Restaurant review: Del Mar al Lago bringing the sea to South Salt Lake
By Heather L. King
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Jun 25 2013 09:32PM
Del Mar al Lago easily could be Salt Lake’s best-kept secret, and I hesitate to share it with everyone.
Sublime ceviche is what you’ll find at this hidden South Salt Lake establishment that is serving some of the finest seafood dishes in the city along with other Peruvian discoveries.
Del Mar al Lago opened in May 2012 and quickly expanded in November, quickly building a loyal following among those who have found it.
Chef and owner Frederick Perez has cooking chops. From an education at Le Cordon Bleu to posts at The St. Regis Deer Valley and J&G Grill in Park City, his work in the kitchen deserves acclaim for the skill and finesse with which the seafood (and other proteins) is prepared.
Del Mar al Lago bills itself as a cebicheria peruana (Peruvian ceviche restaurant), so it’s no surprise that ceviche is the specialty here (though it’s spelled "cebiche" on the menu).
Ceviche is a raw fish dish with fresh seafood cut into bite-size pieces and then marinated in tiger’s milk (leche de tigre), which consists of lime, lemon, salt and a variety of seasonings. The citrus mix actually "cooks" the fish, changing the texture but preserving the raw, fresh taste familiar to sashimi lovers.
Del Mar serves nearly a dozen ceviche flavors, but each begins with a base of squid, scallops, octopus, shrimp, halibut, grouper and/or whatever is freshest bathed in tiger’s milk and garnished with thinly sliced onions.
Your best value and opportunity to try multiple ceviches presents itself in the ceviche tasting ($21). Begin with the classic ceviche (Cebiche Clásico) with potatoes and large-kernel Peruvian corn; next the Cebiche Chifa with crisp tortilla strips and corn nuts; and finally, for a spicy kick, the Cebiche Aji Amarillo (a Peruvian chili pepper) that gives this ceviche a yellow-orange hue.
Another option if you want ceviche plus a bit more seafood is Cebiche Del Mar al Lago ($15), which in addition to a plentiful serving of the classic ceviche also comes with a mound of fried calamari. No oily residue on the outer coating and a delightful mouth feel to the calamari itself left me contemplating which part of the dish to eat and which to save for a snack later in the day, because the portion sizes at Del Mar are generous.
If ceviche isn’t what you’re looking for, Del Mar offers a large menu filled with fish, seafood (advertised as 100 percent sustainably caught), poultry and red meat dishes.
The arroz con marisco ($15), more familiarly known as paella, was filled with perfectly prepared squid, scallops, octopus and shrimp, and topped with mussels that surrounded fragrant saffron rice that held flavor and moisture.
Less successful was the appetizer causa senorial. Four balls of mashed Peruvian potatoes and seasonings served as a base for a selection of seafood toppings including a bland tuna salad, two shrimp preparations and a dry, fried whitefish. For $16, we would have been better served with another ceviche selection instead, although the sauces that accompanied each potato ball revealed a mastery of spice blending.
Lomo saltado ($14) is a poutine-style dish with strips of tender beef marinated in a tangy soy sauce, vinegar and Peruvian spice concoction, then stir-fried with onions and tomatoes and served over thick-cut fries that soak up the sauce along with seemingly extraneous steamed rice.
I would be hard-pressed to frequent another restaurant where the servers are more passionate about the food they are recommending and serving. Newcomers are welcomed with open arms and walked through the menu, while those desiring specific tastes are directed to multiple options from which to choose.
Libations at Del Mar include a full bar and wine list. Try the Peruvian pisco sour ($9, or $5 on Tuesdays) featuring pisco, key lime juice, egg white and Angostura bitters. The nonalcoholic chicha morada ($2) is a sweet purple corn-based drink with pineapple, cinnamon and clove flavors. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also drink the tiger’s milk — the leftover ceviche marinade of citrus juices and spices.
Although I would suggest finishing as much of your meal as possible, as seafood rarely fares well as a leftover, Del Mar’s desserts are worth finding room for. A selection of cheesecakes, brulées and a chocolate torte (each $7) were considered before we decided on the lucuma tres leches. A sharable portion of milky-moist cake arrived topped with thinly sliced strawberries and house-made lucuma ice cream. Lucuma is a Peruvian fruit that possesses a mild maple flavor and added another layer of depth to the airy cake on a warm summer evening.
As a seafood lover living in landlocked Utah, Del Mar al Lago Cebichera Peruana is now my go-to restaurant to satisfy any marine-based craving I might have outside of sushi. Close enough to downtown for a midday lunch and centrally located just off I-15 from the rest of the valley, Del Mar al Lago is worth a visit and a revisit for ceviche unlike anything Utahns have tasted here before.