Must-try restaurant alert! Runa, which means people, is a winner. The restaurant opened in September 2014 and features the food of owner/chef Marita Lynn’s native Peru. Her website states, “All dishes are made with fresh, seasonal foods that are locally sourced and delicately crafted.”
This small storefront restaurant, across from the Count Basie Theater is cheery with colorful walls in bright-blue and bright green decorated with stunning surreal art from a Peruvian artist. Wood floors and tables are set with brown napkins and one wall has a banquette with colorful pillows.
Crispy potato chips, rather than bread, were served with a slightly spicy aioli and they were so good we asked for a second serving. Olive causa was a tri-layered dish with room temperature mashed potatoes and purple Peruvian olives as a base with shrimp salad in the middle and a topping of finely chopped red peppers. La Huancaina, also contained room temperature sliced potatoes topped with a creamy cheese and aji amarillo (yellow pepper) sauce. The empanadas come four to a serving and we opted for beef, chicken and vegetable. An aji amarillo pepper sauce gave them some kick. All of the empanadas were crispy and equally delicious; comfort food at its best.
There were five ceviches, which is the national dish of Peru, and we opted for the sliced shrimp, artichokes and mahi mahi in a citrus-based marinade with a vibrant lime flavor. Crunchy pieces of large-kernel Peruvian corn and sweet potato added color and texture to this dish. A juicy and crispy organic rotisserie chicken marinated in Peruvian spices was served with rustic potatoes, homemade salad and aji sauces; we found this dish was worth trying, although we prefer not to order chicken out as we eat so much of it at home. Chaufa Mixto showcased the influence that Chinese immigrants had on Peruvian cuisine. Fried rice was combined with chicken, beef, shrimp, mussels and tender calamari topped with shredded crispy wontons and a side of pickled daikon radish. Each component stood out and was passed around the table many times; a stunning dish with many textures. A thick serving of seared mahi-mahi filet with dried aji amarillo pepper, cilantro and corn beer sauce served with fried plantains and white rice was also a hit.
Somehow, we found room for two desserts: a creamy quinoa Flan made with dark sugar cane and a rich bread pudding topped with a lucuma mousse (a subtropical fruit).
Since there are many interesting dishes at Runa, try to go with a large group so you have the opportunity to share. We found the spice level of the dishes to be mild and there was not a clunker among them.
Chef Lynn is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. She trained and worked at Jean Georges, Daniel Boulud’s Feast and Fetes Catering, The Ryland Inn, and The Bernards Inn. Also, a shout out to our waiter Dave, who was extremely knowledgeable about the menu and provided us with exceptional service. Check out his tats.
Runa is open for dinner from 5 PM Tuesday through Sunday.
110 Monmouth Street
Olive causa with a base of mashed potato and olives, shrimp salad in the middle and a topping of finely chopped red peppers.
Photo courtesy of Lowell Saferstein
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