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Limón Restaurant Review
by Nneka Onu
The warmth and liveliness of Peru all come together at Limon Peruvian Restaurant in Denver, Colorado. Located in the uptown district of Denver, Limon's colorful walls and wood floors, with open bricks and rural back drop are first in the line of the warmth you experience. This combination of restaurant, bar and lounge serves authentic Peruvian cuisine inspired by the unique tastes of the south American nation from which the restaurant's idea originates.
The next hot thing you'll notice about Limon is its ambiance, which is a harmony between relaxation and rustic energy. Folks who dine here enjoy the up tempo and cozy atmosphere that make them feel as though they were in the Andean land.
The beauty of the Peruvian life is also captures in the food, which Chef Alex Gurevich mastered to perfection in his voyages to the native land. The chef methodically prepares various blends of fresh and authentic ingredients to bring out nothing but the best flavor of food that is credited to the culture of Peru. His style of preparation and cooking is called Novoandina, which translates New Andean. It is a style as diverse as Peru, with influences from Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Specialty dishes include the Mixturas, which are appetizers that first awaken your sleeping tongue as you ready for mouth watering Fondos, or main dishes. The 60 seat space boasts best selling items like arroz con pato (crispy duck confit) over cilantro rice, sugar snap peas, and rocoto salsa. Every thing in this restaurant is simply an inspiration from the land of Peru.
The cocktail menu also reflects the Novoandina style such as traditional Peruvian drinks like the pisco sour, which includes fresh lime juice and whipped egg whites.Favorite drinks here include the Mojito de Pina and the Ron-Yki-On, which are blends with hints of rum and other original ingredients.
Limon has indoor and outdoor dining, with patio outside and bars within. There is plenty of space for a good time with friends or to host a small party. There are plenty of parking on the premise or on the street.
Best Nouvelle Peruvian Restaurant (2008)
Yucca chips, potato salads, causa potato cakes and a spread of ceviches are only the start at Limón, chef Alex Gurevich's love letter to the modern cuisine of Peru, known as "Novoandino." Here the classic dishes of this ancient food culture are reimagined for the modern world, yet made with traditional, imported ingredients and a deep understanding of where the disparate flavors come from. The room where they're served is sleek, the plating undeniably modern, and yet the flavors speak loudly of preparations and combinations that have survived not only the test of time, but also of taste. (link to article)
Where Should I Dine If...
All year long we field phone calls and e-mails from readers seeking dining help. Here, a few of our favorites.
>> I'd like to gather my friends for happy hour at a bar or restaurant that's off the beaten path. Limón (1618 E. 17th Ave., 303-322-0898), a sleek restaurant serving eclectic Peruvian cuisine, offers a terrific happy hour with drink specials and fresh ceviche and fried plantains. Bonus: There's ample street parking. (link to article)
As the owner and executive chef for Limón, Café Bisque, and his latest restaurant, the Arvada Grill, ...
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ON THE MENU: Limón Denver
By Dina Berta
After immersing himself in the rich range of foods of Peru while visiting missionary friends, Denver chef and restaurateur Alex Gurevich decided his customers back home were ready for novoandina cuisine.
His hunch paid off. Gurevich opened Limón, an eclectic Peruvian lounge, last summer along 17th Avenue in uptown Denver. The 60-seat restaurant was wildly successful from its opening day, with two-and three-hour waits for a table in the rustically designed space. Limón was operating in the black after its first week.
The learning curve for Limón customers has been short and sweet, and often spicy.
"There's a lot going on in a single plate," says Gurevich, who was born in Russia but grew up in Denver.
Among the entrées at Limón is black pepper and orange zest-spiced ahi tuna with lentil and cape gooseberry sauce.
Peruvian cooking, one of the more diverse cuisines in the world, with European, Asian and African influences, has undergone a renaissance of sorts since the early 1990s. The movement, novoandina, or New Andean, involves adding contemporary touches to traditional, native dishes and ingredients.
