Leche de tigre is a citrus jet fuel that makes your ceviche supersonic. It comes in many variations, but the combination of fruit juice, onion, garlic, chili, herbs and more pervades the seafood it transforms – and vice versa – giving this “tiger’s milk” the glorious essence of the sea.
It’s a worthy welcome gift at a place called Mares Peruvian Cuisine, where the atmosphere is casual and colorful, and the walls are reminiscent of Miraflores. Leche de tigre is often advertised as a hangover cure (a tart, refreshing sour pisco could be called the same as pelo de perro), but there are other stories associated with it.
“During the difficult 90s, it began to be sold in the markets in the neighborhood as a cheap version of the traditional ceviche.” Arturo Gamio says “The low cost has allowed many people to enjoy the taste and aroma of ceviche without breaking the bank too much.”
At Mares, it’s also a good introduction to red leche, the bell pepper-infused variety used in their Colorado ceviche.
Gamia, a native of Lima, opened the place in November 2019, but by then she was no longer new to the restaurant business. He operated on two in Peru before moving here in 2007.
“Hispanics make up 75 percent of our clients,” says Gamio, whose welcoming staff offers an immersive Miami experience when the servers assume you’re fluent in Spanish from the get-go. This makes it a great place to practice your spoken Spanish, although on both occasions our waiters were fully bilingual – not to mention excellent Sherpas for the menu, which is a long and steep climb to Peruvian food.
Gamio learned to cook in the shadow of his father, who was well versed in the kitchen.
“He liked good food,” he says. “Watching him cook with such passion made me really interested in cooking.” His mother furthered his interest, and as a young man, Gamio worked in “important restaurants in Peru until I managed to open my own.”
After emigrating to the States, becoming an ambassador for Peruvian cuisine was the ultimate goal based on pride.
Mares has a lot to be proud of as it has a lot of energy and a high level of sophistication perfectly balanced with comfort. Not in any restaurant you can arrange a noisy and fun date and nice, early weekday dinner spot with kids. I would recommend Mares for anyone. The former can be exceptional on Thursdays for a group outing with friends as they add live music to the mix.
I plan to return for this dish, as well as maretazo, an Instagram-worthy dish in which colorado ceviche topped with fried seafood and yuca is served in a giant martini glass ($36.99). I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures of our neighbors (not enough pisco), so instead I turned my attention to the riot of colors of our own mixto ($18.99), a homemade seafood concoction with lime, salt, garlic, and aji’s zesty limousine. chili peppers along with onion, cilantro and the perfect sweet potato contrast.
Also in the mix is choclo, large-grained Peruvian corn, wonderfully soft and cooked, or – as it pairs with this leche de tigre and is scattered in many dishes – fried into very large addictive corn nuts. The crunch complements the choritos a la chacla ($12.99) appetizer, where the mussels are ceviche-treated before being artfully loaded back into their shells. An excellent dish for those who want to enjoy the taste of mussels without seeing them whole and plump on the plate. Whoever these people are.
Aji, with its beautiful bright orange color, has a level of warmth that I would describe as a “warm hug,” just the kind of hug that pulpo anticuchero ($20.99) provides even before you’ve relished the taste and texture of this beautifully cooked on grilled dishes. Accompanied again, with a carbohydrate Peruvian potato and corn dream team along with a vibrant mint sauce, it will be hard to pass this up for a deeper examination when I return.
However, I succeeded (anything is possible for journalism) on my next visit to dig into lomo saltado ($19.99).
“This is the best of Peruvian-Japanese fusion,” says Gamio, and would definitely recommend it as a starting point for guests unfamiliar with Peruvian cuisine. Tenderloin marinated in soy sauce and garlic, flambéed with red wine (we made a good medium rare) along with French fries and rice, although other proteins and even a vegan version are available.
Mares is showing respect to this community by actually adapting the saltado and a few other dishes for plant-based eateries. (By the way, those fries look like a Greek diner. I approve.)
Arroz Chaufa is another fusion-based dish for beginners, made with a variety of proteins and priced around $18-$20. It’s a good way to see the Chinese influence in South America,” says Gamio.
It is worth trying the local desserts prepared by Gamio’s wife, Patricia, who has been a pastry chef for over 30 years. A tart-and-creamy slice of her passion fruit mousse ($7.49) was a light, vibrant finish to the meal, while suppiro a la limena (also $7.49) goes the other way, with its rich, concentrated sweet, caramel taste. It’s also charming, served in a tiny dish reminiscent of my own vintage Le Creuset roaster.
“You won’t find them anywhere else,” says Gamio.
I can’t confirm, but I can say that its expansive menu and powerful positive vibes are two double whammys that will likely lure me back to Hunters Creek for a deeper dive.
Peruvian Cuisine Mares: 13586 Village Park Drive in Orlando; 407-730-9539; maresperuvianrestaurant.com
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