Friday, July 19, 2024

Shrimp ceviche at Celeste in Somerville’s Union Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Fancy comfort is how I’d describe the food at Celeste, the cozy Peruvian eatery in Somerville’s Union Square. Opened in 2018 by JuanMa Calderón and Maria Rondeau, the team also behind La Royal on Huron Avenue in Cambridge, the spot is festive but small: If there are more than 20 or 25 seats inside I’d be shocked; there’s just six bar seats, and when you eat at the bar you look into the kitchen even more so than at La Royal, which has a similar layout but a total different vibe. La Royal is haute cosmopolitan, whereas the mother ship is bright and vibrant with Peruvian art deco touches.

The menu is heavily sea sourced and tradition inspired. First stop, ceviche: The citrus-marinated seafood portions are large and not that pricy by comparison with other restaurants. The best bet for the curious or unindoctrinated would be the version with blue cod, squid and shrimp, but I’m enamored of the Shrimp y Mango with an “infusion” of passion fruit. The shrimp slices, done in cross sections as opposed to diced, are tender and succulent, and the citric overtones, mango and maracuya (passion fruit) add to the cool savoriness. For appetizers there’s shrimp and garlic tortillas with cheese and fried yuca stuffed with mushrooms and cheese.

On the mains there are traditional Peruvian stews and rice dishes with lamb and chicken and bean, but the briny sea is where my eyes land. There’s a simple steamed fish of the day, which also can be done vegetarian style with eggplant, and essential shrimp and rice and scallop offerings, but the way to roll is to get the true Peruvian de mare is the Tacu Tacu a lo Macho, a cross between a paella and Italian cioppino with a bounty of mussels, shrimp and squid with rice and beans in a light tomato cream sauce. Like that shrimp ceviche, it’s a big dish – almost enough for two – and for a small upcharge you can add some of that white fish. I highly suggest you do so. The seafood comes out tender and infused with the rich flavor of the broth, with wafting steam that’s practically hot-pot-esque. Like that steamed fish entree, the Tacu Tacu has a vegetarian option.

Got room for more? The Mousse de Lucuma is sublime. Lucuma is a mangolike tree fruit, and the whipped mousse comes with adornments of fresh seasonal local fruits. I don’t know the caloric or sugar count on one of these cups of cool blissful creaminess, but I could see myself going to town on a row of them. Drinks are a thing here too. I fell in love with the egg cream at La Royal; Celeste usually has a classic Pisco sour, a brandy and citrus-styled beverage with a foamy crown that’s perfect for the summertime.

Given Celeste’s small footprint, reservations are highly recommended. That said, it is summertime, when the city empties out and Celeste nearly doubles its capacity by setting up a seasonal street side patio on Bow Street.

Celeste, 21 Bow St., Union Square, Somerville

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Like pizza? Pagu in Cambridgeport hosts summer pizza pop-ups starting Thursday. The $52 seatings include some mix of shareable appetizers, a pizza buffet, a drink menu using Spanish and Japanese flavors and dessert – the event is off to a confusing start but will likely be delicious. It’s listed as sold out on Resy; contacted by phone, a worker at the restaurant says there are no reservations, and the meals are for walk-in traffic only.


Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.