ne of my favorite things about this job is getting to try new foods and different cuisines. Lately, we have been fortunate that more exotic, ethnic restaurants have been popping up around town.
Tumi Café is a kitschy yet urbane four-table restaurant serving Peruvian-style cuisine that would fit in as perfectly in New York City as it does on Beechmont Avenue in Mount Washington. While I consider myself to be knowledgeable about most food, I had never tried Peruvian before, so fortunately I had my Peruvian friend Alex join me for dinner at Tumi to give me her expert take on the fare.
Upon entering we were warmly greeted by owner Cheryl Cervay, who not only welcomed us into her café but also took the time to go over the entire menu in depth and offer suggestions. Cervay, a Pittsburgh native who now embraces Mount Washington as her home, along with some friends and family, has created a warm, embracing spot where the food is freshly prepared with an obvious love for hospitality. Cheryl, who is not Peruvian but developed a love of Peruvian food from a friend, has taken classic Peruvian recipes and, by eliminating oil and frying, created healthy home cooked dishes.
The menu at Tumi offers a nice mix of salads, sandwiches, soup/chili, entrées and sides with nothing over $8.95. Alex was anxious to try the Aji de Gallina ($8.95), which is a spicy chicken dish from her native region of Lima, Peru. The Aji de Gallina features baked chicken smothered by a creamy sauce composed of aji peppers, walnuts and parmesan cheese. Aji peppers are the most common hot peppers grown in Peru, and they pack a punch as they average 40,000 to 50,000 on the Scoville scale. While the dish was spicy, the heat was not overpowering as it blended into the smoothness of the sauce to create a very satisfying yet intensely flavorful bite. Alex thought that the dish was very well prepared and reminded her of home.
All entrées are served with Peruvian green rice, salsa criolla and surritos, which are little cakes made of corn meal, sharp cheese and black pepper. The salsa is bursting with flavor, as it is simply composed of chopped aji peppers, red onion and vinegar. The green rice features peas, corn and cilantro, but was lacking flavor and would benefit greatly by a great deal more cilantro.
I ordered Ceviche ($8.95), which is fresh, raw seafood marinated in citrus and spices. The menu offers both a tilapia ceviche and a mushroom ceviche for vegetarians. Because Cheryl is in the process of experimenting with new types of ceviche, I was treated to a duo with both the tilapia and a trial version featuring calamari.
Both were spectacular and at the price a remarkable value. Again, the aji peppers were prominently featured, along with lemon juice, onion and garlic. The tilapia was melt-in-your-mouth fresh, and the calamari was remarkably not rubbery or tough but expertly prepared. My only complaint is that the red onions were a bit too much and would benefit by being chopped into smaller pieces. The ceviche is served with either the green rice or sweet potatoes, but definitely get the oven baked sweet potatoes with butter, nutmeg, sugar, cinnamon and rum.
These sweet potatoes are killer and complement the dish much better than the green rice. As a side dish to our meal we got Papa a la Huancaina ($3.50), which is a cold dish of sliced boiled potatoes topped with a cheesy dip and garnished with egg and black olives. Alex informed me that this dish is very popular in Peru, but I fail to see the attraction. The dip was overpowering and there was too much egg for me to even taste the potato. However, I must praise the beverage we both drank with our meals. Purple corn ($1.95 with refills) was a delightful, refreshing drink made of purple corn, pineapple juice and cinnamon. The drink was sweet but just delicious and perfect for a hot summer night.
While we both enjoyed our meal very much, the real standout of the evening was dessert. Tres Leches Cake ($2.95) is a sponge cake soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk and heavy cream that is somehow light and airy, and when covered in cinnamon it was the perfect end to my Peruvian adventure. The cake and purple corn drink are reason enough to head out to Mount Washington to experience Tumi Café, but the entrées are great, too. Next time I want to try the Inchicapi soup ($3.95) with chicken, toasted peanuts, onion and cilantro, or one of the interesting salads.
There are a couple of final points that must be noted. Tumi Café features live music every Wednesday and Friday, and also has a gift shop area with cute handcrafted items and art. The proceeds from all sales in the gift shop, as well as all tips left in the café, go to the Mt. Washington Music Project to encourage and support live music.
Finally, Tumi Café is cash only (but there is an ATM directly across the street) and has limited hours, so check the website so as to not be disappointed.
Go: 2061 Beechmont Ave., Mount Washington
Hours: 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday and Tuesday.
Entrée Prices: $5-$9
Red Meat Alternatives: Everything, as there is no red meat on the menu
Accessibility: Fully accessible