Costanera spices up Montclair’s culinary scene with an interesting, authentic Peruvian menu, but the newbie hasn’t quite worked all the kinks out just yet. The BYO restaurant, which opened in May in the space formerly occupied by Udupi, shows bright and low spots, both on the plate and off. Chef Juan Placencia is certainly no stranger to the kitchen, having trained at the Culinary Institute of America and held posts at three of New York City’s most notable restaurants: Jean-Georges, Del Posto, and Gramercy Tavern. Several of the dishes from Placencia’s mainly seafood menu showcase his expertise with fish, particularly the Tiradito Tradicional ($14), a Peruvian mahi mahi sashimi which is sliced thin and dressed with a citrus-based aji rocoto cream. The lovely, light dish is refreshing, with bright, clean flavors more reminiscent of a ceviche than a Japanese sashimi.
Costanera, surely the most exciting new restaurant in New Jersey, will beguile you. This is one of those oh-so-humble-and-nonchalant places that turn around and stun you with a crisply executed vision of cuisine. The kind of place that takes off its sunglasses to reveal a celebrity. That celebrity is Juan Placencia. Remember his name because you’ll be able to say you knew him back when. Placencia is a sort of culinary Benjamin Button, a chef who starts with an ancient cuisine and gives it youthful luster, a young and earnest chef who startlingly possesses the poise and expertise of a much more seasoned kitchen soul.
MONTCLAIR’S thriving restaurant scene offers tastes of nearly every region of the world in six square miles. But South America has been woefully underrepresented. In May, with the opening of Costanera, the town finally got what places like Kearny and Paterson, catering to their clusters of immigrants, have long enjoyed in abundance: authentic Peruvian cuisine, with its distinctive flavors.