After years of working in kitchens, opening new restaurants and starting a family, Darwin Santa Maria is finally fulfilling his dream of having a brewery and restaurant. Upon entering Darwin’s on 4th, the first distinct feature is the wooden door that looks as though it came out of a storybook. Exposed brick and paintings by area artists and artisans adorn the walls; small-tile mosaics engulf the archways; and cheerful customers sit on tasteful lounge furniture. Darwin’s offers a chef’s table, where customers sip on craft beers and watch chefs prepare a variety of exotic Peruvian dishes.
Santa Maria grew up in the jungle area of Tarapoto, Peru. His family moved to the U.S. when he was 13 years old, and Santa Maria later received his culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University, in Miami.
The restaurant’s location was once the Florida Citrus Exchange and there was a rail station nearby. He fell in love with the energy and history the building brought.
“I was like, ‘This is it, this is home for me now,’” says Santa Maria.
The restaurant serves a modern Peruvian cuisine and incorporates Peruvian ingredients into its beers. Their Aji Charapita beer contains cocoa and is infused with an aji yellow pepper. It is a dark, smooth beer with a little bit of a kick at the end.
The wahoo tiradito is a sashimi-style wahoo, layered with cucumbers and fresh mangos. The appetizer is adorned with ginger aioli, seaweed salad and ponzu sauce.
“The food I serve is my story of being brought up here and Peru,” Santa Maria said. “I take prehistoric recipes and put my own twist into the dishes.”
Taste of the coast
Peruvian Grill is what one may consider a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. It only seats 30 people, and its old-time decor makes customers feel at home. The setting may be casual, but the mouth-watering smells wafting from the kitchen are anything but boring.
Co-owner Jorge Corzo grew up in Lima, Peru. He moved 13 years ago to Miami and then seven years ago to Sarasota for a change of pace. Corzo owns the Peruvian Grill with his wife, Jessica, and his sister, Maria Gracia. The family brings their hometown taste to Sarasota.
Corzo brings out a plate of their house corvina. Corvina is fish typically eaten on the coast in Peru. Corzo says the white fish is often compared to sea bass. Due of to proximity to the Pacific, Peruvian coastal cuisine consists mainly of seafood. The house corvina is marinated with chimichurri sauce, which is made of garlic, parsley, red bell pepper, oregano and olive oil. It is then grilled to a flaky perfection and topped with the chimichurri sauce. The dish also includes grilled shrimp.
Corzo urges customers to try Cusquena, which is Peruvian beer. Corzo explains that Peruvian food changes from region to region. “If you live by the coast you eat more seafood. In the jungle and mountains they have different foods,” he says.
Peruvian Grill has El Marco Peru. Only 835 businesses in the world carry this brand. The Peruvian government gives El Marca Peru to businesses that promote social change and Peruvian tradition throughout the world.
Smooth modern music floats through Selva Grill, as customers sip on Pisco sours and indulge in modern Peruvian cuisine. The decor is contemporary, and swirls of paint encompass the wall. Professors at Ringling College painted the large piece of art that stretch the length of one of the restaurant’s wall. The modern cuisine at Selva Grill matches the contemporary decor and atmosphere of the restaurant. A dish called causa tropical is layered with a panca-infused potato, lime-infused purple potato, mango salsa, avocado and a tempura-fried prawn. Panca is a smoky, pepper-flavored spice that grows in South America and some parts of the Southwest United States. One of Peru’s main staples is the potato. They have more than 3,000 variations of the vegetable. And, because seafood is a predominant part of Pervian coastal cuisine, the causa tropical is both contemporary and true to its roots.
The Pisco sour looks like a drink straight out of “Sex and the City.” It is smooth with a bite of citrus and foam on top.
The spices of Peruvian food are more flavorful than hot. The allure of smooth music, dim lights, tasteful decor and flavorful food has been drawing people to Selva since it opened in 2004.
“Peruvian food is exciting, especially to American people,” said general manager Jeremy Osment. “I’ve been eating this food a long time and I still find it enticing.”
