We’re two Coastside residents who enjoy sampling Coastside restaurants — from taquerias and sandwich shops to upscale places with Michelin stars. We choose to remain anonymous so that we get the same treatment as you would going to these places. Use our insights to help guide you, but by all means check them out yourselves. Half the fun of eating out is in in the discovery!
For our inaugural column we thought we’d go big: La Costanera in Montara. It might have been a mistake. We’ve now set the bar impossibly high for anything that follows.
Praised by Michelin and considered a destination restaurant for Bay Area diners seeking a gorgeous ocean view and contemporary Peruvian cuisine, La Costanera is the pride of chef Carlos Altamirano. He cut his culinary teeth at San Francisco restaurants, including Rose Pistola and One Market, before opening Costanera almost 10 years ago in the space vacated by the Chart House.
On a recent rainy Sunday evening we went with two friends for tapas and cocktails. Because it was raining, there were plenty of empty tables. (In summer, you can expect to wait.) We were delighted with the table we were given — near enough to the windows to enjoy the spectacular view of the winter ocean.
Throughout our long meal, service was swift, chipper and non-intrusive: perfect. Our wait staff explained our options patiently when we had questions, and unlike at many trendy eateries, smiled a lot and generally seemed happy we were there.
We want to make a practice of trying signature cocktails at restaurants that offer them — really, just as a service to readers. So, we tried both the pisco sour (traditional Peruvian cocktail made with pisco liquor, egg white, lemon juice and simple syrup) and the pisco punch, a beverage that won’t put you under the table as quickly because it has more fruit juice and less alcohol. Both were delicious, but use caution with the sours. They are potent.
We decided to each order a couple of tapas, so we’d have a good selection. We started with ceviche, the national dish of Peru in which raw fish is marinated in lime juice, peppers and cilantro. This particular ceviche (or cebiche as Costanera calls it) was a tuna tartare, served with half-cooked egg, Chinese-Peruvian sauce, avocado and yucca chips. A moment of silence descended on the group as we savored this wonderful dish … and then considered canceling the rest of our orders so we could order five more of these. Just delectable.
The vegetarians in the group ordered taqueños, crispy wantons filled with Oaxaca cheese, served with tart avocado puree. It was also tasty, though not indispensable. Ditto the yucca fries, though the bland flavor of the yucca was much enhanced by the huancaina sauce (made of Peruvian peppers and queso fresco).
Another A-plus dish was camarones al ajo: very simply, prawns with garlic. Perfectly cooked, fork-tender, dripping with pungent oil.
Only one of our group ordered a non-shareable dinner entree, which was the fish of the day: swordfish grilled to perfection and served with potatoes, olives, carrots, mushrooms and a cau cau sauce, seasoned with garlic, turmeric, cumin and peppers. He offered us each a bite and then had to fight us off as we wanted more.
We really didn’t need that side dish of platanos fritos (fried bananas) but oh, we were glad we got them anyway. Crispy on the outside, moist and sweet inside, they were the perfect end to an already self-indulgent, delicious dinner. But we weren’t done quite yet.
Because we are doing a public service for you, dear readers, we forced ourselves to also have two desserts. One was another Peruvian classic called Suspiro a la Limena (loosely translated to a “sigh from Lima”), which was a fantastic little dulce de leche flan, topped with whipped cream. Divine. And the second was a panna cotta with a passionfruit reduction and it was also delicious, though less swoon-worthy than the first. They both sent us home happy, and perhaps thinking it’s time to renew that gym membership.
Next time, we’ll go someplace a bit more humble and accessible, but will revel in the memory of this amazing meal.