There’s a new Latin pulse beating on West Park Place in Stamford and it goes by the name ACUARIO (Aquarium, in Spanish.) Funky, warm and charming, the new Peruvian jaunt is the latest culinary jewel from the treasure box of Saida and Nicolas Oshiro, who opened the original ACUARIO in Port Chester in the 1980s. This new ACUARIO is in the worthy hands of Oshiro offspring, Eduardo, and his wife, Beth, and they know what’s cookin’. We’ve dined at ACUARIO twice and each time the restaurant has been packed, with many patrons speaking Spanish - ALWAYS a good sign.
The space is inviting and very attractive with hardwood, herringbone patterned floors, a warm, brown and grey color palette and an ample bar area with reclaimed wood panels on the walls and high, bar stools - and I highly recommend at least one PISCO SOUR, wherever you may choose to place your “trasero.” The frothy, sweet-n-sour cocktail made with Pisco brandy, lime juice, syrup, Angostura bitters, ice and egg whites - hence the froth - is a Peruvian classic and the bartender here knows how to mix it right.
The fare at ACUARIO is as authentic as it comes with many of the Peruvian dishes one would expect on the menu. Make no mistake, this is legitimate Peruvian - not American-style, nouvelle, fancy Peruvian and not hole-in-the-wall grungy. These dishes are delicious, flavorful, spiced, intricate and thoroughly traditional Peruvian fare served without pretension but with care and genuine know-how.
On the top of my list was the CEVICHE MIXTO, served with plump, (if perhaps a touch starchy) hard-to-find, Peruvian corn and a side salad. This CEVICHE offered calamari, octopus and red snapper, laced with slivers of fresh, red onion. Each bite was tender with just enough tug and ample acid to wake the glands in the back of your throat. Not a chewy bite to be found amongst the spicy (you can ask the server to alter the “heat” to suit your taste) and flavorful morsels.
Also excellent was the charcoal-roasted HALF CHICKEN. Served with two sides of your choosing, this bird was super tender, incredibly moist and flavorful. It seems this method of roasting locks in all the natural juices of the poultry and keeps the meat exquisitely succulent. As sides, we opted for the FRIED PLANTAINS - perfectly prepared with a slightly chewy exterior and tender, sweet center - and the YUCCA FRIES. The YUCCA FRIES were a tad banal but certainly traditional and happen to be the perfect vessel for some AJI AMARILLO- and this sauce is winner wherever it lands. AJI AMARILLO is a traditional, yellow, pepper sauce made at ACUARION with the Peruvian AJI chili pepper, feta cheese, a little mayo and Saltine crackers...no really. SO tasty and quite piquant, so be prepared.
Another winner was the PESCADO A LO MACHO (!!) and we did feel incredibly virile and potent while devouring it - I know for my part, there was an inner “roar.” This fish dish, bathing gently in a yellow or red sauce (the choice is yours, with red being the more “macho” version) consisted of calamari, littleneck clams, mussels, crab and shrimp with some chunks of crispy (though ours could have been a touch crispier…) red snapper. Not a stew, per se, but more of a fish medley, the PESCADO A LO MACHO was a solid pick.
For the sake of tradition, we ordered the LOMO SALTADO, a popular and very traditional Peruvian dish. A SALTADO is basically a stir fry that combines meat, fish or chicken with onions, tomatoes, fried potato slices and white rice. We chose beef loin - LOMO - and this SALTADO had ample flavor with the onions and tomatoes bringing out the robust flavor of the beef. For those craving a very flavorful or intense dish, this is probably not your order. Yet, for kids, this could be an all-time favorite. Also served with chicken, shrimp or veggies, the SALTADO with fries and plantains should satisfy even the most persnickety palate.
In fact, ACUARIO could be our next go-to joint, either with friends on a Saturday night or with the family. It certainly has a great, adult vibe but there are items on the menu that could be perfect for a family dinner as well. SALTADO, ARROZ con POLLO, or a charcoal ROASTED CHICKEN along with the PLANTAINS, fries and a salad - you can’t go wrong.
ACUARIO is open M,Tu,W from 12-10, Th, F, Sa from 12-11 and Su from 12-9. (Kitchen closed from 4-5 during the week.) They will deliver locally and do take reservations Mon-Sat.
78 West Park Place, Stamford CT