November 11, 2015 – I’ve always thought that it is the serendipity of life that makes it interesting. That theory was proven to me again recently.
Many years ago I was offered an executive position in Walnut Creek, California. I flew down to spend a few days with the company. They treated me well. In spite of that, I declined the offer.
Fast forward to November, 2015. My wife and I were driving across California. It was getting late in the evening. We were hungry. Looking for a restaurant where we could get a quick meal. Along comes serendipity.
We spotted a parking place right at the front door of a restaurant. That good fortune alone stopped us in our tracks. We knew nothing about the restaurant. No idea what kind of food it offered. I didn’t even know what town we were in. We were hungry. There was a parking spot at the front door. What more did we need to know?
The restaurant was Parada. The young lady manning the maître d’s stand told us it was Peruvian. I’ve had cebiche but other than that I knew nothing about Peruvian food. We were hungry. And we had a great parking spot.
I ordered a Green Buffalo cocktail. Sounded refreshing. It arrived in a tall glass. It was green. I usually shy away from green drinks. But what the heck. I didn’t know what town I was in. I was in a Peruvian restaurant. I took a drink. Amazing. The only word for it. Made with Buffalo Trace bourbon (hence, the name), muddled kiwi (hence, the color), lemon juice, Pimm’s No. 1 and ginger beer. How can you go wrong with those ingredients? One of the best cocktails I’ve ever had.
My wife ordered one of the chef’s specials. Braised short ribs accompanied by cole slaw. I wasn’t surprised. I’ve never seen her pass up braised short ribs if they were available. The short ribs at Parada were well more than available. Barely clinging to the bone. Cut with a fork. That gelatinous texture that makes short ribs so wonderful. She was happy.
I ordered Camarones al Ajo. Large shrimp in a sofrito with garlic paste, accompanied by a few slices of French baguette. The shrimp were cooked perfectly. The sofrito, a sauce usually made with various peppers, onion and garlic, was as good as a sofrito could be made. I ate the shrimp. Used the bread to sop up as much of the sauce as I could. Then used the spoon they had wisely provided to finish the sauce. It was that good. Complex flavors. A nice bit of heat. Delicious.
Parada is the latest restaurant opened by Peruvian native Carlos Altamirano. After serving an apprenticeship at several noted Bay area restaurants Chef Altamirano opened his first Peruvian restaurant in San Francisco. In relatively quick order he opened a second San Francisco restaurant and a third just north of Half Moon Bay. That restaurant, La Costanera, was granted its first Michelin star in 2011.
As I finished the sofrito, leaving the dish looking almost clean except for the empty shrimp tails, I asked the waiter what town we were in.
Walnut Creek, he told me.
And there’s that serendipity thing kicking in. If I had accepted that job years ago, I could have been eating Chef Altamirano’s wonderful Peruvian delicacies all that time.
Well, no. Actually I couldn’t. Chef Altamirano opened Parada only four months ago.
No problem. It’s not too late. We’ll be passing through Walnut Creek again one of these days.