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Costanera: Peruvian Fusian Cuisine Comes Ashore in Montclair, New Jersey
What does it take to create a successful restaurant? Heart, commitment, energy, devotion. How can you tell one when you see it? Look across the street from the movies in Montclair, New Jersey and see the bustle of a little Peruvian joint called Costanera, “The Waterfront”, and you’ll know you’ve reached Nirvana.
Owned and operated by CIA trained chef, Juan Andres Placencia and his gorgeous wife, Tatiana, Costanera does everything a restaurant is supposed to. It offers extraordinary dishes that start with the freshest, most carefully curated sources available. Seafood dishes that will make you cry they are so divinely executed, beef steak recipes that speak to the thriving cattle business in Peru, traditional Peruvian free-range chicken cooked rotisserie style and seasoned with Peru’s rich combination of herbs and spices. Braised Colorado young lamb shank with canary beans and yuca. The choices are so delicious, it will take many visits to work your way through the menu.
How does a chef get this good? It would be fair to say that some are born into it. Chef Juan came up in a restaurant family, moving from Lima, Peru to New Jersey at a very young age. His parents have owned restaurants in New Jersey for more than 30 years, and Chef Juan was born to the business. But after graduating from CIA, Chef went on to work in some of New York’s luminous spots including Gramercy Tavern, Jean Georges Vongerichten’s Eleven Madison Park, and others.
His mother cooked some of his favorites at home: Tallarin con Bisteck. a grilled Black Angus skirt steak served over Peruvian Basil Pesto noodles. See the Utube video to see Chef make the dish he learned at his mother’s knee.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nh910HwajqU
The night we were there, at least two cheerful tables with more than a dozen diners were celebrating birthdays. No wonder. It’s an extraordinary spot to honor friends and family with a great meal. You are never pushed to clear the table. You can eat and drink into the night. A BYOB place, they will chill your wine while you go to the movies if you like, so that everything is perfectly ready for you when you arrive. These folks were digging into towers of just prepared raw bar choices including clams, mussels, lobster, and other amazing ingredients.
We started off with one of their signature starters, a Causa. which is made with one of Peru’s 3800 kinds of potato, this one a rich yellow potato that has the taste and texture of a Yukon gold. A feast for the eyes first, this carefully created dish begins with two disks of perfectly cooked and seasoned potato filled with your choice of crab, chicken or artichoke.
When it came time to order the entree, Rose selected the Colorado lamb shank in a bed of white beans with Peruvian spices, and I chose one of the specials of that night, a Branzino en Escabeche, which was a gorgeous fillet, grilled then nestled in the briny vinegar sauce with red onions, cilantro, garlic and cumin and just tipped with aji, the storied Peruvian pepper.
Of course, we had to try the desserts, and since we couldn’t decide just nibbled at a tray that included their version of the Tres Leches cake, a perfect flan, a heavenly chocolate mousse served with fresh fruit and their own Lucuma ice cream.
We were beyond sated when we walked out into the inky black night and found our way back to the parking garage. We hadn’e even started the engine before we began planning our next visit to Costanera. Maybe lunch next time, and everytime we plan a jaunt to the movies in Montclair. This will be one of our signature haunts.
Costanera, Cocina Peruana, 511 Bloomfield Av., Montclair, NJ 07042
973 337 8289. reservations recommended but not required