By Frier McCollister

Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer

Chef Sandra Loli Lam and Mauricio Vincenzi have known each other as colleagues and friends for 15 years. They met while working at a Peruvian restaurant in the San Fernando Valley and, for years, dreamed of partnering on a restaurant of their own.

Ironically, it was the pandemic lockdown that allowed them the time and means to achieve their goal.

“We saw the opportunity in the problem. A lot of friends called us crazy,” Vincenzi said.

Open less than a month, the result of the pair’s dreams and schemes is Bodegon No. 69, located on Raymond Avenue in the space previously occupied by Meat District Co. Riding a local nascent wave of interest in Peruvian cuisine, the Bodegon No. 69 menu of classics affords the latest and most local opportunity to really see (and taste) what all the fuss is about.

While debates between foodies can often center around issues of authenticity versus creative fusion of influence and ingredients, authentic Peruvian cuisine is inevitably a natural fusion of diverse culinary influences.

Native Incan culture, Hispanic colonial trade and the generational influence of Japanese and Chinese immigrant communities meld in various dishes that exemplify Peru’s unique cuisine. 

“What is Peruvian food? It’s a Latin being married to an Asian,” Vincenzi said.

Vincenzi grew up in Rosario, Argentina, in a family of bakers and pasta makers. He looks to his partner Lam for affirmation of his previous statement. Lam is a native of Lima and her mother is Chinese.

“My grandad had a restaurant in Chinatown in Lima,” Lam said. “My aunties and my mom were very good cooks.”

Vincenzi added, “Sandra’s the real deal.”

Lam attended culinary school in Lima before arriving in Southern California in 2006. Vincenzi’s mother was a trained chef and he grew up working in the family bakery.

“You name it, I did it,” he said. “I do thank my parents for that — (the ethic) to work hard.”

Vincenzi is also a student of Peruvian history. He can explain the origins of Peru’s ethnic diversity, particularly the influx of Asian immigration, as labor was recruited in the wake of slavery’s abolition. Peru’s long-standing generational Asian community is comprised of Japanese, originally from Okinawa and Cantonese Chinese.

Ceviche is Peru’s national dish. Notably, the Peruvian version tends to differ from its Latin neighbors with the presence of leche de tigre, the milky result of a longer steep of raw fish or seafood in a marinade of lime juice, salt and garlic. The presentation includes the distinctive garnish of large Peruvian corn kernels and cancha or toasted maize.

At Bodegon No. 69, there are two renditions: clasico ceviche de pescado with mixed seafood ($18) or simply fresh fish ($17). The ceviche B69 ($22) comes topped with fried calamari.

In a similar category that calls to Japanese sashimi is the Tiradito a la Crema ($17) with razor-thin slices of fresh raw fish basking in a yellow aji pepper sauce.

Chinese influence can be found in two other Peruvian classics here: lomo saltado and arroz chaufa. Typically prepared with beef, saltado also translates to stir fry and is prepared in a wok.

The beef version ($17) is tossed with tomatoes and red and green onions and then served traditionally over a bed of french fries and rice. It’s also available with chicken ($16), shrimp ($17) or mixed seafood ($18). Vegetarian versions include saltado de hongos ($16) with mushrooms, bell pepper and tomatoes as well as saltado de vegetales ($16) with green beans, broccoli, carrots and tomatoes. Arroz chaufa is traditional Peruvian fried rice tossed with a choice of protein: beef or shrimp ($17); mixed seafood ($18) or chicken ($15).

No Peruvian menu would omit papas huancaina ($11), sliced potatoes in a the spicy green huancaina sauce, which is also served with the bolitas de yucca ($10), fried croquettes yielding a center of creamy yucca filling. Both dishes are served as appetizers at Bodegon No. 69 as is the salchipapa ($12), a street food favorite of French fries tossed with sliced sausage, mustard, ketchup, mayonnaise and aji verde sauce.

More substantial fare is available in the form of Milanese de carne ($16), a breaded steak cutlet with French fries and rice or bistec montado ($28), a grilled steak with potatoes and fried plantains.

Four stews are also on the menu, including a traditional cau cau ($14) of tripe seasoned with aji amarillo, turmeric and yerba buena. Thirsty? A cool glass of chicha morada, brewed from purple corn, cinnamon and cloves is always available, as is the staple Peruvian soda, Inka Kola.

In Latin American cultures, a bodega is a small neighborhood grocery and deli. A bodegon is the small dining operation often attached to the store. The atmosphere of Bodegon No. 69 evokes a sense of humble grace.

“When we first walked in here, the décor struck me the most,” Vincenzi said. “You have the sense of a tavern. This was the perfect canvas.”

Slowly, Vincenzi intends to enhance the interior to even further conjure a sense of Peru’s “Golden Age,” the historical period between 1900 and 1920, when Peru’s economy boomed with foreign investment, following World War I.

Bear in mind, Bodegon No. 69 is technically still in the midst of a soft opening.

“We haven’t opened officially,” Vincenzi said. “We are still in the middle of recruiting.”

Menu items may change, and the décor will evolve but there’s no need to delay a visit for some fresh ceviche or saltado. The official ribbon cutting is June 28.

Vincenzi reflected on his and Lam’s unique arrival on Raymond Avenue.

“We saw the pandemic as a perfect sign” Vincenzi said. “The city has been very respectful and very helpful. They were willing to go the extra mile to get our permitting on time. There’s a lot of respect overall from both sides. That’s something to admire. We’ve always wanted to be a part of the Pasadena community.”