Chef Matthew Kenney is best known for his work with raw food: He’s written cookbooks on the subject, and launched restaurants that specialize in it, such as Pure Food and Wine. So it’s a surprise that his latest venture, Bar Paya, focuses on Peruvian dishes, both cooked and uncooked. While the menu includes ceviches and tiraditos—raw preparations in line with Kenney’s no-heat philosophy—it also lists items, like braised and seared meats, that have been exposed to high temperatures. Unfortunately, our experience was just as hot and cold. One pristine ceviche featured white sea bass that had just started to become firm in the acidic lime-juice bath; a buttery tiradito of Wagyu beef, meanwhile, arrived slicked with savory red-pepper sauce. Other dishes failed to capture the brilliant flavors of Peruvian cooking. The sweetness of shrimp and lobster was overwhelmed by the citrusy guacamole in which they were mixed, while tender steak offered none of the spice-rubbed flavor the menu had promised.
The biggest failing, however, was the service. On a slow evening—sidewalk tables were mostly occupied, but there were few customers in the low-lit dining room—nearly every front-of-house faux pas was committed: water forgotten, customers abandoned for lengthy stretches, dishes dropped without silverware or napkins. The oversights were so frequent that they made it hard to enjoy lighthearted desserts like an Inca Cola float, vanilla ice cream bobbing in a Peruvian soda that tastes like bubble gum. With better service, Bar Paya might be worth a visit for a snack and a fine pisco sour; but as is, the experience is just a little too...raw.