Gorgeous food, or a beautiful backdrop against which to savor it? At La Mar Bar, you don’t have to choose between beautiful plating and zesty leche de tigre.
The newly updated bar of much-praised and newly rebranded La Mar Cocina Peruana opens Thursday, March 23, and its makeover is stunning. The Standard got a sneak preview of the Peruvian restaurant’s swanky new watering hole last night. Here are the most impressive details about the Embarcadero hot spot for sips and bites.
The brainchild of Peruvian restaurateur Gastón Acurio and helmed by executive chef Victoriano Lopez, La Mar is known for its wide selection of piscos, a type of brandy derived from distilled wine or fermented fruit juice and the liquor base for both Peru's national cocktail (the pisco sour) and San Francisco’s official cocktail (the pisco punch).
La Mar Bar’s new menu currently offers six cocktails with pisco, including an updated pisco sour recipe. But general manager Greg Spire says that the bar has enough selections on hand—around 24 brands—for countless variations on a pisco-driven cocktail.
“The possibilities are really endless,” Spire said.
La Mar makes its own fresh leche de tigre, the traditional Peruvian marinade for ceviche, in-house every day. The blend of lime juice, celery, garlic and locally caught halibut—believed to be an aphrodisiac and hangover cure-all in Peru—is used to create a sweet and savory, seafood-driven sauce for its gin-based Ojo de Tigre cocktail. Spire likens the drink to a more balanced Bloody Mary, meaning it’s essentially a seafood cocktail in a glass. The beverage is not only made from the base for ceviche, but also topped with a curlicue of octopus tentacle and a mini shrimp.
“Making [leche de tigre] into a cocktail is just something you never see,” Spire said.
La Mar Bar’s cocktail menu also boasts a Peruvian take on an espresso martini, called Que Bacan, spiked with a Lustau East India sherry, and a sake-based cocktail with an edible butterfly stamp printed atop a layer of foamy egg whites, called Yashashi Mariposa.
Dungeness crab, a signature dish of the City by the Bay, meets Peru in La Mar’s Cangrejo Taquito. Fresh, shredded Dungeness is tucked into a purple corn tortilla taco shell and topped with red salsa, a dollop of avocado and chalaca, a Peruvian-style pico de gallo or vegetable medley.
That fusion bar snack is probably the most “only in San Francisco” item on the menu, but you can’t go wrong with the caviar-topped Lujoso Nigiri. Each bite consists of a pillowy scallop atop a bed of slightly crunchy rice and lusciously laced with a creamy parmesan sauce. La Mar’s Peruvian take on a fondue with tender and sweet corn embedded in melted queso fresco and Gruyère is also one-of-a-kind.
There's an equally delicious ahi tuna tartare taquito, styled like a taco, on the menu too.
A handwoven wicker squid made by Peruvian artist David Goicochea hangs from the bar’s 18-foot ceiling over its elegant lounge space. La Mar commissioned the piece directly from Goicochea and imported it from his workshop in Lima. The eye-catching sculpture is 12 feet long and lights up at night.
The interior of the bar is also inspired by the fishing villages of Lima, sporting woven leather chairs reminiscent of fishing nets, shimmering aqua tiles that look like fish scales and linen sofas and teal-colored seating, all of which evokes a beachy vibe. As for the physical bar itself, custom backlit white oak shelves with steel mesh backing allow for glimpses of the bay, and the zinc countertops will patina over time to eventually create a rustic, sea-worn look.
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Christina Campodonico can be reached at email@example.com