News & Politics

February 2006: Ceviche

Ceviche is Silver Spring's hottest new restaurant.

That Ceviche is Silver Spring's hottest new address is no surprise. It's owned by scenemaker Mauricio Fraga-Rosenfeld, the force behind young, trendy spots like Mate, Chi-Cha Lounge, Gazuza, and Gua-Rapo. What's unexpected is its multiethnic, over-30 crowd and the food, which seems to be the point of the place. It seems Fraga-Rosenfeld has finally created a restaurant for grownups. That it is surrounded by mega-chains such as Red Lobster makes it all the more endearing.

To be sure, there's plenty of mood–a modern, red-walled dining room bathed in candlelight–and fun, too, courtesy of snappy Latin cocktails like the Brazilian Caipirinha and the Amor Prohibido, a house potion of passion fruit and tequila spiked with serrano peppers–cool yet fiery.

The namesake dish can be had in six variations, including a bland Honduran version and a too-spicy Peruvian rendition. Best by far is the classic: All four key flavors are perfectly balanced, and the fish and seafood–choices vary–taste bright and clean. Also good are sardines grilled whole; the briny, fresh-from-the-sea flavor is worth all the bones.

Where the kitchen plays to good effect is with the oversize chicken-cilantro croqueta. A mix of shredded dark and white meat and capers, the filling is reminiscent of an empanada, but the deep-fried crust makes it an entirely different mouthful. A recent addition that's also wonderful is a corn fritter that tastes like souffléd corn with melted Gruyère at its center. Papas à la huancayna, the Peruvian-Bolivian potato delicacy, is deconstructed into parts: crunchy peanuts, fluffs of ricotta, roasted potatoes, and yellow-pepper sauce. It doesn't taste like the dish that inspired it, but it's arguably better. Another newcomer, chorizo with fried potatoes, woos with its olive-oil bath infused with garlic and bay leaf.

My two favorite dishes come straight from the roasting pan: a slab of roasted pork rib, savory browned fat and all, and crisp-skin chicken cured with beer and cumin. This last is a paen to Peruvian rotisserie chicken but has a life of its own. The skin, as crusty as if it had been fried, elevates a homey standby to star status.

For minimalists and fish lovers, whole rockfish grilled with olive oil and lemon is a fine fallback–it melts in the mouth. Except for the sautéed potatoes, sides are skippable, as is dessert. And there are some flops, like an odd dish of potato, fig, and eggplant, a recent special that wasn't special at all.

The most curious dish on the menu is an Ecuadorian potato soup. Though it traditionally can be made with cow's blood and hot chili peppers, Ceviche's version goes for comfort. The creamy porridge, garnished with soft-cooked egg and chopped avocado, is soothing, the sort of thing you might crave after a hard day. It may also be a Proustian madeleine for Fraga-Rosenfeld, who spent summers with his grandparents in Ecuador as a child and who, as he ages, may be feeling the tug of his past.

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