Look through the menu at Tito’s Ceviche & Pisco, and the vast global influences that come to the plate are astonishing.
There are the potatoes and corn that fueled the Inca Empire in the 15th century. Pork was introduced to Peru by the colonizing Spanish. There also are yams, peanuts, soy sauce and rice and influences from Africa and China. This eye-popping array of flavors come together in the cuisine of Peru.
Chef Juan Lock and his wife and partner Tatiana Lock opened the original Tito’s Ceviche in 2017 in an unassuming spot on Magazine Street. They then opened the restaurant’s second, larger location in September at 1433 St. Charles Ave.
Juan Lock hails from Lima, often called the culinary capital of Latin America. Originally a self-taught chef, he worked in the front of the house at Casa Garcia, cooked in steakhouses in Fort Lauderdale and then worked in management at Mr. B’s Bistro in the French Quarter. Through it all, he felt the powerful pull of his home country’s cuisine.
“I cooked for friends at home, then started doing pop-ups,” the chef says. “A lot of people still aren’t familiar with Peruvian cuisine. I wanted to change that.”
He started making inroads with the opening of Tito’s in Uptown, but the couple wanted to do more.
“We always wanted to be in a more visible location,” says Tatiana Lock, who is from Nicaragua. “More in the heart of New Orleans.”
They bought the shuttered St. Charles Tavern and spent 18 months renovating the space. The result is bright, airy and full of color. Whimsical murals conjure Peru’s landscape and history. The dining area is more than twice the size of the first Tito’s, and the kitchen is three times larger than the original. There’s also plenty of space on the second floor.
Tito’s name includes Peru’s national dish: ceviche. Bites of raw fish get a quick cure in a variety of sauces, most notably leche de tigre, a citrus-forward marinade that brings flavor to dishes like ceviche criollo, with chunks of local sheepshead, fiery aji limo chilies, sweet potato, onion and choclo, the signature large kernelled Peruvian corn. The menu has a variety of ceviches and tiradito, variations that often are elaborately composed. Seafood options might range from salmon and tuna to Gulf shrimp and squid.
Potatoes are stalwart ingredients throughout the menu, with more than 4,000 varieties, according to Juan Lock. Loma saltado is a traditional Peruvian dish, and the version here features stir-fried marinated sirloin tips with onions, tomatoes and potatoes. Grilled octopus is served with fried potatoes and an herbaceous chimichurri sauce. Order the aji de gallina, and grilled chicken breast arrives bathed in a Parmesan cream sauce, topped with bits of pecan and served over boiled potatoes.
There’s also chaufa de mariscos, a Peruvian take on Cantonese fried rice made with seafood, pisco, red peppers, eggs and soy sauce. Tallarines verdes con bistec is a seared hanger steak with a nest of pesto linguine.
For dessert, picarones are a nod to the beignet, but with the addition of bits of local squash and sweet potato and served with a drizzle of sweet syrup. There’s a passion fruit and coconut flan, and a cheesecake made with lucuma, a South American fruit that is both creamy and citrusy with a hint of caramel.
The Verdict is a family affair that draws on years of experience.
A long bar dominates one wall in the main dining room. As the name implies, Tito’s specializes in all things pisco, the brandy that is the national spirit of Peru. A row of glass crocks along the back wall store pisco infusions in flavors like blueberry and ginger, charred pineapple and lemon grass. They are used in cocktails like the pisco punch, finished with lime juice and bitters and the muddled blueberry, thyme and ginger with Aperol and blackberry brandy. The classic frothy pisco sour is a guaranteed refresher.
For Juan Lock, the second restaurant is just another step toward sharing his culinary culture with New Orleans.
“I think people are surprised when they first try our food,” he says. “Then, we have a lot of regulars.”
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