Although the names of the dishes may sound foreign (lomo saltado, arroz con pato or causa) the food is not totally foreign to American diners: wok-fried beef tenderloin, crispy duck confit over cilantro flavored rice, and potato cakes.
Novoandina gives Gurevich the freedom to put his own interpretation on traditional Peruvian fare.
"It shouldn't be peasant food," he says. "It should make a "wow" statement on the plate."
For the traditional causa, Gurevich stuffs a potato cake with cured tuna loin, garlic oil and salsa. The causa solterito is stuffed with fava beans, beets and basil and served on a cheese salad.
Gurevich also uses ahi tuna for the atun con tacu tacu y aguaymanto dish. Rolled in black pepper and orange-zest, the tuna is seared and served with a lentil and rice cake and a yellow chile and cape gooseberry sauce.
For the ceviche Gurevich keeps it more traditional with the tiradito, raw Pacific bass marinated in red onion, cilantro and lime juice.
"Peruvian cuisine gives you the ability to do so much, with not only the infusion of so many different cultures, but the list of ingredients (over 120 chiles and over 40 varieties of potatoes, 80 corns) is all just amazing," says Gurevich, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., who trained in Russia, France and Italy.
The traditional ceviche at Limón in Denver is made with Pacific bass, red onion, cilantro and lime juice. It's served with plantain chips and passion fruit aïoli.
A restaurateur digs for gold in Peruvian cuisine.
By Jason Sheehan
On its very first day of business, Limón was a hit, a force to be reckoned with on 17th Avenue.
Actually, from before its first day, because — as is the habit lately — Limón opened very soft, for friends and family, with no flags or fanfare, just an unlocked door and all the lights on. These days were technically tests for both the floor and the kitchen. And what tests: first night, 120 covers; next, 180. By the time Limón officially opened last July, there were lines at the door and eager would-be diners packed into the bar like sardines in a tin.
I've seen openings of larger, grander and more spectacular restaurants come off with all the excitement of a pauper's funeral, others so over-hyped that anything short of a personal appearance by God or Bocuse to bless the crabcakes and love up the Garlands would've been a disappointment. But success came to Limón overnight, seemingly effortlessly. The crowds didn't see all the behind-the-scenes exertions as chef/ owner Alex Gurevich (who also owns Cafe Bisque in Lakewood) and crew worked like crazy on menus, design and decor, battling with customs authorities to get their stock and supplies into the country.
Those battles highlight one of the reasons that Limón's early takeoff was so surprising. Gurevich's chosen cuisine — Novoandino, an iteration of modern immigrant Peruvian food that he acquired a taste for on several trips to South America and that remains a rarity today even in the most cutting-edge North American restaurant cities — wasn't exactly tame or easily approached. Had Gurevich been giving away free pie and balloons, I could've understood the crushing, very nearly overwhelming hit he and his guys were taking. But he was offering tabule de cereals andinos; cold, ring-molded mashed potatoes; green-mango langostino cebiche; Chinese/Peruvian lomo with yellow chiles. I've been playing with food for many, many years, and even I didn't know what half the stuff was.
And it's not like there's a dearth of dining options in the area. Seventeenth Avenue has become an unusually cosmopolitan stretch, where anyone with a few bucks and an appetite can find nouvelle Vietnamese and Chinese, jumped-up Mexican, lowbrow Mexican, New American, Old American and all-time American. With a lineup like that, you'd think nouvelle Peruvian wouldn't be such a draw.
Still, during those first few weeks, I received regular phone calls from Limón's manager, updating me on how shocked he and Gurevich and everyone else was at the reception their little Novoandino place was getting. And while I was talking to him, I was doing recon at Limón myself — first talking to people who'd waited an hour at the bar just for the chance at a table, then scouting the floor, arriving early so I could slip in without having to fight the crowds, giving up my table to the first rush as soon as it started to pour in.
