(2008) On 26th Street West in Bradenton, a short block north of Cortez Road, look for a down-at-the-heels strip center anchored at its south end by a diamond in the rough. The name above the door is El Warike, and its secret is superb Peruvian cuisine with a strong accent on seafood.
The quality of the food will come as no surprise when I tell you this new venture is the creation of chef Jorge Corzo. The place may look like a hole in the wall, but its chef-driven menu is deliciously sophisticated.
We began by sharing two appetizers, a succulent pork tamal Peruano wrapped in a banana leaf ($5.50) and a heavenly ceviche mixto ($12.99) that artfully combined corvine (a mild white fish), squid, shrimp and a mussel on the half shell in a classic marinade of lime juice and red pepper with just the right snap. On the side were warm, soft whole kernels of white Peruvian corn and sliced sweet potato. Both appetizers were accompanied by refreshing strings of sliced raw onion cooled with lime juice and garnished with cilantro.
With our starters, Colette sipped a nice Chilean chardonnay and I quaffed a couple of Cusqueña beers from Peru, which I’ve now added to my list of favorite international brews.
Corvina figures prominently on the entrée list, too, so we decided to sample two wildly different preparations, both of them huge in both portion size and flavor.
Colette chose pescado a lo macho ($13.99), which bathes the fish in a sauce disarmingly described on the menu as yellow pepper and seafood. First, the pepper sauce is rich and oh-so-creamy. Second, the seafood in the sauce is not little bits puréed for their flavor but whole fresh shrimp, tender bites of squid and mussels. Will you think me inarticulate if I just say wow?
I decided on the seco de corvina ($13.99), which starts with the same tasty fish and sauces it in a heady purée starring fresh cilantro and studded with whole green peas, the whole overlaid with strips of roasted red pepper. This time, for the sake of variety, I’ll say yum.
Colette’s choice came with fluffy white rice, which she put to good use soaking up some of that delectable seafood sauce, and mine came with roasted yucca, a veggie I sometimes don’t much care for. So I ordered a side of sweet, fried platanos maduros and ended up taking most of them home when the yucca turned out to be as good as everything else we tasted.
Service was friendly and excellent on our midweek visit. When our waiter noted that the chocolate cake on the dessert list is made from the chef’s mother’s recipe, we faced a dilemma. We really wanted to try it, but we were stuffed. The solution: Box it up, please, and we’ll have it for a midnight snack. Good plan, as it turned out.
4226 26th St. W., Bradenton
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; until 9:30 p.m. Friday; noon-9:30 p.m. Saturday; noon-8:30 p.m. Sunday
Cards: Visa, MasterCard
Beer and wine
Handicap accessible and ample lot parking