The sound of rapid-fire Spanish fills the room, paired with the steady hum of servers sliding through the narrow space to deliver vibrant plates of food on earth-toned dishes that evoke smooth stones. Behind the bar, shelves lined with bottles with colourful labels, drinks are shaken and poured by two men in tropical-patterned shirts. Big explosions of lush green plants break up some close-set tables and the walls are covered in warm-toned wood - in some spots with a soothing curve where they meet the ceiling.
This is Suyo, a modern Peruvian restaurant that officially opened on Aug. 25. And it feels like home.
The concept of 'home' is a large part of Suyo's story. The restaurant, which is the work of Ricardo Valverde (Chef), James Reynolds (General Manager), Max Curzon-Price (Bar Manager), and Felix Ng (Director of Operations), takes its name from a South American Indigenous word that means “homeland."
Valverde, who came to Canada from Peru at age 18, drew acclaim in a previous role as the head chef at Ancora, a Japanese-Peruvian spot with locations along Vancouver's False Creek and in West Vancouver's Ambleside. But Valverde explains he quietly exited Ancora during the pandemic and took on a few different roles in the industry, before stepping back altogether in time to welcome his first child, a son born earlier this year.
It wasn't long, though, before Valverde was pulled back into Vancouver's ever-evolving restaurant scene when the space at 3475 Main St in Mount Pleasant became available. The former Slickity Jim's - an irreverent long-standing brunch staple - closed down there in early April. Valverde and his team inked the deal and set to work gutting the space to turn it into the resulting contemporary and welcoming space.
Despite being open a short time, Suyo has already proven a beacon to Vancouver's Peruvian community. Reynolds admits Valverde has been a little nervous about serving his menu of Peruvian classics with a modern twist, however, if the smiles shared between the chef and many tables of Peruvian diners the evening I visited for dinner are any indication, there's nothing to worry about.
Food and drink: What's on the menu at Suyo
Valverde's dishes offer an approachable insight into contemporary Peruvian cuisine. The starter section of the menu is anchored around the ceviche bar, with several iterations of the seafood dish, including a Classico (sparking familiar notes to Valverde's days at Ancora) with the catch of the day - in this case, luscious Haida Gwaii Halibut - with two kinds of Peruvian corn, big pale kernels of choclo and crunchy toasted cancha, in a gently spiced leche de tigre (tiger's milk) citrus marinade you'll want to savour in generous spoonfuls.
Other ceviche options include the Nikkei, which showcases Peruvian cuisine's Japanese influences, while diners can also kick off the meal by tucking into plates of big, fluffy yucca fries.
There are other global flavour influences in Peruvian food, and Valverde has put a spotlight on some of those in his dishes at Suyo. For example, a ravioli dish features a silken pasta pocket holding tender shreds of chicken and crunchy bits of cashew and a sauce you'll want to keep dragging morsels through. The filling draws inspiration from a traditional Peruvian chicken stew. The Ensalada Rusa, which translates to Russian Salad, Valverde re-imagining in a deconstructed format, with orbs of roasted beet, tender roasted baby carrots, and a smoky aioli made with rutabaga.
Guests can also order up a whole fish for the table, but carnivores take note, the Lomo Saltado is not to miss. You'll see the flames leap around the pans in the semi-open kitchen as the chef deftly jiggles the pan to stir fry pieces of near-unctuous AAA Canadian beef tenderloin, which are then paired with onions and tomato and a rich sauce with thick wedges of potato and a side of rice.
For dessert, just a few simple offerings, including a chocolatey version of the classic tres leches cake.
Over at the bar, Curzon-Price has created an exciting cocktail menu deeply drawn from Peruvian flavours and culture. Of course, they're doing classic Pisco Sours, but you can also sip your way across the varied terrain of Peru through several drink options.
Though I segued to wine with my meal (featuring a number of well-paired pours from a list that includes selections from B.C., the western U.S. states, and much of South America), with dessert I returned to cocktails with the Oro, which was crafted in homage to the Incans devotion to mining gold from the mountains in a no-market economy for use in dazzling artistic displays. Made with Bacardi Ocho, Tokaji, Granite Amaro, and brown butter, the cocktail indeed sips like liquid gold, and comes in a cool rock-like vessel of which the rim is coasted with edible yuzu flavoured gold paint and golden (ginger flavoured) pop rocks representing the sparkle of gold with gold ore.
The drink is an absolute show-stopper, and the perfect way to wrap up a meal at Suyo. Peruvian cuisine's inherent diversity lends itself to repeat visits to taste the many other modern takes Valverde is offering - the table next to me was raving about the octopus, so I know what's on my must-try list already.
Suyo is open Tuesday through Thursday for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. and the cocktail bar until midnight and Friday and Saturday for dinner from 5 to 11 p.m. and the cocktail bar until 1 a.m. Reservations are strongly recommended and can be made online.