The main floor, at maximum capacity, seats two dozen; a large, rough-cut community table placed uncomfortably in the lane between the kitchen and the floor adds another six or eight tops to the count. Patio seating adds still more. But by a quirk of architecture -- which may have been deliberate, though I can't think of why -- the bar-lounge/waiting area on the left of the room occupies about as much real estate as the main dining floor. This adds six bar stools and a couple of armchairs to the available seating, but these are almost immediately spoken for by those waiting for proper tables. Limón is operating just a few inches on the good side of teensy, which helps explain those early lines.
Small and weird and uncommon and devilishly crowded at its peak is not a standard recipe for wild restaurant success. By all rights, Limón should have imploded after about three months, collapsing into a supernova of fava beans, fried plantains and designer shoes. The crew should have cracked, the chef should have broken, and the customers -- sensing disaster -- should have fled.
Instead, it took just over a month.
Following that huge opening, the counts collapsed. And suddenly, rather than doing five, sometimes five and a half turns of a 36-seat room, Limón was doing one. The 200-cover nights dropped to sixty, to forty, bottoming out as fall turned to winter and the patio was closed for the season.
It was the best thing that could have happened.
Maybe not for Gurevich, who had not only his money, but his reputation and passion tied up on 17th Avenue. The manager who'd been so happy in his early reports of killer numbers became somewhat scarce, no longer calling with weekly updates. And I'm sure the kitchen and floor staff were a bit heartbroken, having become accustomed to big money, big waits and big nights, night after night after night.
But here's the thing: Limón was dying at 200 covers. The service was either rushed or exhausted, the potentially interesting food suffering from the grind of constancy, the strain of a five-turn repetition turning what should've been tight plates into muddled puddles of starch and protein and sauce. All of the elements were there, but the soul was gone, drained away by the nightly battle on the floor.
Every taste bud savors Limon's Peruvian fare
by John Lehndorff
According to the famous tongue "map," humans taste sweet on the tip, salty on the front sides, sour right behind those, and bitter on the back part of the tongue. Now scientists confirm what most of us already knew: You can sense all tastes all over your tongue to various degrees, as reported in a recent issue of Nature.
Many researchers concur that there's a fifth taste called umami - essentially "savory" or "meaty," and others postulate a sixth receptor for fat in all its glorious buttery forms. I agree and swear that every single one of my many buds got thoroughly and repeatedly stimulated when I ate at Limon (say Lee-MOHN).
That's how it felt when I dug into the tiradito cebiche ($7), glowing in a martini glass surrounded by crunchy purple and yellow corn kernels. I used crispy plantain chips to scoop tender strips of Pacific bass "cooked" in intense lime juice with bits of red onion and cilantro. The briny liquid was so marvelous we happily sipped it out of the glass.
Limon delivers expertly rendered south-of- the-U.S. beverages. The distinctive pisco sour made with Peruvian brandy is topped with a puff of cinnamon-dusted whipped egg white. The mojito is a cool blizzard of mint and lime and the intense caipirinhas are powered by cachaca, the Brazilian sugarcane distillate. New wave cocktails include the chocobanana awash in banana-infused rum and almond milk.
The former A La Tomate space is done up in bright, warm colors and shades of brown with wooden floors. Tall reeds cast cool shadows on the ceiling. Limon's hatbox-sized space has a handful of tables, expanded on warm days by a nice patio. It doesn't look like a foodie magnet.
In fact, Limon is billed as an "Eclectic Peruvian Lounge," as if it doesn't want to be taken too seriously. The menu belies this conceit with its retinue of exotic ingredients like huacatay and bistro techniques. The eatery's novoandino approach creates contemporary fare using traditional ingredients reflecting Peru's worldly gastronomic influences.
The fare's complexity is not unexpected. Owner Alex Gurevich has studied cooking in Russia, France, Italy and the United States and traveled extensively in Peru. He received well-deserved kudos for his chefly take on brunch favorites at Lakewood's Cafe Bisque before branching out with the 60-seat Limon in July.
The starters are alternately soothing and exciting. Once we got over the fact that our limena causa ($7) was served cold, we got into the terrine-like dish middling two avocado-topped, mashed potato disks with chicken salad. Papa a la huancaina ($8) potato salad was pumped-up by aji amarillo peppers.
