Drawing inspiration first from his grandmother Isabel and second from the flavors of Panama, where he was born and raised, Chef Gerardo Viejo started Latin American-inspired YEYÉ with his brother Ricky Viejo, who runs the front of house. Influences from Peru, Venezuela, and Mexico find their way into their dishes, too.
As the menu is ceviche-forward, with many variations on the marinated seafood dish, I began with a chef selected trio. The Spicy Tuna was the creamiest of the three with a definite Asian influence. While not overly spicy, it does boast both jalapeño and the milder Fresno chile, with a delicate sprinkling of togarashi, a chile-based table condiment in Japan, to round things out. Lucky bites contain a burst of fresh citrus.
Salmon Ponzu, while still boasting a classic ceviche brightness, had a decidedly more savory base, courtesy of a little truffle oil emulsified with the ponzu. Fresh cucumber, and the occasional pop of sesame seeds, made each bite a little different.
Finally, the Clasico: easily my favorite. Aptly named, this sea bass is doused in a bright Leche de Tigre, or Tiger’s Milk, the original Peruvian ceviche marinade. Thinly sliced red onion with a hint of ginger and cilantro complemented the citrus so well I found myself spooning up every last drop of this addictive elixir; though I’m hardly the first to do so. There is a Peruvian cocktail, often called Hair of the Tiger, made from Leche de Tigre after it marinates the fish. Genius.
Next I tucked into the Chicken Anticuchos. Smaller cubes of chicken breast, rather than one satay-like filet, are skewered and grilled. A refreshingly bracing sauce doubles down on the acid by pairing lime with red wine vinegar. Smart diners will ask for extra. Pro tip: Steal some of the accompanying root chips to scoop up your ceviche.
YEYÉ wants to be sure their vegetarian and vegan diners enjoy the same flavors as the omnivores, so several dishes have duplicates made with plant-based proteins. The most surprising? Vegetable Ceviche: the Jicama Red Agua Chile is composed of vegetables marinated in the same base as traditional ceviche, but each vegetable is sliced differently to ensure texture variation. Three-inch jicama batons remain crisp, while long, delicate half-moons of cucumber yield to the acid in a manner that mimics the texture of fish. Baby tomatoes deliver sweetness and pop, while a duo of red and watermelon radishes add not only beauty and color but also varying degrees of peppery bite. A finish of red onion and cilantro ensure this dish eats like a true ceviche and not a marinated salad.
The Arepa “Reina Tempehada” is a vegan take on its chicken counterpart, Reina Pepiada. YEYÉ’s plant-based version is filled with edamame, avocado, and as the name would suggest, tempeh. A delightfully plump arepa (think dense cornmeal bun) is charred to perfection on a plancha before it’s sliced in half and filled. A cilantro lime salsa brings a welcome salinity that complements the lingering corn flavor of the pillowy roll.
I’ve saved my personal favorite for last, the Shrimp Chaufa Rice. Much loved throughout Peru, chaufa was popularized by the large population of Peruvians of Chinese ancestry. The intoxicating aroma of the crispy onion topping primed my taste buds and appetite for the entire meal. While most versions of chaufa are cooked in a wok, Chef Gerardo prefers not to, choosing instead to bring out the smokiness by allowing sugars to caramelize in a saute pan. Whatever alchemy he uses to realize his version of wok hei, the smokiness pairs well with the sweet shrimp and rice grains that achieve the perfect balance between independence and cling.
Until we are able to travel again, rely on the deft hands of the Viejo brothers to transport you to Central and South America without ever leaving home.
YEYÉ • 65 Bath Street, Providence • @eat_yeye