Stir the melting pot

La Brasa ceviche
BY: Shannon Cornman

Six years ago, while he enjoyed Peruvian rotisserie-style chicken from Pio Pio in New York, he decided he wanted to feature Peruvian cuisine at a restaurant.

Six years, a successful deli and nightclub, a lot of research and a chance encounter with a Peruvian chef later, and Vu’s dream, La Brasa Peruvian Kitchen opened its doors Friday at 1310 NW 25th St.

Vu is excited to expose Oklahoma City to the unique flavors and exciting combinations that are, according to him, the trademark of Peruvian cuisine.

With a long history of encounters among various cultures, Peruvian food is characterized as a true melting pot of flavors and traditions.

While “fusion” is a trend thrown around by foodies, it seems that Peru was centuries ahead of the curve. With aspects of traditional Amer-Indian, Latin and Spanish flavors and references to Pan- Asian touches throughout, Peruvian food is truly all over the map.

So how did Vu go from New York’s famous Pio Pio to a local Peruvian fine-dining establishment in a nightclub?

While he was dreaming of his restaurant and running Kamp’s 1310 Lounge, Neil Zambrano made waves in the OKC culinary scene with his Peruvian diner, Inca Trail Peruvian Restaurant, 10928 N. May Ave. Zambrano is the executive chef and owner of the establishment, and he said his menu is “more what you would get at home, not fancy.”

Vu approached him with his new concept, a fine-dining and adventurous take on the fare that Inca Trail already does so well. He offered Zambrano the role of executive chef and part ownership — to which Zambrano accepted.

“We tried to make the prices (affordable) for everyone, because we want everyone to come and experience this cuisine,” Vu said.

The menu is broad, colorful and informed by each man’s interpretation of traditional tastes.

It has bright ceviche — Peru is the birthplace of the raw seafood dish. There is an elegant miso-glazed Chilean sea bass served with wasabi mashed potatoes. And, of course, the chicken that started it all.

Neil Zambrano and James Vu
BY: Shannon Cornman

The La Brasa version is crispy-skinned, roasted over a charcoal fire and served family-style with a nod to Vu’s Asian heritage in the sides and sauces. His excitement at bringing the dish that was the impetus for this food adventure to OKC is obvious.

The restaurant itself is a cozy, softly lit space. One can picture a relaxed dinner atmosphere before the evening turns into nightlife. Vu will offer a different theme for each weekend night. Thursday nights feature an acoustic performer, Friday nights feature a live DJ and Saturday features a new twist on “ladies’ night.” He would like to see it become a casual hangout for sports fans, as TVs are placed unobtrusively throughout.

Vu and Zambrano are men brought together by a love of one culture’s unique cuisine. Together, they’ve created something that simultaneously draws on tradition and charges forward in the food world.

Both men are excited for diners in the metro to experience a new culinary adventure.

Devon Green

Devon Green is a life and food reporter for Oklahoma Gazette. She lives in Oklahoma City with her husband Kevin and their two slightly evil felines, Goodluck Jonathan and Charles Taylor. Devon has a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Oklahoma and once ran away with the circus to Macau, China. She is passionately local and lives to promote quality of life in OKC. She can most often be found eating, writing or writing about eating — while eating.

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