Ceviche del Rey
7404 Florence Ave., Downey
A few years ago, there was a drab-looking
little place in a Downey mini-mall that served wonderful Peruvian food.
Recently Ceviche del Rey moved to
more commodious quarters nearby, complete with trompe l'oeil frescoes of the Peruvian coastline, where it joins a vibrant upsurge of Latin American
restaurants near Old River School.
As you walk through the door, you're assaulted by the beguiling aroma of chickens roasting in a huge, open blue-tiled rotisserie. But these birds are
only a sideline. The long menu is full of seafood, grilled meats and traditional Peruvian criollo dishes.
Naturally, there is ceviche—actually, seven distinct varieties of it. The most elegant, tiradito, is almost a sashimi: The halibut is so lightly marinated it
lacks the pickled flavor so usual in ceviche. Ceviche del Rey's hallmark is minimal marination, which leaves the flavor of the fish lingering on your palate.
Of course, it you want your ceviche hot, you can add fresh pepper sauce (ají).
The blood clam and halibut model (ceviche de conchas negras) has an ominous charcoal gray color (think of squid ink pasta), but the deeply colored
clams contribute a rich briny flavor to this rarely seen variety. Ceviche de lenguado is long, slender strips of marinated halibut surrounded by dainty
lettuce cups filled with roasted corn, steamed sweet potato and paper-thin swirls of mild red onion.
The ceviche section of the menu is titled "Classic Entrees" and portions are entree size, but every table here seems to be sharing an order. In fact,
many appetizers, though priced at $4.95 to $6.95, are large enough that they might feed several diners.
Papa rellena, a beer can-sized oval of cheese-laced mashed potatoes stuffed with seasoned meat and flanked with a sliced red onion salad, could
serve as an entree—after a sizable serving of ceviche, anyway. Papa à la Huancaína—potatoes blanketed with cheese sauce—may not be a novel first
course in a Peruvian restaurant, but this version has an especially velvety sauce that makes a sumptuous backdrop for that ají hot sauce.
Several soups, lavish enough to serve as entrees, include the rich, chowder-like chupe de camarones. Its creamy broth, balancing richness and
spice, makes a perfect counterpoint to a ceviche's light citrus notes.
In a bid to please a wide audience with the kitchen's seafood capabilities, the restaurant offers salmon, halibut or sole filet with a choice of six
sauces, among them creamy béchamel, mojo de ajo (garlic sauce) and infernal, hot with Peruvian chiles. More exotic, however, are dishes such as
picante del rey, a generous fish filet topped with shrimp and squid in a sauce that hints of ground nuts and traces of Parmesan-type cheese. Arroz con mariscos is a splendid paella
amply stocked with clams, mussels, squid, shrimp and fish chunks steeped in an unctuous deep yellow annatto broth that bears a subtle note of thyme.
Fried seafood devotees won't want to pass up jalea, a raft of moist sautéed fish topped with a towering heap of fried shellfish, as crisp as the best calamari fritti in town.
The parrilladas (grills) include many tempting offerings: rib-eye churrasco, marinated pork chops and anticuchos, the beef-heart kebabs that are street food in Peru. But if you want
meat here, I recommend the criollo dish malaya, a hefty chunk of flank steak deeply permeated with a lime-spice marinade and garnished with fried yuca.
Though not elaborate, the desserts may seem exotic if you're not familiar with them. The creamy lucuma ice cream is flavored with a fruit botanically related to sapote. Often there
is picarones, three puffy Peruvian fritters that you dip in cinnamon syrup, or mazamorra morada, the violently purple-hued pudding made from purple corn.
Not only has Ceviche del Rey shed its drab ambience; the new place has allowed it to boost its amenity quota. It now offers imported beer, modest California wines and espresso
drinks (and, of course, those succulent rotisserie chickens). Unfortunately the espresso tastes like (and perhaps is) instant. It's one of the restaurant's few flaws.
--LINDA BURUM, Special to The Times
Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 1 to 10 p.m. Saturday, 1 to 8 p.m. Sunday.