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May 13, 2012 12:19 AM

Tumi - Peruvian Restaurant in Berkeley - Report

We went tonight for my sister's birthday. Owner Pablo Navarro greeted us warmly and was our server for the evening. Upfront, he told us they were out of the pollo brasa and one of the ceviches, as well as his own homemade chicha morada. He brought us a bowl of the addictive cancha, toasted salty corn kernels, which i tried not to finish in order not to spoil my appetite for the feast to come.

We ordered:

Fried yucca

Platanos fritos


Causa Limeña

Papas a la Huancaina

Papas rellenas

Chupe de camarones

Tallarin saltado

This was, admittedly, a LOT of food for 3 people - (although all but the tallarin and chupe were side dishes) especially when one of them is your 83-year-old dad who eats like a bird. And very potato-heavy, but we wanted to get a measure of this place, and these are typical dishes I'd order in any Peruvian restaurant. And, of course, my sister and I like to eat. We didn't order any ceviche because my dad wouldn't have eaten any of it and we were trying to share.

The yucca for me was typically prepared, which to me means it was a bit hard. My sister liked it, though. The yucca came with a little bowl of the Huancaina sauce - which had quite a bite to it. Normally Huancaina isn't all that spicy, but Mr. Navarro and his wife like their chilis - a lot! The Papas a la Huancaina, a cold potato dish served with hardboiled egg and an olive, had the same spicy sauce (obviously). I thought it needed a touch of salt, but no matter. The creamy sauce, typically made with aji panko, crackers, cottage cheese and other things, was wonderful. I loved the bite.

The anticuchos were THE BEST i've had outside of South America - and i've had a LOT of anticuchos, here and in So. Cal. Deeply flavorful, spicy (but not unbearable), tender, still pink inside, and smokey - they were fantastic. I'd go back just to order a couple rounds of this dish. Owner Navarro explained that they're marinated for 13 hours which gives them all that depth of flavor. I cannot urge you enough to get these - don't be squeamish, you won't even be able to tell they're heart.

The papas rellenas - mashed potato orbs stuffed with what is essentially picadillo and then breaded and fried, came split and laced with red onions and parsley. these were very crispy as they'd breaded them with panko - a little thicker crust than i'm used to, but they were very good - tender on the inside and very flavorful. these were not spicy at all.

he platanos were sweet and tender with a nice crisp outside, served with more of the onion/parsley mixture in a light vinaigrette.

The causa Limeña was made with crab. another cold potato starter, I know this dish to be typically made with tuna or chicken, but maybe the crab is what makes it Limeña (from Lima - where Pablo is from). My sister didn't like this dish - she thought the crab wasn't as fresh as it could have been. I liked it fine.

Pablo brought me, upon request, a bowl of their hottest aji (ah-hee) - made with rocoto pepper - which he explained they make with the pure pepper, blended, seeds and all. The other two ajis, both made with jalapeños, huacatay (a sort of black mint) were spicy too - one is made with feta cheese and a little milk, the other with just the chili and herb and a little water. The rocoto aji is really delicious - and hot. My mouth definitely felt the burn, and my nose was running, but you could also taste the wonderful pepper taste of the chili itself, apart from its own heat. Loved it.

My sister's chupe came steaming hot - a huge bowl full of a tomato-y, creamy broth with potatoes (papa amarillo, a Peruvian variety, that they buy frozen, because it's so different from other potatoes here), egg, and giant peel-on shrimp. Once the soup cooled down a bit you could taste the depth of flavors in this dish too - absolutely wonderful. This is another dish I'd come back for solely - and it's big and hearty enough to be a meal by itself.

My dad's tallarin was great, too - very much in the tradition of chifas - soy was predominant but not excessive. the pasta was perfectly cooked, the beef tender and flavorful. It's certainly the best rendition of this simple, homey dish I've ever tasted anywhere.

It is clear that Mrs. Navarro can cook (the website says Pablo is the chef, but he made it clear she does most of the cooking). I've not had better straightforward Peruvian (i.e., not fusion-y or Cal-Peruvian) food in years and years. Pablo told us that his wife is from Cusco, and, astoundingly, a self-taught cook. He himself grew up in restaurants (his mother cooked, his uncles own the Frescas in the City). They had another restaurant in Santa Rosa, and opened Tumi 4 months ago. Amazingly, they just had a baby 5 weeks ago - Mrs. Navarro only took one week off! Pablo stressed to us that she is fanatical about serving fresh, just made food - they don't reheat anything, and the ceviche is to order. Pablo is very chatty and eager to talk about their food!

