Del Mar al Lago restaurant dishes up Peruvian culture to Park City
To Luis Ponce, Aaldo Diaz and everyone else at Del Mar al Lago, a new restaurant in Park City, Peruvian cuisine represents much more than a collection of tasty and exotic dishes.
Peruvian food, they say, is something much more special — a celebration of a culture that dates back to the Incan Empire. And to them, Del Mar al Lago is a chance to open their arms and share that heritage with Park City.
"We offer the best of this culture," said Diaz, the restaurant’s operations manager. "We are very friendly people, so more than (treating people like) customers, we make people feel very comfortable. We explain the dishes and offer the best of the Peruvian culture. Eating here is an experience. You are going to feel like you’re eating in an authentic restaurant that you’d find anywhere in Peru. More than a business, we want people to feel like they’re at home."
Diaz and Ponce, whose family owns Del Mar al Lago, speak excitedly about the history associated with Peruvian food. Explorers and conquistadors who flooded the country in the 16th century brought cuisine influences from Europe, and immigrants who followed from places such as China and Japan also left their marks on Peruvian fare. The result is an eclectic style of food that features flavors from around the world, all tied together with Peru’s Incan heritage.
"The most important thing about Peruvian food is it still has the influence of the Incas," said Ponce, who grew up in Peru before coming to the United States more than 20 years ago. "It dates back through history. That’s tradition and history. There’s a lot of history when you eat Peruvian food."
Diaz is from the neighboring Chile, which has a distinct cuisine, but said he has developed a passion and respect for Peruvian food. And he wants customers who visit Del Mar al Lago to develop their own appreciation of what the country’s dishes are all about.
"It takes me back to the past sometimes," he said. "I feel how it was for the Incas when they had this food. And I feel really grateful that I can see the culture in the food. And when I try something new, I want to pass that experience on to the customer. Because when you get something good in your life, you want another person to try to have the same experience you had. It’s very magical."
Some customers have visited Peru and are familiar with many of the offerings on Del Mar al Lago’s menu, Diaz said. But the majority of customers have never had Peruvian food, which means the restaurant’s first two months have been a particularly exciting affair for the staff, eager to share the cuisine and the culture.
But for Diaz, that has also brought plenty of nerves. He said he is constantly anxious about whether customers are enjoying their meals the first time they visit.
"We want people to be happy about trying something new," he said.
As well as the culture, a menu full of fresh, all-natural ingredients sets Del Mar al Lago apart, Diaz said. The restaurant uses as many local ingredients as possible. The menu includes dishes such as Bisteck A lo Pobre — steak served with plantains, papas fritas and rice and topped with a fried egg — and Arroz Chaufas — Chinese fried rice with a Peruvian spin. The restaurant also serves liquor and features pisco sours, Peru’s most famous drink.
"When you eat here, it’s not like we’ve got everything ready before you come," he said. "The chef is going to cook your plate in an open kitchen. The minute you order your food and we take the order back, they start cooking your food, and all the flavor and magic is happening right there."
Diaz said the restaurant has attracted a strong following so far. Many customers have returned — some five or six times. And for Del Mar al Lago, it’s simply an opportunity to draw others even further into the culture and offer an unforgettable experience.
"When they come back, we remember their names," Diaz said. "We always want to make people feel welcome again. We say, ‘Hey, how you doing? Welcome back!’ Not for business, just because the person matters to us. And it makes us feel really good (when people return) because it’s our goal to satisfy our customers’ expectations. It makes us feel really happy to have people back."
Del Mar al Lago
1890 Bonanza Drive
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Another ski season is in the books, and much to the relief of the restaurant industry, the outlook, like the weather, is looking sunny.