Darwin's on 4th: Flavor All The Way

By Megan McDonald January 31, 2012

Well, if you never knew where Fourth Street was, you sure do now! The buzz around Darwin Santa Maria’s newest culinary playground is explosive. I have heard guests describe their meals as “the best ever,” “exceptional flavors” and perhaps my favorite: ”OMG, I really have died and landed in culinary heaven.”

Like the song sort of goes, “Hello Darwin, well hello, Darwin, it’s so nice to have you back where you belong.”

In a building that hosted Rustic Grill and Mad Crow, Darwin has brought soul to both structure and plate. What was once a dungeon-like atmosphere now has warmth and a true feeling of Peruvian culture. The lighting is dim (maybe slightly too dim to read the menu), and the brick walls display iron works of art and soothing background colors. The bar offers a view of the brewing room and soft booths along the front wall, with high tops for a more casual get together with friends.

The main dining area is open and overlooks the complete open kitchen. Instead of an expensive chef's table where most restaurants up-charge, Darwin’s offers plenty of seats at the chef’s bar to watch the flame hit the pan and see the sizzle of the flank steak as it reaches a perfect temperature. This could be my favorite seat in the house.

Upstairs, the lounge is in part open and relaxing and a sense of private club. Wherever I sit, I want to stay--it is that comfortable.

Small plates have big flavor at Darwin's.

Now, let’s talk urban street food, an expression that Darwin uses to describe his food. After several years of travel, and expanding his family with twins, Darwin has created recipes with global reach using his usual creative flare. Look for dishes like wahoo tiradito--wahoo sashimi with ginger aioli, cucumber, mango, seaweed salad and ponsu sauce, and the award-winning tuna tiradito--fresh tuna sashimi, ginger soy sauce, cubes of fresh watermelon and leche de tigre. I dream of this dish in the hot weather, along with a mango mojito. And then there are those Asian-style chicken wings--pour me a fresh brew and order me a second plate.

Asian-style chicken wings.

If you have been a fan of Darwin since he first opened his tiny Selva Grill restaurant on the corner of Clark and Swift, you will savor the return of Darwin’s skirt steak with sweet plantains and chimichurri--flavor explosion. The malbec-braised short ribs with truffle chive risotto and herb salad have become a local favorite already, but our new fave is the Amazon Chaufa-Peruvian fried rice with duck, shrimp, pork, sweet plantains and quail egg.

Darwin's flank steak is a best dish in town nominee.


While the actual beer from the Darwin's brewmaster won’t be ready for a few more weeks, spend time with Jarrod, a beer master with a warm and passionate love for beer. I learned more in five minutes on the art of tasting beer than I have ever before, and look forward to upcoming beer and food pairings and special dinners.

Brewmaster Jarrod knows his stuff.

Welcome back, Darwin--it’s so nice to have you back where you belong.

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