase of flowers on every table. Once I saw it, I went home and tried the arrangement myself.
The Verdict: Brasa & Pisco celebrates the traditional foods of coastal Peru, interpreted with modern flair. Big menu, big bar, small plates and full entrées.
Brasa & Pisco | 8347 Lockwood Ridge Road, Sarasota, (941) 360-0300
Credit cards: All major accepted
Lunch: Monday-Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Dinner: Monday-Thursday and Sunday 5-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday until 10:30 p.m. Bar open until late. Live music on weekends