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Few can argue that D.C.’s food culture has improved significantly in the past decade, at all levels of dining, from street food to the most sophisticated of celebrity chef restaurants. But one area in which the District still underachieves is Peruvian ceviche.
While on vacation earlier this month in Miami, I learned how wide the gulf is between decent ceviche and truly great ceviche. D.C. has some decent ceviche. Miami has great ceviche.
I discovered this while dining at El Gran Inka in downtown Miami, where former D.C. chef Javier Angeles-Beron has become head chef for the small chain of Peruvian restaurants. Angeles-Beron brought a sampler of ceviches to the table without asking. He was obviously proud of them.
For good reason.
Unlike the acid-drenched bowls that dominate the D.C. market, in which fresh seafood is drowned, Mafia-like, in lime juice, Angeles-Beron serves up ceviche “cooked” in a liquid of far greater complexity. Yes, there is citrus acid, but it’s mixed with a sort of pepper puree that the chef prepares after boiling the chiles three separate times to tamp down their fiery heat.
The puree adds a delicate fruitiness while also delivering a minor dose of heat. The aji and rocoto peppers that Angeles-Beron uses, he told us tableside, arrive fresh from Peru; he could only get them frozen in D.C., if at all.
The other difference, the chef mentioned, is the lime juice. The Miami market prefers the sharp fruity tartness of the key lime, rather than the more plodding, pedestrian acidity of the Tahitian lime. I also suspect (but I didn’t ask Angeles-Beron) that the Miami market is not scared by uncooked fish. By that, I mean, I suspect Floridians, unlike Washingtonians, don’t need their raw seafood to swim in lime juice out of concern that the fish will disturb their delicate digestive systems.
Miamians, in other words, understand the culture of Peruvian ceviche. Washingtonians still, on some level, are afraid of it.