In 2007, when downtown Miami was not a desirable place to be after 5 o'clock, Juan Chipoco and Luis Hoyos took a chance and purchased a sliver of space known as La Cibeles Cuban Restaurant. After flipping Cuban sandwiches in a city that offers better Cuban food than the island itself didn't prove too successful, the two rethought their strategy.
"What could we bring to the table that wasn't already here?" they asked themselves. The answer was ingrained in their DNA -- cuisine from their native Peru. In 2008, just a year later, CVI.CHE 105 replaced La Cibeles and became a citywide sensation practically overnight.
Granted, the original space was as cramped as a can of sardines, so they bought the location next door within the first year and expanded to 200 seats. Five years later, CVI.CHE 105 in downtown is crowded all hours of the day. And just a week after their South Beach location opened, it seems to be on the same track to success.
Perched on a corner on the tranquil end of Lincoln Road (next to Haven), CVI.CHE 105 is more colorful than its downtown counterpart. Beautiful people fill the eatery both inside and out -- there's already a 20-minute wait just five days into business. "We've had clients come and visit us six days in the week we've been open," Chipoco says. "It's crazy how they can repeat a restaurant six times in a week."
Peruvian trinkets add vibrancy to the open layout -- from Incan ropes hanging over the pisco sour bar, to Andes skulls adorning overhead space into the kitchen, and banquettes with patches of Peruvian textiles. The only thing missing is an Alpaca. Instead, a fish chandelier inside the entrance acts as a conversation piece, right along with the ceviche bar and the vertical garden inspired by Peru's green, mountainous landscape.
The menu has changed too. "The star of the menu is and will always be ceviche. But not to be overlooked or forgotten is the ají. For the Beach, we also wanted to cater to the body- and health-conscious crowd."
To do that, a specialty South Beach menu heavy in raw offerings (ceviches, tiraditos, and oysters) and low in carbs is the main differentiator between the two locations. Unlike the downtown spot, the SoBe outpost will always offer bivalves, specifically Kumamoto and sometimes Kusshi. "This is what Miami is asking for and wants to enjoy."
The Fuente Pacífico ($49.95) features ceviche ganador, ceviche natural, maki, and sushi of the day. The ceviche ganador (fish marinated in roasted rocoto peppers, ginger, celery, and lime) and ceviche natural (corvina marinated in lime and bathed in a reduction of huacatay and ají limo) are items unique to the SoBe spot and hit higher citrus notes than ever before. This might be because the Chulucana limes are brought in straight from Peru.
Sushi is also an important part of the evolution of CVI.CHE 105. "Japanese influence has always been a part of the Peruvian culture, but now more than ever." Peruvian rolls include the barranquito -- anticucho cooked and rolled with avocado in rice and topped with sliced maduros and ají panca sauce.
Choose from four causas, a traditional potato dish layered with avocado, crab, and other ingredients. Here, variations include crunchy fish and boiled egg; crispy calamari and citrus mango salsa criolla; and spicy tuna and caviar with truffle oil and sea salt in a reduction of chicha morada and Inca gold flakes. There is also causa maki style, which is rolled rather than layered; it's stuffed with crabmeat and avocado and topped with kani krab au gratin and rocoto aioli ($21).
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Ceviche calle capon takes chunks of tuna, salmon, and avocado and submerges them in a citric reduction of ginger and soy. Wontons add a nice crunch ($19).
For dessert, lucuma cheesecake is an oldie but goodie ($6.95).
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha