LAND AND SEA Colorful dishes like Mar y Tierra (below) are tasty postcards from chef Maritza
Paz's native Peru. Photo by Adam Ryan Morris
Ceviche is at home in Central and South America, wearing different clothes depending on its location. In Peru, which some believe is ceviche’s country of origin, the fish – marinated in an acid (lime or lemon juice) seasoned with chile pepper – shares the bowl with sweet potato, onion and big, firm canary beans. Mexico’s version is an avocado-cilantro-tomato-fish mixture eaten with tortilla chips.
Maritza Paz is more comfortable speaking Spanish, the language of her original hometown – Iquitos, Peru. She’s also in her element with canary beans, arroz (rice) and camarones (shrimp), and named her West Allis restaurant Chef Paz, the name she answers to. Judging by a recent Friday night, Paz is building a steady crowd for her Peruvian cooking. Examples include ceviche (with tilapia); beef, cheese or chicken empanadas with a creamy cilantro-jalapeno sauce; lomo saltado (beef and yellow potatoes, stir-fried); and tacu tacu, a rice-bean pancake topped with strips of beef and a fried egg.
The no-frills, 45-seat digs serve as a blank canvas. Heads turn when a plate of three small, circular towers comes out of the kitchen. This “trio of causitas” combines crabmeat and cold yellow mashed potatoes seasoned with aji chile paste and topped with a single shrimp. It’s a starchy, mild and creamy first course. Used to seeing paella plentifully outfitted with seafood in its shell and various meats? Rein in that image. The al dente saffron rice, mixed with peas and carrots, is in the majority, but you’ll need to dig around the white boat-shaped vessel for baby-size rings of calamari, mussels and a few shrimp. Still, for $12.99, it’s a filling meal. But not as satisfying as the chef’s monthly, all-you-can-eat buffet ($12.99). Paz prepares 25 dishes from a stock of some 1,000 recipes (reservations suggested).
If this is the closest you’ll ever get to Peru, that’s not such a bad thing.