We loved the fall-apart steamed-then-fried pork in the fritada ($9) garnished with crunchy corn and salsa criolla. We fought over the great conchas a la Parmesana ($8.50): baked, cheese-topped sea and bay scallops atop yam slices with lime butter. There was nothing not to like about yucca chips ($5) dipped in good Hollandaise. Supposedly it was flavored with hucatay, a form of mint, but we couldn't taste it. The only bore was the chicken finger-like chicharron de pollo ($7) with fries.
At some cafes, everything tastes roughly the same and that's OK and expected. Each Limon entrée had a truly separate flavor profile, including some cravable accompaniments. The lomo en salsa ($22), a well-grilled New York strip, was smothered in an eye-opening chile-powered warm hominy salsa. Meanwhile, the Asian-accented lomo saltado ($14) offered tenderloin sauteed with onion, soy, garlic and peppers with rice and fried potatoes. The chuleton carlitos ($16) was worth ordering just for the sweet bacon, cabbage and potato hash and mushroom ragout around a pork chop.
We appreciated the incredible lightness and beauty of conchas del señor ($18). Sauteed quinoa-crusted scallops resting atop earthy spinach and parsnip puree are highlighted by intensely hued red beet and passionfruit reductions. This impressionist plating pleased us with its sweetly harmonized tastes.
Some dishes were humble but no less satisfying such as the lamb stew-like seco de cordero ($15), the aji de gallina ($12) with pulled chicken, and the soothing arroz con pato ($16) with perfect moist, crispy duck confit over cilantro rice with peas and a mild salsa.
Surprisingly, two of our favorite entrees were meatless and messy looking. The locro serrano ($12) was a super-comfy stew of squash, grains and cheese with fried eggs, while quinotto de hongos blended artichokes and asparagus in a creamy quinoa "risotto" with mushrooms and shaved manchego cheese. It was better than many of the real risottos I've sampled.
The adventure continues through the sweets. The popular Peruvian fruit lucuma makes for mysterious ice cream ($6) that tastes like almonds or peaches or maybe maple, or not. It's sided with alfajores, a caramel-filled shortbread.
The pineapple tres leches cake ($6) was a letdown - it wasn't milky enough - but we'd order the rich, hot chocolate banana bread pudding ($7) anytime.
The final tickler was a creme brulee ($8) trio including mild vanilla and chocolate versions lidded with candy crusts. The third pot of roasted red chile crème brulee was either a) amusing, b) provocative or c) unlikable, depending on the diner.
Very competent, well-mannered servers checked-in with us often, making well-informed suggestions. They knew all the Peruvian ingredients and the deals on the small, compelling list of South American and Spanish wines.
You should know that the limited seating and the buzz about the place mean there's always someone waiting for your table. It can feel a little hurried. Some diners won't like the noisy bar ambience or some of the smaller, not-inexpensive portions.
If you expect big flavors, not big piles of food, you'll be happy with Limon, which joins Red Tango, Aji, Buenos Aires Grill and others in infusing South American beat into the Denver dining scene. Our various taste buds are very happy about it, too.
Welcome to www.matchmycocktail.com. Uncommitted drinker who loves to laugh and imbibe looking for unconventional cocktail at new hotspot of chef Alex Gurevich, also of Café Bisque. Turn-ons: big glass containers filled with rum and vodka infused with ginger, coconut, honey and citrus. My perfect first rendezvous would include delectable drinks that aren't the run-of-the-mill sort I've met at all the other bars. Should be pleasing to the eye, eclectic and adventurous, like a great Pisco Sour ($8) of Don César Pisco Puro (Peruvian brandy made from grapes, which tastes similar to grappa) mixed with lime juice, simple syrup made from pure cane sugar and whipped egg whites, then drizzled with angostura bitters and cinnamon. What I've learned from past bartenders: Just because the last Pisco Sour you tried tasted like spoiled raw egg whites doesn't mean they're all terrible. In fact, the Pisco Sour poured by Limon manager/bartender Patrick Thomas tastes like a delicious cross between a margarita and eggnog. As my friend observed, "All I taste is yum!" But I decided to keep looking, and wound up falling for the Atardecer Porteno ($8) made from pink guava nectar, honey-infused vodka, lime juice and zest, with a float of Cockburn's Special Reserve Port and an anise sugar rim, which gives it a great licorice aftertaste. In the end, true love always comes down to good chemistry.
