First things first: Ceviche, when prepared correctly, is, quite simply, my favorite thing to eat. My mother made it all the time when I was growing up, and my sole reason for going to the coastal cities of Mexico on spring break in college had nothing to do with beach bodies, tequila shots or pole dancing -- and everything to do with ceviche. The essence of ceviche is the powerful wallop of the sweet ocean laced with the sting of chiles and the sharp tang of citrus -- but if the fish isn't fresh enough to slap me back, you can toss it in with the bottom-feeders at the lowest depths of the sea.
Peruvian ceviche is different from Mexican ceviche: You won't encounter tomato juice, serranos or jalapenos, Tabasco sauce or fish -- at least not often -- that's been chopped. Instead, Peruvian ceviche gets a bold boost from the heat of fruity aji amarillo and aji ricoto chiles, crushed and pureed to make pastes and sauces. Boiled potatoes -- purple, yellow and sweet -- add chunk and heft, and much of the fish is sliced similarly to sushi and served crudo style.
Taita Peruvian Cuisine & Bar, which opens Friday at 1521 Marion Street, is not a cevicheria, but its ceviche -- at least the raw fish I sampled on Friday night during an intimate, impromptu dinner, where Taita's chef and co-owner Pepe Aparicio cooked -- was nothing short of astounding. "Look at the halibut," said Aparicio, shoving the glistening flesh, salted and peppered, under my nose. Smell it, he insisted. I nodded my approval and he beamed. "Sixteen dollars a pound," he grumbled. "But if you're going to make ceviche, the fish has to be the highest quality. If it isn't, we won't serve it."
Aparicio served several other dishes on Friday night -- dishes like crisped cod with onions and choclo, an Andean large-grain corn, and stir-fried lomo saltado made with filet mignon -- and while every single dish pranced with pronounced flavors, the ceviches, had I been in a boat, would have knocked me overboard with their vibrancy.
When Taita opens, you can expect several variations of ceviche, along with traditional Peruvian dishes and a beverage program that highlights cocktails from that country. And the festive space, illuminated by the flicker of candles, strikes me as the perfect date spot. It'll be open nightly from 4 to 11:30 p.m., and while the kitchen will end its dinner menu at 10:30, a late-night board will take over for the last hour.
Click through the following pages for a sneak peek at the food and cocktails.