Rosy Cerna’s first restaurant was a small Mexican place on a corner of Union Square (now Machu Picchu Charcoal Chicken and Grill, which she opened in 2000, after a stint in a Belmont restaurant. “After a few months, I said to myself, ‘Why am I cooking Mexican? I’m from Peru!” so she changed the menu, which now features “polla a la Brasa,” chicken marinated in native Peruvian spices, and other grilled meats and assorted sides. And when a larger space opened up a bit further up the street on Somerville Avenue, she jumped at the chance to expand and educate Bostonians about Peruvian cuisine. Restaurant Turístico Machu Picchu ("Peruvian Culinary Art") serves more sophisticated fare, based on Rosy’s own recipes and some she gleaned from neighbors in Peru. She named her two restaurants after the famous archeological site, because most Americans know it’s in Peru.
“I developed my menu by choosing the most traditional dishes from the different states in Peru. Many of my recipes are based on my mother’s recipes that she taught me how to cook when I was little,” the chef-owner explained. There are 25 states in Peru, divided roughly into three regions: coastal (known for its seafood, like Massachusetts), sierra (the mountains), and selva (Amazon-like territory where yucca and plantains grow). Most of Rosy’s menu is inspired by the coastal and sierra regions. “My special dish is ceviche, because I come from the coast of Peru, Lima. Ceviche is an extraordinary fresh dish and also one of the symbols of our identity.” There are seven variations on the menu, all served with sweet potato, toasted corn, and corn kernels, ranging from $13.99 to $14.99, and 14 other fish dishes, most in the $14.00 range.
The sierra region is the inspiration for her “platos criollos,” or main courses, of which there are 16, ranging from $9.99 (vegetarian lomo – sautéed tomatoes, onions, and corn, with fries and rice) to $14.99 (fried steak, plantain, and egg, served with fries and rice). Altogether there are more than 60 items on the menu, spanning appetizers, salads, soups, side orders, and a kids menu, all prepared fresh. Eighty percent of the ingredients, such as corn, toasted and purple corn, dried potatoes, beans, quinoa, and spices (like aji amarillo and huacatay), are imported from Peru.
Why did she choose Somerville and Union Square? “Somerville is where I’ve lived since I moved from Peru in 1995. It is such a great area for me because it is safe, and it is very diverse. Somerville opened its doors for me to share my culture. I like Union Square, because it is near places like MIT, Harvard, Cambridge, and Boston.”
There is live music every Friday, starting at 8 p.m., and you may find her 17-year-old daughter, dressed in Peruvian clothes, greeting people at the door. “I like to see the place full, people eating and liking my food, listening to my music, sharing things. I feel like I’m in my country,” said Rosy.
(NOTE: Rosy is one of 12 restaurateurs participating in the YUM! Project.)