Over the past year, Peruvian cuisine — marked by its fusion of various global cuisines, those sweet yellow chili peppers, giant kernels of maize, and fresh seafood — has grown exponentially in popularity. No matter what your tastes, once you get over the unfamiliar-sounding names and each dish's seemingly incongruent pairings, you'll find that the dishes of Peru offer a bit of something for everyone.
At least, that's what the trio of owners at Runas Peruvian Cuisine in Hollywood are trying to prove. Their snug little restaurant, located just a few blocks north of the city's downtown restaurant row, was once home to Hemingway's Lounge and, a decade ago, the Hollywood City Hall staff. Today, the space is open for lunch and dinner, offering more than 45 traditional Peruvian staples that range from veal heart anticuchos (meat skewers) and parihuela (an aphrodisiacal seafood soup) to a pesto fettuccine and even octopus sushi.
Ceviche, the country's famous cured-seafood salad, may be popular outside of Peruvian restaurants, but you'll find a half-dozen traditional varieties at Runas that expertly balance the tart marinade with a combination of boiled sweet potato served cold, oversized gummy nubs of corn known as choclo, and a crown of julienne red onion.
From left: Executive chef and owner Luis Santos, general manager and owner Tony Dominguez, and executive chef and owner Gerardo Landa.
Though there are literally hundreds of variations on ceviche, all need just five ingredients: fish, a lime juice marinade, Peruvian chili peppers, onion, and salt. Runas prepares a number of takes at its ceviche bar, manned by chef-owner Luis Santos, where you can watch him mix and plate each one to order.
The signature Runas ceviche is a fresh seafood medley — a white-fleshed Peruvian fish called corvina, firm rings of squid, plump shrimp, and a single oversized green mussel — marinated in an ochre-hued juice made from a blend of Peruvian yellow pepper, cream, and lime juice. Rather than let the fish sit in an acidic bath, Santos gives the fish a quick flambé in an Asian wok, giving the entire dish a unique, smoky kick. It's plated with a fat slice of cinnamon-scented sweet potato, crowned with julienne sliced red onion and chiffonade cilantro.
While the Runas ceviche is the restaurant's most popular dish, it's not the most famous. Before they even opened their restaurant, chef-owners Santos, Gerardo Landa, and Tony Domiguez made headlines at Miami's fifth-annual Taste of Peru. Last November, the trio won the gold medal for best new talent, the event's Iron Chef cook-off, and also for the Chef's Specialty Dish — one you can also find on the menu at their Hollywood restaurant today.
It's known as tiradito mahi a la brasa. Some say tiradito is just ceviche without the onions, but at Runas, it's a bit more complex. Both dishes are made of raw white fish, yes, but tiradito fish is cut into sashimi-style thin strips and covered in a piquant dressing just before serving.
The Runasmahi a la brasa is thin-sliced, fresh-caught mahi that's first given a quick sear on the hot brasa — or grill — before it's smothered in a bright citrus marinade and garnished with sesame seeds and a sweet potato purée. It's an unconventional twist on a classic Peruvian dish.
Both Lima natives, Landa and Santos met while studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Miami, later working together at Sulthana Mediterranean Cuisine. Eventually, they met future business partner Domiguez while working at the upscale Mediterranean-style AQ Aqualina in Miami Beach. Together, the trio thought: If we can do this here, we can do it for ourselves.
Domiguez will tell you he chose the name Runas because it's a term that refers to all the ideas that generate power, awaken the senses, create emotion, and project good energy.
"That is our motto behind the dishes we craft," says Domiguez. "Transcending ingredients into an unforgettable experience."
At Runas, that's translated into bold flavors and unique presentations, even with heartier fare like the lomosaltado. Among the most popular Peruvian dishes, lomosaltado symbolizes the fusion of Peruvian ingredients and Asian cooking techniques like no other. The dish is often made with sliced beef stir-fried with red onion, tomato, and a creamy sauce made from soy sauce, vinegar, and Peruvian aji amarillo chilies. Served with fries over rice, it can be found in simple restaurants and upscale places alike.
At Runas, the dish is kicked up a notch with the risotto huancaina con lomosaltado. Rather than use just any cut of meat, Landa uses sliced prime tenderloin instead. Buttery soft, it's first seasoned with soy and flambéed in a fiery wok with a dash of pisco, served over a bed of risotto bathed in the chefs' creamy Peruvian-style aji pepper sauce.
Now, after just over a year in business, the restaurant is expanding its menu. New items include a number of sushi rolls — part of a menu the team describes as modern Latin-Nikkei cuisine that draws from Peru's influential Japanese immigrant community. Next time you go, ask for the octopus botijero maki; it's octopus tartar and tempura shrimp rolled with cream cheese and avocado and topped with a purple-tinged botijero sauce made from puréed Peruvian olives.
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You can end your meal here with a pisco sour, as is traditional, though in typical Runas style, the chefs give it their own twist. Try the passionfruit one, a double serving of pisco deduction blended with whipped egg white, lime juice, and a touch of sugar-sweetened passionfruit purée.
"Whether you come for lunch or dinner, it's going to be a unique experience," says Domiguez. "We're doing Peruvian food the way we know it and love it but also in a way that is easy for others less familiar with our cuisine to experience it."
Runas Peruvian Cuisine 219 N 21st Ave., Hollywood. Hours are noon to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and noon to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Call 954-534-9146, or visit runasrestaurant.com.