Opened: July 14, 2006
Cuisine: Peruvian novoandina
Average per-person check: $45
Best-seller: arroz con pato, or crispy duck confit over cilantro rice, sugar snap peas and rocoto salsa
Owner: chef Alex Gurevich
Menu maker: Gurevich
Gurevich also owns Café Bisque in Lakewood, Colo., a five-year old New American eatery that serves breakfast, brunch and lunch. Before opening Limón, he spent two months training his staff from both restaurants on Peruvian cuisine and the novoandina style of cooking. The training gave his cooks a chance to expand their knowledge and skills, he says.
"Peruvian cooking was different because they had to first read the books in the first week to understand what it is all about and what the culture is all about," Gurevich says.
The greatest challenge has been getting native Peruvian ingredients to Colorado, such as dried Peruvian chiles. His food costs run just under 30 percent.
"We're relying on an importer to bring it in, but it's a different country, different set of rules," Gurevich says. "In the beginning, I didn't know what it was going to cost us. We've had to bring some things in jars, or frozen. But I don't think it hides the flavors or plays them down as much as I thought it would."
Chef-owner Alex Gurevich
Fortunately some ingredients are available in the United States. Rice, potatoes, cilantro and fresh, high-quality seafood are easy to obtain. For what he can't get, he improvises. The limón, the citrus fruit and the restaurant's namesake, is unavailable, so for ceviche, he uses a mix of lemon, lime and key lime to get the right flavor profile.
The cocktail menu also reflects the novoandina style as well as such traditional Peruvian drinks as the pisco sour, which includes fresh lime juice and whipped egg whites. General manager and bartender Patrick Thomas serves drinks filled with fruit and juices, such as gin infused with cucumber, muddled lime, mint and a little sugar; a mojito of pineapple rum with muddled basil, lime juice, sugar and sparkling water; and a banana and coconut rum drink with chocolate and milk served on the rocks.
The lounge has been an important part of Limón's success, giving the restaurant a liveliness that extends into the open dining room, Gurevich says. Customers can get a full menu at the bar or at the cushion stools and curved chairs in the lounge.
The restaurant's honeymoon with customers lasted until Labor Day, and then demand slowed with the onset of an early winter and record-breaking snowfall. However, Limón still turns away 70 or more people on busy nights, so Gurevich is forging ahead with expansion plans. He has leased the space next door to double the size of the dining room and plans to add a 20-seat private room by April.
"It's been the overall energy the great customer service, great drinks, great ambiance and great food I think, that is what the equation is all about," Gurevich says. "Ultimately you learn you are in the hospitality business. It's not necessarily one thing or another. You have to have that open heart."
Alex Gurevich, executive chef and owner of Café Bisque in Lakewood, signed a lease on the old A La Tomate spot in Uptown. Though the flaky tomato tarts are but a distant memory, when Gurevich opens Limón in July, the rustic space will pay homage to Peruvian and South American cuisine. The 60-seat restaurant won't feature Peruvian fried guinea pig, instead focusing on ceviches, fresh fish, aji (hot peppers), farro, and fritada — seared chicken pieces served with purple potato chips, pickled onions, white hominy, and fried plantains. Gurevich, who says Limón has been in the works for years, first discovered Peruvian cuisine when he visited friends doing missionary work. "What I've realized is that most people don't know a lot about Peruvian food — there are Chinese, Spanish, and French influences because of the old trade routes." Expect reasonable prices ($7-$11 appetizers and $12-$17 entrées) along with authentic Pisco sours doctored with egg whites and potent brandy. 1618 E. 17th Ave.