There is no beer/wine yet, but there will be. He also told us they were starting to make tamales next week, and chicharrones.

A word of warning: Tumi is upstairs in the complex and there is no elevator. This was an issue for us as my father is infirm and using a cane. We took our time getting him up there, but i don't know how the owner of the complex gets away with this - especially in Berkeley. Maybe the structure is old enough, before the ADA was established? Not sure, but if you've got someone in a wheelchair, the only way they're getting up there is if you carry them.

Run over there, now!!

a few pics (sorry, some blurry)

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  1. oops, couple more pics:

    1. Nice report! I can't wait to go back and get the anticuchos--- I wasn't impressed by the one at Brasa though I've had far worse.

      You were wise not to get the ceviche w/out your dad's participation-- it's very good, but the serving size is monstrous.

      2 Replies
      1. re: hyperbowler

        oh, good to know!

        funny, we mentioned the anticuchos at Brasa to the owner here, and he said they don't marinate them long enough at Brasa, so you still get an organ-y taste to them without all the flavor of the seasonings.

        1. re: mariacarmen

          Oh, that's interesting.I've had some bad antichucos (de corazon) in my time, including some overcooked ones that I made, and Brasa's were indeed the first ones to have such an organ-y taste to them.

      2. Wasn't there a previous Peruvian restaurant in that location? And am wondering if it is related, in some way, to this new one.

        3 Replies
        1. re: arktos

          there were two previous. Fonzi's Peruvian Chicken and most recently Arriba Peru.

          i talked to Pablo when i went for lunch and he said they bought the restaurant from the Arriba owner and changed the name. other than that, not related.

          iirc, he said the Arriba owner has another restaurant on the Peninsula and was finding it difficult to manage both so decided to sell.

          Pablo and his wife are from the same family that runs Sazon in Santa Rosa, but decided to make a go of it on their own.

          if the Peruvian Tamale is on the specials, i recommend it. moist and flavorful masa. it's a pretty large ~5" x 5" square and has a whole chili hidden inside along with hard-boiled egg and your protein choice (was pork or chicken that day)

          1. re: drewskiSF

            tamale picture. it also comes topped with the salsa criolla

            1. re: drewskiSF

              that looks really good, and i'm not usually a fan of most tamales, but confess i've never had a peruvian one.

        2. The Village long predates the ADA. Fondue Fred has been there since 1958.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I kind of figured. couldn't believe Fondue Fred was still there! i went there with my mother and sister over 20 years ago, before i even lived up here.

          2. Did this place close suddenly? We wanted to try it for dinner tonight and found the restaurant looking like it had been abandoned — asked a server at the Ethiopian place downstairs if there was a Peruvian restaurant in that space, and he said he didn't think they were there anymore.

            I called the number listed on the Tumi website and it seemed to have been disconnected. Anyone know what happened? This thread is only a month old, and there was a fresh Yelp report only a week ago!

            7 Replies
            1. re: abstractpoet

              oh no!! i have no idea! we were planning a return visit next week! this makes me very sad....

              ETA: i just sent them an email, i'll report back if i get a response.

              1. re: abstractpoet

                That location is really tough. Maybe they called it quits rather than pay the June rent.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  that's such a shame. i hope they find themselves another spot nearby.

                2. re: abstractpoet

                  The restaurant in Santa Rosa that mariacarmen refers to in the OP is probably Sazon on Sebastopol Road (very good in its own right), if you want to follow up further.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    weird, your link wouldn't work for me....


                    I thought they had given that place up when they opened the Berkeley resto. I've sent the Santa Rosa location an email too, although it seems pretty obvious the Berkeley place is closed. Fortunately (for me) I'll be in Santa Rosa in a couple of weeks for a show so we'll check Sazon out. Thanks for reminding me, MW.

                    1. re: mariacarmen

                      When I ate @ Tumi, Pablo told me Sazon was his run by his family (dad, brother and him).

                      He and his wife decided to go it on their own to open Tumi and the rest of the family was still running Sazon.

                      Maybe it was too much with the new baby and they've returned to the fold?

                      1. re: drewskiSF

                        that's exactly what I was thinking. i made a res at Sazon for 6/24. we shall see what we shall see!