Disclaimer: I have a weakness for Peruvian cuisine. The country's rich and diverse culinary heritage with its many foreign influences sets it apart from its South American neighbors. Few things get me as excited as the promise of a frothy pisco sour, a fresh, citrusy ceviche and a crispy-skin pollo a la brasa.
One restaurant making noise in this space is Barranco, which has landed in the Plateau last spring. After focusing exclusively on takeout at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Peruvian eatery has since generated some buzz after opening its doors for diners with the recent relaxation of health measures.
Not wanting to miss out on the action, my wife and I booked a table here on this mid-February Saturday night. The afternoon's violent snow squall evidently did not deter folks from going out; parking was tougher to find than usual around the Saint-Denis/Mont-Royal intersection. As for Barranco, to say that reservations are a must would be an understatement!
Named after one of Lima's busiest nightlife districts, Barranco is the brainchild of a trio of seasoned Peruvian restaurateurs. The deep, narrow interior is lined with tables against each wall – with two more plexiglass-separated rows along the middle – ending in a small bar at the back.
One wall is adorned with artistic collages of notable figures of sorts, while the opposite side is painted as a colorful Peruvian cityscape. Overhead, tropical plants dangle from long shelves under a black ceiling. The whole setup places you in a Latin American backdrop, complete with reggaeton tracks curated by the evening's DJ.
The dining room was filled to the brim, with an endless trickle of youngish patrons replacing one another as soon as a table freed up. 50% capacity? Social distancing? Throw them out the window! But who's complaining? Not me!
Barranco's menus are quite lengthy and chock-full of mouth-watering but also out-of-place options. A plethora of drinking choices from beers and hard seltzers to wines and exotic juices are headlined by an entire pisco-based cocktail list followed by signature libations showcasing rum and tequila but also Quebec vodka and gin.
As for nosh, each Peruvian staple comes in a handful of varieties, starting with causas (layered potato dishes) and anticuchos (meat skewers). Next up are ceviches, taquitos, salchipapas (sliced sausages with fries) and burgers (why?). The food is served in attractive plates and portions are generous; two dishes per person would have been plenty. We went overboard so did not leave any room for dessert.
A strong negroni was given the Peruvian treatment by incorporating pisco, which gave an herbal, aromatic lift. If you're into bitter drinks, this one's for you.
A tropical cocktail with too many ingredients to list gave the impression of abundance, when in reality, the tall glass containing it was mostly crushed ice.
Layers of avocado and mashed potato were topped with perfectly-grilled shrimps, drizzled with aioli and given a crispy touch thanks to kale chips. Magnifico!
A flawless ceviche consisted of thick cubes of mahi-mahi in a slurp-worthy marinade, next to popping, large-kernel corn and toasted corn nuts. What a play on texture!
Three small tortillas were loaded with melted cheese and tasty chicken, which was masked behind an excess garnish of red onions, coriander and crunchy potato sticks.
An unbelievably-tender and succulent lamb shank was lathered in a mild chili sauce and sat atop a bed of fried cassava for some added meatiness. Two thumbs way up!
As booked as the dinner service was, our request to switch tables was duly met by the hostess – I prefer to avoid the table closest to the bathroom, if possible. Once seated, our waiter was helpful and available despite the bustling evening.
Not only that; not a single utensil, glass or plate was dropped, nor did I get shoved in the elbow once – something I thought was bound to happen given the narrow pathways between tables.
tagged: HUSTLE & BUSTLE
Lately a lot of people have been traveling again, with the world slowly returning to pre-COVID times. Every time I check in on Instagram, I see a different person in the Caribbean, Mexico or South America. Now I won't make the bogus claim that a dinner at Barranco can transport you down south or is the next best thing; no restaurant can do that.
What this Peruvian joint did accomplish, however, is make me forget about the pandemic altogether for the first time. Between the festive ambiance, upbeat DJ tracks, tropical drinks and excellent, casual-yet-recherché food, it's easy to envision a return to having fun again. Tonight, I genuinely felt that the pandemic is behind us; salud!
Price per person: $41
Montreal restaurant and bar reviews brought to you by two regular guys who like to eat and drink. We will go anywhere and we will say it like it is.