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The Braised Octopus at Coya in Del Mar. Photo courtesy Coya
The Braised Octopus at Coya in Del Mar. Photo courtesy Coya
Columns Food & Wine Lick the Plate

Lick the Plate: Peruvian-Cali fusion at Coya in Del Mar

In certain culinary circles the term fusion is scoffed at, and I’ve never understood that. If someone can enhance a cuisine by adding certain ingredients or flavors, what’s wrong with that? An example could be the California Burrito, as I’m pretty sure they are not putting french fries in burritos in Mexico. Anyway, you get my point.

Piotr Wolny and Maria Leon, owners of Coya Peruvian Secret, along with chef Cornelio Mondragon, took over the restaurant in February 2019. Prior to that, it was a Peruvian restaurant for 10 years, but they added their own flair to it, creating a fusion they call Peruvian Cali fusion food that incorporates Peruvian ingredients over traditional ones.

For example, in their hollandaise sauce, they use the traditional French technique and add aji amarillo, which is the most popular Peruvian chili pepper.

The term fusion could also apply to the owners Piotr and Maria. Maria was born and raised in Lima, Peru, and came to the United States 20 years ago. She worked her way up starting in the kitchen in Miami and then at some of the best restaurants, with award-winning chefs like Yannis Jansens. Other notable stops included Karu & Y, Setai Hotel.

Then in Los Angeles, she worked at Peruvian restaurants Picca, Paichi, Mochica, and in Santa Barbara she open Blue Tavern. Maria’s love for desserts evolved over the years and she has since made that her focus, which is evident in the desserts at Coya. More on those fabulous desserts later.

Piotr was born and raised in Poland, coming to the U.S. in 2003. He always loved the hospitality industry’s energy, vibe, connection and craziness and decided early on it was going to be his professional path. Similar to Maria, he worked his way up at some of the best restaurants and clubs in Miami. An opportunity presented itself in California in 2013 and he made the move.

So there you have that fusion again, two like-minded people coming together over a shared passion and making a go of it. I think “Peruvian-Cali Fusion” suits them perfectly.

The menu is described by Piotr as “fresh, bold and soulful” with sizable portions. They do have some traditional Peruvian dishes like lomo saltado, ceviche and lamb stew, with the rest being a fusion of flavors and ingredients. The hominy choclo tamales are a mix of Peruvian corn choclo and Mexican hominy. Their pork belly is dry roasted with aji panca and chicha de jora. Tuna tartare with aji amarijo, short rib aji panca and squid ink risotto are some more examples.

I tried the risotto, and it was delicious. The arborio rice was cooked perfectly al dente and was rich and creamy. We also tried the seafood ceviche, which came highly recommended by our server and that was spot on as well. It has that perfect mix of acidity, texture and refreshing zest that comes with a properly prepared ceviche.

Empanadas are a Peruvian staple so I had to give those a try. The order was presented as one large empanada that was sizable enough to split and had a rich, flaky crust with a flavorful savory meat filling. I could make a whole meal of empanadas and might just do that next time.

The desserts by Maria were one of the highlights of my visit. The lucuma flan is made with lucuma, a Peruvian superfruit, and it’s light and amazing. The cuatro leches was my favorite though and their take on tres leches … it’s a must-try! It was denser than traditional tres leches I’ve had in the past but that seemed to make it even better.

Beer and wine are available including a Peruvian beer called Cuzquena from the Andes. Cuzquena is a lager that is smooth but full-bodied, a perfect accompaniment to Peruvian fusion cuisine. And while I’ve never been to Peru, the rustic yet elegant sidewalk setting on Camino Del Mar blocks from the beach felt like it had that vibe. Service is spot on and it’s a fun way to enjoy great people-watching in Del Mar.

Find Coya at www.coyaperuviansecretdelmar.com or 1140 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar; 858-290-6014

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