The New York Times describes Peruvian food as one of the world most important cuisines; Spanish Colonizers and subsequent waves of immigration, from not only from Europe but also Asia and West Africa have created a long standing culture of fusion food, flavors and techniques from around the world create a vibrant cuisine not frequently seen here in the desert.
Mild fish dishes dominate the menu with lots of vegetarian options, pastas and Peruvian Quinotto, a risotto variant made with the superfood Quinoa. Peru is also is where potatoes and sweet potatoes were first farmed, so don’t be surprised by their appearance in unusual places and preparations throughout the menu.
Although you might feel like you are searching for the “Secret of the Incas” when trying to find this Peruvian gem, dining here is a 14-karat gold experience and well worth the hunt. Located inside the Atrium Mall behind Palm Greens Café, the dark interior is a relaxing escape from the heat of the summer.
I do need to mention their online menu as I have never seen this feature before; you the guest can “Pop” the menu items, rating them as “Had It, Loved It!”, “Had It, Liked It!” and “Remind Me To Try It” which links to their VIP and reservation systems—very cool if you ask me.
Although we have had a cool July with temperatures hovering around 100 degrees, ceviche is the perfect start on a balmy night. The Carretillero con Aji Amarillo of succulent shrimp, cubes of white fish with shards of red onion, and plump pickled hominy in a mildly spicy citrus marinade is a perfect way to start your meal. Or try one of the Traditos, thinly sliced raw fish and shellfish dressed simply in Olive Oil or with one of the complex sauces that include yellow pepper and ginger.
Another favorite is Jalea. Think Frito Misto Peruvian Style—a haystack of mixed fried seafood including shrimp, calamari and fish, with pillows of fried yuca as well as house made corn-nuts. The sharp pickled onion, spicy cilantro sauce and creamy tartar pair beautifully with this perfectly fried dish.
The first time I tried the Causa I was a bit surprised—a terrine of cold mashed potato salad layered with either avocado or a combination of shrimp and avocado. Once I adjusted to the unexpected texture/temperature combination I found this dish quiet tasty. The vegetarian version is loaded with avocado and spicy aioli made with the aji amarillao peppers. It combines a sweetness and heat that is integral to this cuisine.
Lomo Saltado, one of Peru’s most loved dishes, is a stir-fried beef dish that originated in Peru’s Chinese immigrant community in the late 19th century. Strips of beef marinated in soy sauce and vinegar are quickly fried with onions, tomatoes and the delicious aji amarillo peppers. French fries and rice are added for a truly delightful and unique experience. Or try the vegetarian version with big, meaty portobello mushrooms.
Maria Jose has an extensive wine and beer list as well as a full bar. I found the Peruvian lager to be very refreshing. The homemade Chicha Morada, a purple corn drink, is not to be missed. Or try one of their Peruvian beers. I loved my 7 Vidas brewed with quinoa. Lots of citrusy flavors made it delightfully refreshing.
The desserts are another hit at Maria Jose. My favorite is the Crema Volteada. A rich flan made with both condensed and evaporated milk; this sweet custard begs to be shared with the table. For something a bit lighter try the ice cream made with Lucuma, a Peruvian fruit that tastes mildly of both caramel and sweet potato.
I don’t have much experience with Peruvian food, but dining at Maria Jose makes me want to learn more!
Maria Jose Peruvian Gourmet
The Atrium 69930 Hwy 111
Rancho Mirage, CA 92270