Canta Rana, or the “singing frog,” opened its doors in 2012. Peru native Diana Durand owns the bright yellow building that sits off Fruitville Road. She didn’t always think she was going to have her own restaurant. Durand worked for the Peruvian government eight years ago after getting her law degree. After she moved seven years ago to Sarasota, with her husband, Arturo, she said the transition wasn’t difficult.
“It was an easy transition because I love to cook, and when you love to do something, it’s pretty simple,” Durand says.
Durand both cooks and manages her restaurant. She says Peruvian food is growing in popularity because people are discovering the mix of flavors and variety of foods it offers.
“You can try a different dish every day for at least three years,” she says. “Peruvian is a very sexy and unique cuisine that people need to try.”
The cuisine has Chinese, Japanese and African influence. Spaniards once brought these races of people over as slaves and their own cultures mixed with that of the indigenous population.
Durand brings out a typical ceviche dish. Ceviche is made of corvina. It is marinated in cilantro, limes, salt and onions to slighty cook it. The dish is simple, yet popular. She pairs the ceviche with an organic Medanos Chardonnay from Mendoza, Argentina.
El Patio Latino is unassuming from the outside, but inside the restaurant is marvelous. Artisans in Peru made everything from the leather menus to the leather chairs and the hand-woven wool tapestries and handmade glass lamps.
“You can’t find this stuff in the U.S.,” says co-owner Manuel Maravi. Manuel and his wife, Chany, are not new to the restaurant industry. They have operated restaurants for 22 years all over the world, including in Lima, Peru and Barcelona, Spain. Manuel Maravi’s brother still operates El Patio Latino, in Barcelona. His mother, Marina Samaniego, oversees the family operation. Both the restaurant in Barcelona and in Sarasota has El Marca Peru.
The Maravis moved in 1989 from Lima, Peru to Barcelona, Spain, for better economic and cultural opportunities. After the couple visited their daughters who lived in Sarasota, they fell in love with the city. They moved in 2003 to Sarasota and opened an Italian restaurant before opening El Patio Latino. Manual and Chaney Maravis both cook and operate the restaurant. They bring out their sample platter, delicias criollas. The plate has a tamale that is made out of Peruvian corn and stuffed with shredded chicken. Peru grows 300 variations of corn so the ingredient is found in many dishes. The second item on the platter is ceviche. The third item is potato topped with a creamy cheese and egg sauce. The appetizer is accompanied with Chicha morada, a juice made from purple corn.
Darwin’s on 4th
Location: 1525 Fourth St., Sarasota
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Info: 343-2165, darwinson4th.com
Recommended dish: Wahoo tiradito, $13
Recommended drink: Aji Charapita beer, $7
Location: 5769 Beneva Road, Sarasota
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday; noon to 10 p.m. Saturday; noon to 9 p.m. Sunday
Info: 923-8902, perviangrillsarasota.com
Recommended dish: House corvina, $19
Recommended drink: Cusquena beer, $3.99
Location: 1345 Main St.
Hours: 5 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Sunday; 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Info: 362-4427, selvagrill.com
Recommended dish: Causa tropical, $13
Recommended drink: Pisco sour, $10
Location: 1813 Fruitville Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday;
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Info: 343-2280, cantaranarestaurant.com
Recommended dish: Ceviche, $13
Recommended drink: Medanos Chardonnay, $8.50
El patio latino
Location: 1100 N. Tuttle Ave. No. 5
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Info: 955-5093, elpatiolatino.com
Recommended dish: Delicias criollas, $15.90
Recommended drink: Chicha morada, $2.50
Also on our radar:
Mayta’s Peruvian Restaurant
Location: 4854 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Sunday
Location: 1535 Main St., Sarasota
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday
Info: 954-0454, maemiperu.com
Location: 4141 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; noon to 10 p.m. Friday through Sunday
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- I can't believe you didn't include one of Sarasotas finest restaurants...these others are newbies compared to JAVIER's on Siesta Key!!
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