PERUVIAN WITH A TWIST: Lomo Saltado a lo Zenon features fried eggs and plantains.
Here’s some good news for anyone upset about the loss of Nazca, downtown San Jose’s Peruvian restaurant. Zenon’s Place, another upscale Peruvian establishment, has taken Nazca’s place, in the same building, in fact.
Zenon’s Place even has a similar look and feel—simple and spacious, with indigenous Peruvian art on the wall. Oddly, Nazca’s name remains for now on the front doorway, which might be confusing for some patrons. While Zenon’s shares a lot of the same menu items with its predecessor, it sticks closer to classic Peruvian flavors and techniques.
Business was slower than I expected the night I went. The busiest things got during my meal was only four tables—and that was on a Saturday night—but that might be because Zenon’s is still new. The staff was very friendly, and the food was delicious.
Peru enjoys a remarkable, diverse cuisine that is shaped by Spanish, Chinese, Italian, African and Japanese immigrants. Lima, the largest city, where owner Zenon Robles hails from, was (and still is) the cultural center of all this immigration, and therefore brings these diverse flavors together to the greatest extent. Zenon’s represents this creative mingling well—and gives it a touch of class.
For an alcoholic beverage, the Pisco blended drinks, which originated in Peru and nearby Chile, are worth trying. They are similar to margaritas but with greater subtly. Pisco is a colorless hard liquor that reminds me of tequila. Zenon’s makes a strong and faithful classic Peruvian Pisco sour for $7. Blended with lemon juice, honey, egg whites and angostura bitters (a bitter alcohol), the drink is sweetly tart and served in a small glass cup. Other Pisco variations are also $7. Margaritas are $5.
Zenon’s Place serves several intriguing appetizers worth sharing. The ceviche, which is one of Peru’s most famous dishes, is an obvious starting point. The use of lime juice, which was brought over by Spanish immigrants, and raw fish, which came from the Japanese, demonstrates the cultural crossroads of Peru and its food.
For $13.95, the ceviche de pescado is a fresh, tasty snack. Zenon’s uses tilapia in their ceviche de pescado. It has a meaty texture and light fishy taste—good even for those who aren’t fish lovers. The fish is doused in lime juice and topped with red onions and chiles. It comes with sweet potatoes, corn nuts and corn. The crunchy corn nuts were a nice touch. For $14.95, they also offer ceviche de conchas (scallops) and ceviche mixto (fish, calamari and octopus).
Another good appetizer to try is the causa rellena for $8.50. It is an odd, cylindrical stack of mashed golden potatoes stuffed with avocado, peas, chiles and carrots, and topped with a single broiled shrimp and some tartar sauce. The tartar sauce gave the dish a tangy pop, which brought all the flavors together.
Other stuffed appetizers worth considering include the papa rellena for $8.50 (fried mashed potatoes stuffed with ground meat, boiled eggs, olives and raisins) and the palta rellena for $9.25 (avocado stuffed with chicken, mayo and veggies).
For the main course, I ordered the Lomo Saltado a lo Zenon, which is a popular Peruvian dish with a slight twist that really showcases the Asian influence in Peruvian cuisine. It’s a stir fry with a heaping scoop of sticky white rice, thin beef strips, onions, garlic, stewed tomatoes, soy sauce and French fries. Zenon’s special twist includes fried eggs and fried plantains—both welcome additions. The beef wasn’t very tender, but it reminded me of the beef one gets in Chinese fast food, which I, admittedly, have a fondness for.
Other notable entrees include such Peruvian staples as arroz con pollo (a casserole with chicken, rice, veggies and lots of cilantro) for $12.50; parihuela (a spicy, hearty seafood stew) for $15.95; and jalea mixto (deep-fried, spicy shrimp, calamari and fish, served with pickled onions and limes) for $18.
One of my favorite dishes was the special of the day: the adobo de chancho, a juicy pork roast marinated in wine, beer and peppers, and served in a gravy of its juices, along with more wine and beer. It comes with sticky white rice and yams. It was succulent and only $10. This one deserves a permanent place on the menu.
167 W. San Fernando St., San Jose