Ceviche, a dish made of small cuts of raw fish marinated in and lime and spices, is one of the national foods of Peru, a reason why the Ministry of Production declared June 28 el Día Nacional del Cebiche, or National Ceviche Day. To commemorate the holiday, Pisco Portón, an ultra-premium Peruvian pisco, collaborated with Houston-area chefs to launch a menu of unique ceviche and pisco cocktail pairings spanning 16 restaurants across Houston through the end of summer.
The best way to experience the ceviche-pisco pairings is to plan a crawl to the different restaurants offering the twosome. I suggest mapping out three to four spots to visit over several hours. A good route might start at Latin Bites Cafe in the Memorial area, heading toward the Galleria with stops at Philippe Restaurant + Lounge, RDG + Bar Annie, then 1252 Tapas Bar in Uptown Park. Another route may focus on the Downtown and Midtown areas, hitting locales such as Batanga, Hearsay Gastro Lounge, Artista, Reef, Ibiza and Coppa. Or you could embark on a River Oaks to Montrose crawl, stopping at Brasserie 19, Américas River Oaks, Churrascos, and Eleven XI.
I participated in a Portón-sponsored ceviche crawl that lasted four glorious, pisco- and ceviche-filled hours. It started around 6 p.m. with a lychee and rose petal-infused pisco martini at Latin Bites Cafe. Peruvian chef Roberto Castre wowed us with an exotically flavored, cebiche de Mora, made of tuna and scallop in a soup of pink mulberry leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk marinade. The fragrant floral of the pisco martini balanced the subtle exoticism of the ceviche. In particular, the silky textures of scallop and tuna were wonderfully complemented by a fluffy sweet potato purée and light acidity of the creamy mulberry sauce.
The festivities continued at Philippe Restaurant + Lounge, where bartender and mixologist Laurie Sheddan had created a fantastic Mano á Mano, essentially a Pisco Portón michelada made with homemade tomato juice, lemon, lime and beer. Micheladas are likened to beer Bloody Marys, and this one, with its special tomato juice, created what many viewed as the best pairing of the night when sampled with chef Philippe Schmit’s campechana-style shrimp ceviche (tossed in lemon and lime juice, cilantro, pickled onions and Pisco Portón) served with freshly sliced avocado and fried green tomato chips.
Moving on to 1252 Tapas Bar, we were serenaded by the sounds of acoustic flamenco guitar as we sipped the signature Pisco Passion cocktail made with Pisco Portón, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, agave nectar and pineapple juice. Tasting somewhat like a fragrant pineapple martini, this was paired with the Ceviche 1252, a classically prepared ceviche of white fish accompanied by pineapple, red onion, lime juice, jalapeño and a splash of Pisco Portón.
The final stop on our pisco and ceviche crawl landed at one of Houston’s newest restaurants (it opened in May), Eleven XI. There, we feasted on lobster claw-topped ceviche of jumbo lump crab, Texas lane snapper, king crab and Texas shrimp in a ginger leche de tigre, aptly named the Eleven XI ceviche. The hints of ginger and tangy lime combined with the natural sweetness of the seafood medley made a wonderful pairing with their Spicy Anabella cocktail, served in a wide-mouthed glass with salt rim, and filled with lip-tingling roasted pepper-infused Pisco Portón, lime juice, syrup and orange liqueur.
The 16 participating restaurants include Americas, Artista, Batanga, Brasserie 19, Churrascos, Coppa, Corner Table, Eleven XI, Hearsay Gastro Lounge, Ibiza, Latin Bites, Philippe Restaurant + Lounge, Prohibition, RDG + Bar Annie, Reef, 1252 Tapas Bar. For more information, visit Pisco Portón.
Photos courtesy of Pisco Porton and Latin Bites