The Lemon Tree (207 Gray St, 77002, 713-655-0430) recently opened a branch closer in to the city center, and I stopped in for an lunch over the weekend. The descriptions on the menu were fairly simple. But when our food arrived, it was almost a shock to see it plated so nicely, with the portion sizes so large.
My dining companion got the Tacu Tacu Lemon Tree ($15), which alone was enough for two people. Traditionally, tacu tacu was a way for families to fix leftovers, but it has evolved into something that can be haute or homely. Abuelita's tacu tacu was just rice and beans seasoned and fried together, topped with eggs and steak with a parsley seasoned beef broth. The Lemon Tree's tacu tacu added roasted tomatoes and french fries, and the meat and tomatoes were grilled instead of fried. It was a huge portion and an excellent take on this simple dish.
I got an order of the ceviche mixto, or mixed seafood ceviche, with a side of fried yuca. It was excellent. Seared with lime versus being cooked all the way through, the fish was of excellent quality and near melted in your mouth. It was tossed with shrimp, chopped mussels and red onion, served on top of a bed of sweet (but formerly frozen) corn and cooked sweet potato. The mussels were a nice change from most ceviche I've had in town, but the squid rings, which are usually a welcome addition, were a bit on the rubbery side. Regardless, it was delicious, and the yuca was perfect for mopping up the broth.
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My only exposure to real Peruvian food either has been in my family's kitchen, or some hybrid version from a restaurant that serves Central and South American fare. Growing up, I hardly even knew the names of any dishes, as you just ate what you were cooked. So it was pretty exciting when I found about the Lemon Tree, and even more exciting when I found out about the location in Midtown. I can't wait to try the rest of the menu.