It was an unseasonably warm April day in Lima, Peru. I was driving along the coast, headed to Mirasol, the newest restaurant in Chorrillos, an oceanfront district, and home to some of the city’s top seafood eateries. I had heard that the best ceviche in Lima was likely to come from Mirasol, where chef Elio Alegria commands the kitchen.
Mirasol’s main dining room floor was a sea of polished blue cement, with grooves describing waves. I navigated past tables made of weathered wood from old fishing boats—with the vessels’ names and defining colors still evident—and up a set of stairs to a balcony overlooking the bay. The sun was shining, and the ocean, dotted with surfers, looked refreshingly inviting.
I sat down with Elio and Andres Rosas, the owner and soul of Mirasol. Andreas is a slight, soft-spoken man, his sunburned skin evidence of a life lived at the ocean’s edge. We started our conversation over a crab causa, octopus salad, Mirasol’s signature ceviche and a sweet and sour salad topped with oatmeal-crusted shrimp, each dish a composition of flavors, colors and textures in delicate balance.
Andres explained that the unifying thread in the menu is a key ingredient that also lends the restaurant its name: the Mirasol chili pepper. “Mirasol is the dried yellow aji. My idea was to make this ingredient, which is not very widely used, the basis for our menu. It has a very intense golden color, and the subtle sweetness of something that has been slowly dried and roasted by the sun. We’re using it in everything, even Mirasol-infused pisco. We’ve been testing recipes and have discovered some very interesting flavors. We’ve developed a Mirasol risotto, ceviche and tiradito.”
One of Andres’s motivations in starting his own restaurant was to rescue his family’s recipes and celebrate the traditional cuisine of Chorrillos, which he has called home all his life. According to his mother, his first real meal, as a baby, was at the beach, a fish aguadito. “That is the first flavor engraved in my memory, and since then I have been developing my palate. I have recalled many of the dishes I grew up on. My father was a fisherman, and we would go to the beach every weekend. My mother would rest, and my father would fish and prepare ceviches and dolphin musciame, which was very popular at the time. But then dolphin fishing was banned, so my father would make the same recipe with octopus. That dish is now our octopus salad. My mother also enjoyed cooking. She would bake cakes, and the restaurant’s home-made ice creams are made using her recipes. “
If Andres was Mirasol’s soul, chef Elio’s passion brought the menu to life. Elio made a name for himself as a ceviche master trained in the ranks of renowned chefs Gaston Acurio, Rafael Osterling and Don Cucho La Rosa. “My dishes tell the stories of all Peruvians,” said Elio. “We love and live our food.”
“What is your favorite ceviche?” I asked him. His face lit up. “That depends on the time of my life,” he replied. “When I was a kid, and lived in the ‘hood’, it was the mackerel ceviche, the cheapest fish we could get. When I got older, we would buy silverside (pejerrey) and made ceviche with it: awesome. Then when I graduated to the Major Leagues, with Gaston, I started preparing grouper ceviche. I love it. It has a great texture, and the flavor is very subtle. I like my ceviche very simple: lime juice, limo aji, salt, a touch of ajinomoto, cilantro and red onion.”
Mirasol’s signature ceviche? Elio’s own interpretation of a dish popular in fishermen’s markets: a silverside ceviche with fried squid. “We do it with a white fish, grouper for example, and fried calamari. The combination is excellent.” As I took a bite of the soft grouper flesh, and warm crunchy calamari, drenched in cool spicy lime juice, I had to agree: delicious.
Mirasol’s menu is constantly evolving. “Some dishes have even come out of clients recommendations,” Elio explained. “For example, I used to have a tacu tacu with lomo saltado. One of our regular clients asked me to add a seafood stir-fry. The result was our own version of a surf-and-turf that became so popular, it is now one of our signature dishes.” Mirasol’s ultimate goal: fresh, seasonable, sustainable, respectful of yearly fishing restrictions and the seasonality of different fish species.
We continued chatting over tacu tacu topped with a seafood stir-fry, a slow-roasted goat shank, Mirasol risotto and shellfish in an herbed butter sauce. The sun started to sink into the ocean, as we ended our meal with Andres’ mother’s home-made ice cream. I walked to my car and headed home, my stomach, content, and my heart, full. Mirasol’s food is not only delicious and original, but best of all, full of soul.