(Note: I’m going to revise/repost the Brasas review; I did not make clear most of the comments were about Galpao, not Brasas)
This is long, my apologies in advance. I do very detailed reviews and felt this gives the best info on LiMA and the context in which we rate it.
Lima Restaurant in Concord, CA – update, lunch
Review date: April 29, 2019
The chef/owner of Lima is John Marquez, who was one of our favorite chefs when he owned the Cal-French restaurant in nearby Lafayette, Artisan Bistro. Marquez took some time off to work under Chef Gaston Acurio, who is considered the doyen of modern Peruvian cuisine. Upon his return to the Bay Area he opened Lima in November 2016.
I was feeling a little under the weather, so it was difficult picking a restaurant for lunch in downtown Concord. Mexican or Asian food didn’t appeal, nor did Cal-Italian (Luna) or German (DJ’s). We decided on Lima – technically the restaurant name is LiMA – where we have eaten twice before.
We come out this way periodically, often to shop at the 99 Ranch Market/Concord as I prefer it to the one in Richmond. Lima is located in the Todos Santos Plaza, which is ringed with both sit-down and fast/casual restaurants. One of the attractions of Concord over Walnut Creek is that parking is free in Concord, and fairly easy to find.
The restaurant wasn’t crowded as it was a Monday. Most of the tables that were taken emptied quickly since many workers get an hour or less for lunch. There were only two other small groups who, like us, were enjoying a leisurely meal.
Empanadas: Chicken with huancaina and Beef with rocoto aioli.
The pastry is not quite so thin and crisp as it was originally, but it is still very good, tender and tasty without being overly thick or tough. The beef is picadillo, hand-chopped beef – not ground – braised tender with raisins added. The ricoto aioli is rather like a red bell pepper mayo. It’s tasty, but the best sauce is the huancaina , the spicier dip using huacatay aka black mint. It goes with both empanada fillings. The chicken is mild, creamy, and delicious. Lima’s empanadas have no filler; they are all meat with only enough gravy to moisten the filling.
There are two small pies to an order. We shared one order of both as a starter, and also bought a double order of each pie to bring home for lunch for another day.
Mixed Seafood (Ceviche Limeno): Assortment of rockfish, octopus, prawn and squid with sweet potato, sliced red onion, cilantro, Peruvian corn.
There are larger servings of ceviche at some other restaurants, but Lima’s ‘leche de tigre’ marinade is precisely balanced, with a more generous amount of seafood than first appears. The seafood is always first-rate quality as well. There were only a modest number of raw onion slices, which we approve of. We hate those ceviches where a stingy amount of seafood is buried under a mountain of raw onions and choclo, the hominy-like starchy field corn . The choclo was mostly on the side; Carlos doesn’t care for it but I ate some of it. Spouse orders ceviches wherever they’re offered. He says the best ceviches he’s eaten are from Lima and Tambo/Oakland.
Chupe (Prawn Chowder): Prawn chowder with potatoes, rice, peas, carrots, oregano, huacatay, feta, aji Amarillo, cilantro & poached egg.
This is one of the smaller bowls of soup available at Peruvian restaurants, which is much appreciated since these are filling soups but nobody offers a cup size. Spouse really enjoyed this soup. As we would expect from John Marquez, the broth of this soup was excellent.
Papa Rellena: Smashed potato filed with sautéed sirloin, botija olive, hard boiled egg and raisins, served with salsa criolla.
I chose this starter as my entrée. The filling is picadillo , same as in the beef empanadas. The salad on the side is Roma tomatoes and mild, raw, sliced red onions. The tangy criolla sauce was a tasty accent. It was ideal as a light entrée.
Arroz con Mariscos - Seafood Paella: Peruvian style paella - a fresh seafood and rice mixture of calamari, prawns, mussels, clams, octopus, ají panca and parmesan cheese.
This was a generous amount of very good seafood with only a modest amount of rice. Peruvian paellas are not like Spanish ones. Peruvians prefer a moister, saucy rice, so there is none of the baked-crust socarrat which is so highly prized by the Spanish. The calamari rings were the large sized squid, and Spouse said they were tender, cooked perfectly. The mussels and shrimp were large and fresh. His only criticism was the octopus was minimal in amount.
Pineapple-Coconut Custard Bread Pudding with caramel sauce and whipped cream.
We like our bread pudding very soft, a style which is not so popular as we could hope. Marquez’ version isn’t quite as custardy as we prefer, but shows that fine sense of balance he brings to most of his cooking. It is soft enough to remind one of a moist, freshly baked cake, with only the top having a very slight crustiness that contrasts well. The flavor of the coconut and fruit really came through, with a minimum amount of sugar added. The caramel sauce was drizzled on the plate and was easy to pick up if one wanted to add a bit more sweetness. Both Spouse and I gave this five stars. Marquez’s desserts were a strong point at his previous restaurants, and it’s still true at Lima.
The coffee is strong and very good, a smooth rich French Roast.
We think highly of Lima. It’s one of the three best Peruvian restaurants we’ve tried, the others being Pucquio/Oakland and then Tambo/Oakland. Yet all three are quite different from one another in style. Pucquio is the smallest physically, with a very creative chef. Tambo’s ceviches are outstanding, but their chefs are a level below the other two kitchens in training and discipline. Lima is the most polished and smooth-running. It can handle food for one person or a group of twenty. But it does have the most static menu of the three, the usual list of “Peruvian Greatest Hits” that fails to surprise after visiting half a dozen different Peruvian restaurants. Peruvian cuisine is advancing creatively by leaps and bounds, and is probably the most well-known Latin American cuisine on a global basis. It’s a shame to see so many of the Bay Area menus already frozen in time, all offering the same dishes.
Lima isn’t the cheapest (by a long shot) but it’s the Peruvian restaurant we admire the most. Barranco/Lafayette is our value pick, offering massive portions of really excellent food – their soup was five stars all the way – but we love the precision and balance of John Marquez’s cooking. It gives his food that half-level jump the others can’t quite match. Pucquio comes closest, but its owners’ inexperience in running the front is obvious. Marquez is the consummate professional: like Sophina Uong and Banks White, his restaurants are well-run in both the front and the back of the house.
It’s the way things are now: the best young French-trained chefs are doing other cuisines, but bringing with them the discipline and trained palate of classic European gastronomy. There are still other Peruvian restaurants to try, and it will be interesting to see how we’ll end up ranking them on a master list.
Two people, lunch: nine starters (four starters were to-go for another meal), one entrée, one dessert, three beverages, without tip $121.