On the unassuming Bow Street in Somerville is an equally modest, small brick building. A step inside reveals another reality: A sky blue floor, from which the restaurant gets its name; custom-made art on white walls glowing with a faint, purple hue; and the sound of Peruvian “salsa dura” crackling like a vinyl.
Celeste, which means “light blue” in Spanish, showcases the history of Peruvian and Andean culture through refined, home-cooked meals made from fresh ingredients. The restaurant opened on Mar. 8 after the success of film-maker and chef JuanMa Calderon and architect and general director Maria Rondeau’s Peruvian pop-up, Kriollo Real, which was situated in their Cambridge home. Along with writer and bar producer Paola Ibarra and artist and creative director Juan Obando, this team of creatives has carefully curated or commissioned every element—its music, artwork, and flavors—to tell a unified story of Peruvian history and cuisine.
Seating no more than 24 people at a time, Celeste gives an intimate look into their open kitchen of three chefs. The dishes are served right off the grill—or in the case of ceviche, a staple in the Peruvian diet, right from the fridge where it has been denatured with lime. Celeste has perfected its “ceviche de blue cod” such that the citrus is infused within each tangy bite of fish. Raw red onions and roasted corn kernels—both of which seem to be regular garnishes—give an accompanying crunch without distracting from the center of attention.
Its “causa de pollo” is another refreshing take on a traditional classic, one that already has over 3[,]000 varieties. Sticking to its roots, the dish is still a seasoned mashed potato terrine “pie" but instead of the usual tuna layer, it uses chicken. Light and chilled, Celeste’s causa is a smooth palate cleanser that melts in the mouth and prepares the stomach for heartier dishes to come.
Because the menu holistically captures Peruvian history, many dishes also reflect the 19th century Chinese immigration to Peru. “Lomo saltado,” for example, is a stir-fry of tenderloin beef, tomato, and onion that takes the Chinese cooking technique and spikes it with a citrus flair. Other plates are more explicit about their influence: “Sudado de pescado” is “steamed fish Peruvian-Chinese style,” and their quinoa salad features watercress, a plant native to Asia. This blend of cultures is at its peak in the food, as the shared spiciness effortlessly brings the two together for a unique and piquant taste.
The servers and team behind Celeste have created a sensory, immersive experience that they eagerly share with their guests. They do not diverge much from the traditional recipes but instead execute them to perfection, such that each bite of citrus-infused meat is another step along the Peruvian culinary path. The small room creates the perfect, intimate space to guide their diners and transport them—not just their tongues—outside of the restaurant’s white walls in Somerville.
— Staff writer Kaylee S. Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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