Touted as the new “it” cuisine by no less than the New York Times, Peruvian food has quickly become the new talked about cuisine both in New York City, as well as this side of the Hudson. While Montclair is famous for encompassing a full breadth of cuisine from around the world, it tends to over-represent some cuisines while under-representing others. Costanera Cocina Peruana offers a breath of fresh air into a sea of Italian restaurants, proffering inventive, bright flavors and creative Peruvian-inspired dishes.
Authentic at its core, owner and executive chef Juan Andres Placencia spent his first six years in Peru, before moving to America with his restaurateur parents, who own restaurants in both Peru and Kearney, NJ. After spending his formative years working and learning in his family’s restaurants, Placencia attended the Culinary Institute of America, going on to work with and learn from several culinary greats, including Jean Georges Vongerichten, Danny Meyer, and Mario Batali. It is this confluence of traditional Peruvian cuisine with classic culinary training that sets Costanera apart from the rest.
The menu at Costanera offers a wide range of dishes without overwhelming the diner, and the small plates allow a bigger sampling of all the great options. I started with the Ensalada Costanera, fresh market greens, tomatoes, and avocado topped with a chiffonade of carrots and red onions, and tossed with a zesty lime vinaigrette, perfectly tangy and refreshing. Upon recommendation from another diner, I tried the Causa de Cangrejo, mashed Yukon potatoes layered with peekytoe crab, avocado, and piquillo pepper mayo. I never would have paired mashed potatoes with crab, but the combination worked flawlessly, the creamy textures of the potatoes and the crab perfectly offset by the spicy piquillo pepper mayo.
The homemade yucca fries, lightly battered and fried and served with a traditional aji Amarillo dipping sauce were delicious, and the Chupe de Camarones, a spicy prawn soup with rice, queso fresco, and a fried egg on top warmed me up on the chilly October night.
Much to the delight of my less adventurous dining companion, the Tallarin Verde con Bisteck, fettuccini pasta tossed in a velvety Peruvian basil and queso fresco sauce (reminiscent of pesto) and served with grilled Black Angus skirt steak hit the mark. The steak was perfectly grilled and seasoned, and the huge heaping serving of creamy pasta, half of which we planned on taking home, was promptly devoured.
Saving room for dessert, I tried a crispy and sweet olive oil cookie layered with a silky chocolate sauce and Tahitian vanilla bean ice cream, drizzled with chocolate sauce, and a fluffy cake soaked in sweetened milk and topped with whipped cream and a drizzle of caramel, both delicious.
The interior of Costanera is another place for praise, with its warm and cozy atmosphere, flickering candles, and unique walls layered with slices cut from native Peruvian trees. It’s the perfect place to hole up on a chilly fall evening to enjoy some out-of-the-ordinary cuisine.
Montclair, NJ 07042
Sun 11:30am–2:30pm, 5–9:30pm;
Tue-Thu 11:30am–2:30pm, 5–10pm;
Fri-Sat 11:30am–2:30pm, 5–11pm