Lately I've been noticing that "firsts/appetizers" on menus are often times more interesting than main courses. Like the Blind Burro, I found that to be true at Cafe Secret as well. Cafe Secret is named quite well, though located on Camino del Mar, it's really easy to miss, especially at night.
I hadn't seen my good friends Howie and Jenne in a while and Candice suggested we get together. I believe it was Jenne who picked Cafe Secret. I hadn't had good Peruvian Food in a while, so this was a good choice.
The tiny dining area could be described as either cozy or cramped depending on the foot traffic on the sidewalk that the dining area straddles and the customers.
The staff here was nice enough, though there were forgotten place settings, glasses, and an appetizer that arrived after all the entrees had almost been finished. Still, one can't complain when a dish of canchita (roasted corn kernels), something that I really enjoy.
The night started with drinks; I got a Cristal, and the girls Pisco Sours. Which took me back to the musty bar of a hotel in Lima Centro. It was a nice way to start a meal.
I decided on ordering three appetizers, while the rest of the group went with a cebiche and mains. It would turn out to be a good amount of food for us all.
The first item to appear was the Cebiche Mixto ($17). I believe this was the best dish of the night.
I really enjoyed the balance of the leche de tigre, the "marinade" or sauce if you will that is used to flavor the dish. It had a nice balance of sour and briney goodness. It's been a while since I've had cebiche this good. I only wish there was more of it, along with some spoons for scooping up the leche de tigre and canchitas. The lenguado, white fish, was marinated perfectly, too long and it get mushy, too short and it's tough. The calamari also was very tender. I'd gladly have this again.
The Tiradito ($15) was a different story.
There's always a sense of adventure in ordering tiradito, a dish often credited to the Nikkei Perujin, the Japanese who had immigrated or were born in Peru. Every version I've had was different; from the fantastic, full flavored, and wonderful Tiradito en Crema de Rocoto I had at El Fayke Piurano in Central Lima, to the garlic and lemon tones of the Tiradito Alfresco at Alfresco in Miraflores, it can be an interesting ride. This fish in this version was cut thick, almost like a tweener, the thickness of hirazukuri, but at an angle like usuzukuri. I've found that my favorite versions of tiradito are when fish is cut in thin strips, or thin like carpaccio. This was a bit too thick for me. The sauce was almost a weird tropical-asian incarnation, mildly fruity, but with ginger-sesame tones. This isn't my favorite preparation of tiradito, as the flavor just didn't keep me interested.
I also ordered the Shrimp Causa, which seemed a bit over-priced at $15 for what is basically mashed potato.
I will say that I liked the presentation, the shrimp was cooked to perfection, and this was nicely flavored. Rich, but not over-the-top, with a little kick. This was good.
Candice ordered the Chupe; basically a seafood based chowder. Think of it as being a richer version of Mexican Caldo de Mares, but with less of a acidic-oregano kick. The broth had a nice ocean flavor, tough I would have appreciated a bit more acid and salt. I'm not sure about the rest, but Candice seemed to enjoy it.
Howie ordered the classic Peruvian dish Lomo Saltado ($18).
Made with tenderloin, this was very tender. It just seemed to fall short in flavor. There seemed to be components missing with regards to flavor. It was missing salt, an herbaceous tone, huacatay is often used in Peru, and perhaps some alcohol or vinegar for zing. Overall, very flat in flavor.
Jenne ordered the very unmacho, Macho ($22), basically Pescado a lo Macho.
The entrees were almost done and I wondered what happened to the Papas and Yucuitas a la Huacaina($10), so I asked. Without blinking an eye, they told me it was being prepped. Now, this is an appetizer, basically fried potatos and yuca with a cheese sauce.......they could have told me they forgot, but what the heck.
I've had versions of this that were made with a ton of parmesan...making it super salty. This was all the way on the other end of the spectrum, being quite bland. The sauce was a bit too thick and seemed to be getting thicker by the moment. Of course I love yuca in all forms, so I wasn't complaining.
We ended our meal sharing a very well made alfajores ($3):
It was great hanging out, we actually hadn't had a meal together in over a year! There was a ton of catching up to do and I don't think that was fully accomplished, so I think we'll have to di this again soon!
As for Cafe Secret, next time it'll be cebiche, cebiche, cebiche......that's probably worth a revisit on its own.
1140 Camino Del Mar
Del Mar, CA 92014