The Dining Diva samples Peruvian fusion in a lovely courtyard setting...
It’s a beautiful day to sit outside and eat some delicious Peruvian Fusion. I’m at Canta Rana on Fruitville Road next to The Breakfast House with my friend Uriel and this website’s own ‘ Blonde Out Of Water’. The little cottage that houses this brand new restaurant is decorated inside with scarlet, black, and deep green walls but we’re drawn out the back door to the crisp, sunny day, and the sprawling courtyard partially shaded by trees. We order a couple of glasses of wine (Blondie assures me that it’s 5 O’Clock somewhere) and we sit back to wait for our appetizers – Ceviche Mixto and Tamalito Verde. There’s a languid feel to the afternoon and it doesn’t seem as though we’re sitting so close to one of Sarasota’s busiest streets. Uriel tells us that he’s been here for dinner before and points out the lights and tiki torches that line the fence. Allow some time for appetizers because everything is made from scratch in a kitchen that matches mine only in size (small). This is another family affair as the manager is married to the chef/owner Diana Durand. He’s Puerto Rican and she’s Peruvian so the idea of fusion doesn’t just pertain to the menu which boasts Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and Puerto Rican influences. The Ceviche Mixto is incredibly fresh seafood marinated in lemon juice accompanied by sweet potato, finely sliced onions and corn. The corn and sweet potato are naturally sweet and serve to temper the bright acidity of the lemon and onions. The Tamalito Verde is Green Piura’s style cilantro tamal cooked in corn leaf accompanied by salsa criolla (tomato, pepper, and onion relish). Piura is the oldest Spanish city in South America and I can imagine that this style of food has been passed down through generations because it’s perfect in it’s simplicity.
For our entrees we choose Arroz Con Pollo, which Uriel recommends, and Mofongo, which is one of my favorite Puerto Rican dishes (when it’s done right). The main course arrives quickly and I am delighted with the presentation of the Mofongo which arrives in a little cauldron-style bowl with Canta Rana emblazoned on the front of it. When we ask the owner the origin of the bowls he says that his parents picked them up in South America. The name Canta Rana means singing frogs which conjures images of Disney amphibians and makes me smile. The Mofongo itself is a delicious mixture of shrimp in garlic sauce stuffed into mashed green banana. It’s cooked perfectly and I eat more than my fair share. Luckily, Blondie and Uriel are attacking the Arroz Con Pollo and don’t notice that I’m hogging the Mofongo. I manage to try a small amount of the chicken and rice dish and it’s spectacular. The chicken is juicy and has a fantastic spiced rub and the rice could be it’s own entrée and puts Chinese restaurants’ fried rice to shame.
We’ve purposely saved room for dessert at Uriel’s urging and we order the Arroz Con Leche, which is rice pudding with coconut and raisins, to share. The pudding is served warm with a liberal dash of cinnamon on top and is, for me, an exotic comfort food. I know if I grew up in South America rather than South Africa this is what my grandmother would have served for Sunday supper.
Blondie tells me that the little store behind The Breakfast House and Canta Rana has some great treasures including a normally expensive Dior Mascara for dirt cheap. I’m happy that this area is starting to come together as yet another little enclave of charming restaurants and stores that are serving to make Sarasota as interesting and diverse as some of our larger neighbors.