Peruvian Pleasures at La Guitarra con Sazón
Sometimes I kick myself for not finding a place sooner: case in point, the new La Guitarra con Sazón on Dairy Ashford at Westheimer, straddling that part of Houston that's not quite Alief, not quite the Energy Corridor, and not quite West Oaks. If I'd discovered La Guitarra con Sazón, which opened in early April, just a few weeks ago, it would surely have made our list of the best Peruvian restaurants in Houston—a list which is running in the current June issue of Houstonia.
Alas, I only stumbled across La Guitarra con Sazón this past weekend, in search of something light to eat for lunch on a brutally hot Saturday afternoon. That's how I ended up at chef Walter Arredondo's sleek little restaurant in a non-descript strip mall, eating my way through the coolest items on his menu: a tumbler of leche de tigre, a plate of artfully arranged tiradito, a cold salad of papas a la huancaina, a glass of ruby-colored chicha morada, even a final bowl of homemade lúcuma ice cream drizzled with chocolate sauce.
It was a completely refreshing lunch, and not only because of the temperature of the dishes. Dining at La Guitarra con Sazón felt like dining with family. Arredondo clearly knew everyone else in the place, making his rounds and visiting tables between supervising the dishes coming out of the kitchen.
At one point, he jumped on the little platform stage near the front door—a stage which, I'm told, hosts the talented Cuban singer (and Houston Texans sports broadcasting legend) Rolando Becerra on Friday nights—and congratulated the elderly couple at the table next to ours who were celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary. Arredondo turned on the karaoke machine and began serenading the couple, who got up from their chairs and slow-danced to the applause of the other patrons in the restaurant.
Arredondo's singing didn't interfere with getting the food out of the kitchen quickly, white plates marching to our table in succession. "You must really like seafood," our waitress teased me in Spanish as she sat the tiradito and leche de tigre in front of me. My mother was sticking to meat and potatoes, choosing a plate of lomo saltado from the menu and leaving me to my cured fish. We split the papas a la huancaina, the only dud of the meal, as the spice seemed to have been left out of the terribly bland huancaina sauce entirely.
Every other dish, however, was perfect. The tiradito and the leche de tigre were essentially two versions of the same dish (something I didn't notice when I was ordering in a starved frenzy), though the tiradito offered sashimi-like slices of snapper in a spicy, creamy aji amarillo sauce and juicy pieces of choclo, sweet Peruvian corn, whereas snapper inside the leche de tigre was roughly chopped and topped with shoestring slices of sweet potatoes.
The lomo saltado carried that signature whiff of Chinese spices—Chinese and Japanese cuisines having greatly influenced Peruvian food over the years— the stir-fry thick with garlic and ginger. The tender pieces of steak were tossed with tomatoes, onions, and french fries that soaked up the meaty sauce, negating the need for any of the white rice served in a classic pyramid shape on the side.
Although I was full, our waitress talked us into a final bowl of lúcuma ice cream, and I'm glad she did. La Guitarra con Sazón is only the second place I've found in Houston (aside from Pollo Bravo) serving homemade lúcuma ice cream. The Peruvian fruit, which looks like a cross between an avocado and a mango, has a naturally sweet, maple syrup flavor and custard-like texture, lending itself well to dessert applications.
I'd visit La Guitarra con Sazón again just for that ice cream. But let's be honest: I'm going to be visiting La Guitarra con Sazón over and over again over the next few months to try the rest of the dishes on its menu: the mixed ceviche with crab, clams, shrimp, and more; the causa rellena that stacks chilled, buttery mashed potatoes atop chicken salad in a spicy sauce; the chaufa de mariscos filled with fat shrimp and mussels; and more of that fruity, tangy chicha morada. Peruvian food couldn't be more perfect for Houston summers and seafood lovers.
La Guitarra con Sazón, 12719 Westheimer Rd., 281-531-4401, facebook.com/guitarraconsazon