Preview: Barranco in Lafayette is the latest location for Peruvian-born chef Carlos Altamirano’s growing empire

Chef/Owner Carlos Altamirano with his son showcasing a slider at the Barranco's preview party.

Chef/Owner Carlos Altamirano with his son showcasing a slider at the Barranco's preview party. (Wendy Goodfriend)

Having just opened a new restaurant six months ago, it wasn’t like Chef Carlos Altamirano was looking to open another one right now.

But sometimes, things just fall into your lap.

That was the case in Lafayette, a city in which it’s nearly impossible to find a space, unless another one closes – that is now known as Barranco Cocina Peruana.

Barranco Cocina Peruana exterior.
Barranco Cocina Peruana exterior. (Wendy Goodfriend)

On Mt. Diablo Blvd, it’s right downtown, and for commuters, it’s the first restaurant you come upon when exiting the BART station; perfect for a post-work cocktail and some small plates with friends.

“We had wanted to do something in Lafayette for a long time now,” agreed Shu Dai Altamirano, his wife and business partner, “but couldn’t find anything.”

“The landlord here loves Parada and wanted us to do something here,” said Carlos Altamirano, referring to his Walnut Creek restaurant, now two years old.

When the space vacated, the landlord invited Altamirano to come see it.

The interior dining space at Barranco.
The interior dining space at Barranco. (Wendy Goodfriend)

“We checked it out,” he said, and that was that. Barranco opened Friday, September 15.

The bar at Barranco.
The bar at Barranco. (Wendy Goodfriend)
Festive artwork in the bar area at Barranco.
Festive artwork in the bar area at Barranco. (Wendy Goodfriend)
The open kitchen at Barranco.
The open kitchen at Barranco. (Wendy Goodfriend)

Barranco is named after one of Lima, Peru’s beach districts, where seafood is abundant, and it is the seventh Bay Area restaurant owned by the Peruvian-born chef and his wife.

Paradita, in Emeryville, was the latest to open. Others include Mochica and Piqueos in San Francisco, La Costanera in Montara which had a Michelin star two years running, and the food truck and catering service Sanguchon.

Clearly opening a new place is no big deal for the chef by now; that was evident at a media preview on Wednesday September 13, where tastes of numerous dishes were on offer, and nearly every bite was delicious.

Slider at Barranco
Pork Slider at Barranco (Wendy Goodfriend)

Lafayette extended a warm welcome, by a symbolic ribbon cutting ceremony last night with the mayor and others from the Chamber of Commerce in attendance.

Ribbon-cutting ceremony at Barranco.
Ribbon-cutting ceremony at Barranco. (Wendy Goodfriend)

Fans of Altamirano’s other restaurants will recognize some dishes from his other places, but that’s not at all a bad thing.

Roberto Rodriguez, Culinary Director for Altamirano Restaurant Group, and kitchen staff at Barranco.
Roberto Rodriguez, Culinary Director for Altamirano Restaurant Group (center), and kitchen staff at Barranco. (Wendy Goodfriend)

Given that Peruvian cuisine is not as well-known as some others, what’s on the menu?

Peruvian cuisine is unique because there are so many outside influences as Asians and Europeans settled there. It is also known for some distinctly Peruvian peppers, which make their way into sauces; rocoto and aji Amarillo are two of the most well-known.

Chicken in aji Amarillo sauce
Chicken in aji Amarillo sauce (Wendy Goodfriend)

Altamirano has a farm in Half Moon Bay where rocoto peppers are cultivated specifically for his restaurants, since they are not so easy to obtain otherwise.

Given that Barranco is billing itself primarily as a seafood restaurant, there is plenty of it, but carnivores and vegetarians will find plenty to enjoy as well.

Shrimp appetizer
Shrimp appetizer (Wendy Goodfriend)

The cebiche section has four different types; a fish of the day, an ahi tuna, a mixed seafood and a vegetable version. We tried the fish of the day, presented in a shot glass, and it was wonderfully acidic and refreshing.

Cebiche presented in a shot glass
Cebiche presented in a shot glass (Wendy Goodfriend)

Causa is one of the most well-known Peruvian dishes, a kind of potato terrine lightly spiced with aji Amarillo, a fruit-foward Latin American chile, which turns the potatoes bright yellow. At Barranco it’s called causita and can be had stuffed with crab, tuna or octopus. The crab and potato made for a delicate combination.

