Chef Darwin Santa Maria and Tom Golen, chef/owner of Señor Siesta are on a mission. Donning chef jackets like culinary superheroes, these two like-minded lovers of Latin fare have paired together to bring affordable Latin street food to the Siesta Key ‘hood. Which means not just the homes, condos and businesses on Siesta Key, but also the beach itself. That’s right. . . healthy and innovative Latin food delivered to your beach chair as you take in the awesomeness of the best beach in Florida, if not the entire USA!
Chef Darwin returns to Siesta Key to turn Señor Siesta, one of SarasotaFoodies’ favorite restaurants on the Key, into a hip, quick-service restaurant that offers dine in, take-out or home/office/beach delivery of a menu featuring ceviche, tacos, salads, and stir-fry Latin street food know as Chifa. Cevichela also offers Latin twists on American fare like Chicken Wings with aji limo yuzu and a seaweed/radish mix, or maybe try one of their “My Way Saichipapas” – a crispy hot dog with bacon, and potatoes smothered in a creamy Peruvian mustard sauce.
Your SarasotaFoodies were so excited to taste Chef Darwin’s new menu at Cevichela that we were the very first guests to take a table at the restaurant. We certainly won’t be the last.
We started out sharing three ceviche dishes, from Cevichela’s “design your own” menu. Our first was the Rocoto Ceviche, with white fish ‘cooked’ in lime juice, red peppers and rocoto peppers, and a side of corn on the cob. This rendition offered a nice heat that hit you a few seconds after tasting it. The seasoned popcorn was a fun twist on a garnish.
Equally delicious on the ‘slightly spicy’ scale, was the Aji Amarillo Ceviche with aji amarillo and ginger creating the magic. The flavor from the ginger goes so well with fish, and again, the corn and popcorn added a bit of whimsy. This choice of ceviche left a hint of heat on my tongue even minutes later, making me want to order more. (Thanks, Darwin!)
Taking a different flavor profile was the Asian Ceviche; a white fish cooked in lime juice, aji limo ponzu, seaweed, and topped with a slice of mango with a chifle (deep fried plantain strip.) A sprinkling of black sesame seed reminds you that Chef Darwin is in the kitchen. . . his food always tastes as good as it looks.
Giving the “American” side of the menu a chance, we enjoyed the Cevichela’s Sirloin Burger, served on a tasty rosemary bun, and topped with sun-dried tomato aioli (who needs ketchup anyway!) pepper jack cheese, onions and crispy leaf lettuce. The burger came with a side of truffle papas (fresh cut french fries) and a side of chimichurri . . . if you like. A short step away from an American classic, Cevichela’s burger is familiar enough for your kids to enjoy it but unique enough to make it Latin Street food. Muy bueno!
My personal favorite is Cevichela’s Chifa bowls, essentially a Siesta version of Chinese stir fry. First, you pick your base, be it lo mein noodles, white rice, coconut jasmine rice or quinoa, then pick three vegetables from those listed, add a protein (chicken, shrimp, salmon or skirt steak) and a sauce. There are three sauces to pick from, the Aji “Saltado” Soy Sauce, a Thai Curry Sauce or a Sesame Peanut Sauce.
We decided to share an order and selected shrimp as our protein, with tomatoes, onions, and broccoli on top of quinoa, seasoned with Aji Saltado soy sauce. At our server’s recommendation, we stirred the ingredients together and let them dance a moment or two before we dug in. Let me tell you this: Even though this dish had soy sauce and stir-fry is a Chinese style of cooking, the Chifa didn’t remind me of Asian food. It definitely had a Latin twist to it. I’m looking forward to trying the other two sauces just to see if I’ll have the same experience.
Cevichela’s dining room looks nothing like Señor Siesta did. There is indoor and outdoor seating, and you can watch the chefs at work if you sit on the wall where the large menu is painted. There’s an amazing mural featuring a crazy looking octopus and other sea creatures on the opposite wall, painted by Gabriel Diaz. The design screams young, energetic and fun, which is the perfect description of the menu as well. Everything on the menu is under $15, with design your own tacos coming in at $3.50 each.
Equally fresh and fun will be the beer pairings that Chef Darwin will be presenting with Brew Master Tom Harris. Tom has been partnering with Chef Darwin on the Cevichela Project, a series of pop-up dinner at Café in the Park restaurant located in Payne Park. Now the pair will co-create at Cevichela at Señor Siesta, presenting dinner specials where you buy your meal and the craft beer paired with it is free. Just watch their website and Facebook posts for details.
Good to see you again, Chef Darwin. Still in love with your amazing food!