"You can be mediocre and do well over on India Street," says Michael Zenteno, general manager of Sirena Gourmet (1901 Columbia St.). "Here, our concept is what brings people in."
It's a Saturday night in Little Italy. Sirena is a fusion eatery on the corner of Columbia and Fir streets. Here, the kitchen mixes Chilean and Peruvian cuisines, with a dab of Japanese. This unpretentious restaurant is a little more than half full at the moment. It's not packed like the nearby eateries on India. On the way over, my girlfriend and I had tried to stroll hand-in-hand past Buon Appetito, Trattoria Fantastica and Davanti Enoteca. But the waiting-list people on India were part of a human obstacle course.
Sirena is not as busy as it should be. Foot traffic seems to be an issue, but I take an immediate and intangible liking to the place. You can see out to the street through floor-to-ceiling glass walls. The interior is boxy, but cozy and welcoming. There's a bar (beer and wine only) near the entrance and an open kitchen in the back. Stencils of seafood, especially octopi, adorn the dark walls.
Zenteno's charm is bottomless. He's friendly and gracious, like a GM, but also peppy and cool like a neighborhood guy you want to sit at the bar and dish with. We can't decide on a wine, so he brings us three glasses to sample—a Pinot Gris and two Sauvignon Blancs. We settled on the 2014 Sea Pearl Sauvignon Blanc. It seems like it might go with nearly everything on a menu that's widely spread with tantalizing choices.
I debate going in the direction of the neighborhood pasta. It changes every few days, but Zenteno effuses about tonight's fettuccine alfredo with braised scallops and broccolini. Also tempting is the catch-of-the-day ceviche, served four different ways (Peruano, Chileno, coco and vegitariano). There are also three sushi rolls on the menu—spicy scallop, octopus and a Sirena roll that includes shrimp, scallop and smoked salmon.
My gal goes with the salmon and aji. The salmon sits on a bed of roasted sweet potatoes and mushrooms in a sweet potato puree. The fish is coated with yellow aji, a Peruvian chili paste. The paste is mildly spicy and adds just the right zing to salmon.
I haven't ordered a hunk of red meat in at least a year, but the New York steak and potatoes ropes me in. The steak rests on a bed of rosemary roasted Peruvian potatoes. It's topped by caramelized onions, a viscous chimichurri sauce and an egg (cooked to my liking, not too runny). I swiftly put away all 12 ounces.
The restaurant is about to celebrate its one-year anniversary. A weekend brunch is now on, Zenteno says. He's a big reason Sirena is now my you-gotta-try-it recommendation, and why it's my new resto besto.