Causita (potato) with crab on a yucca chip (Wendy Goodfriend)

The anticuchos or skewers section offers savory bites of beef heart, chicken, pork belly or Japanese eggplant. Deceptively simple but so delicious.

Anticuchos - pork belly
Anticuchos – pork belly (Wendy Goodfriend)
Pork Sparerib
Pork Sparerib (Wendy Goodfriend)

There are also chicharrones of different types: chicken, calamari, oyster and wild mushroom.

The bocaditos or “snacks” section is varied, and it is from here that we had most of our tastes of the evening. Especially noteworthy were the empanadas; wonderfully flaky dough, filled with a savory beef filling and a slight dust of powdered sugar.

Empanadas
Empanadas (Wendy Goodfriend)

We also especially loved the wontons stuffed with Oaxacan cheese, with a guacamole dipping sauce.

Wontons stuffed with Oaxacan cheese, with a guacamole dipping sauce.
Wontons stuffed with Oaxacan cheese, with a guacamole dipping sauce. (Wendy Goodfriend)

The entrée section includes two types of Peruvian seafood paella, one with squid ink; chicken in aji Amarillo curry sauce; several fish dishes and scallops with lamb and steak for those wanting red meat, and a quinoa dish as a vegetarian option.

Barranco also has a full bar, with Pisco, the Peruvian brandy-like spirit playing a prominent role. While the Pisco sour is always a favorite, there are plenty of other mixed cocktails, with all syrups and infusions made in-house. The sangria had strawberries and blueberries floating in it.

Pisco sour
Pisco sour (Wendy Goodfriend)
Sangria
Sangria (Wendy Goodfriend)

Altamirano’s story from dishwasher to empire-builder is a true immigrant success story. He began by helping out in his mother’s kitchen in Peru, feeding truck drivers passing through town. In San Francisco, he worked his way up from dishwasher to chef, to now, owning seven restaurants.

As to whether he is done building his empire, Altamirano said one or two more restaurants would suit him just fine, but he’s not putting too much thought into it; the opportunities keep coming to him.

“If I keep getting more opportunities, I’ll keep doing it,” he said.

“I love what I do.”

Barranco Chef/Owner Carlos Altamirano
Barranco Chef/Owner Carlos Altamirano (Wendy Goodfriend)

Barranco Cocina Peruana
3596 Mt. Diablo Boulevard, Lafayette [Map]
Hours: Open daily for lunch from 11am-3pm; for dinner Sun, Tue-Thu from 3pm-9pm; Fri and Sat from 3pm-10:30pm. Closed Monday for dinner.
Facebook: barrancokitchen
Twitter: @barrancokitchen
Instagram: barrancokitchen
Price Range: $$ entrees between $19 and $38, with most in the $20 to $30 range.

Window signage at Barranco Cocina Peruana.
Window signage at Barranco Cocina Peruana. (Wendy Goodfriend)
Preview: Barranco in Lafayette is the latest location for Peruvian-born chef Carlos Altamirano’s growing empire 17 October,2017Alix Wall

Author

Alix Wall

Alix Wall appeared in her hometown paper in Riverside, California as “Chef of the Week” when she was 15 years old, and in high school, she founded “The Bon Appetit Club.” After working as a journalist for many years, Alix became a certified natural foods chef from Bauman College in Berkeley. While she cooks part-time healthy, organic meals for busy families, she is also a contributing editor of j. weekly, the Bay Area’s Jewish newspaper, in which she has a monthly food column. Her food writing can also be found on Berkeleyside’s NOSH and in Edible East Bay. In addition to food, she loves writing about how couples met and fell in love, which she does for The San Francisco Chronicle’s Style section and j. weekly. In 2016, she founded The Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals. She is also writer/producer for a documentary-in-progress called The Lonely Child. Follow Alix on Twitter @WallAlix.

Author

Wendy Goodfriend

I am the Senior Interactive Producer for KQED Food. I have designed and produced food-related websites and blogs for KQED including Bay Area Bites; Check, Please! Bay Area;  Taste This; Jacques Pepin’s websites; Weir Cooking in the City and KQED Food. When I am not creating and managing food websites I am taking photos and video of Bay Area Life and designing online navigation systems. My professional education and training includes: clinical psychology, photography, commercial cooking, web design, information architecture and UX. You can find me engaged in social media on Twitter @bayareabites and on Facebook at Bay Area Bites. I can also be found photoblogging at look2remember.

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