“I have a restaurant in Boston, I cook Peruvian cuisine," the petitioner said. "Last month we ranked one of the best restaurants in the world..."
These days, Bristol is a pretty tough place to be on a diet.
The agenda at the July 12 Town Council meeting featured one establishment after another seeking licenses to open, expand service, and offer entertainment.
Generating some enthusiastic discussion among the multiple applicants was Qhali, a new Peruvian fast-casual restaurant going in the plaza at 34 Gooding Avenue where the clothing consignment Thirds used to be.
Petitioner Alicia Saldana stepped up to the microphone at the Council meeting, and, as he does for all businesses requesting licenses, Council Chairman Calouro offered Saldana the opportunity to take 30 seconds to promote her business.
“I have a restaurant in Boston, I cook Peruvian cuisine…Last month we ranked one of the best restaurants in the world. One of my friends, he owns a restaurant in Lima, and then we decided to open one here.”
“For one of the best restaurants in the world?” Calouro asked. Giggles (not his) were audible.
“Yes,” said Saldana. “My business partner, he owns a restaurant in Peru. You can check online.”
“His name is Virgilio Martinez. And the name of the restaurant is Central.”
“Well, welcome,” said Councilor Tim Sweeney. “Thank you for choosing Bristol. I think you made a wise choice.”
Several other questions were asked of Saldana, including if she had ever opened a business in Bristol before (no), where is her Massachusetts restaurant (Boston), and what is Peruvian food known for (most popularly, ceviche).
They asked her about capacity, but otherwise appeared to assume her eye-popping statement was hyperbole, and they quickly moved on from any further conversation of Saldana’s partner and his alleged global reach.
But a quick search reveals that Saldana’s statements are true.
“The World’s 50 Best” is a respected survey launched in 2002 by British magazine “Restaurant” – the leading publication dedicated to the UK’s restaurant trade. Their goal: to promote restaurants that reflect and celebrate the richness and diversity of the world's culinary landscape.
In contrast, the world’s most well-known restaurant rating system, Michelin, does not even go to Peru — or anywhere else in South America or Africa — to bestow their vaunted stars.
These days, the World’s 50 Best Restaurants is independently run, sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna. 50 Best announces its list every June, and last month, it named Central, in Lima, Peru, with chefs Virgilio Martinez and his wife Pia Leon, the best restaurant in the world for 2023.
“In recent years, Martínez and León have become global ambassadors of Peruvian flavors with a string of openings,” reads the description on the 50 Best website. “First was Mil, high up in the mountains near Cusco; then came Maz in Tokyo; and the couple are always looking further afield. Each venue combines Peruvian and local produce into unique culinary experiences.”
Let’s call it ‘best-adjacent’
Reached after the meeting, Saldana explained. “Until now, most Peruvian restaurants were in Miami.” Saldana went to school with Martinez, and Leon is her cousin. With their support, she opened Pollos A La Brasa Beto’s, which is consistently recognized as among the best place for charcoal-roasted chicken in the region. “It takes 24 hours to cook,” she said. “It’s totally different.” Beto’s also features traditional Peruvian specialties, a number of different ceviche preparations, and an abundance of 5-star reviews.
According to World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Central “takes diners through a myriad of different Peruvian ecosystems, categorized by altitude – from below sea level in the Pacific Ocean to the high peaks of the Andes. Each dish reflects the origin of its ingredients, from Dry Valley (shrimp, loche squash, avocado) to Amazonian Water (pacu fish, watermelon and coca leaf).”
While Amazonian fish are not among the offerings described in the menu submitted to the Bristol Town Council for their consideration, plans for Qhali include a healthy lineup of salads, smoothies and toasts, all true to Saldana’s (and Martinez and Leon’s) commitment to the “superfoods” that are the foundation of traditional Peruvian cuisine. The menu submitted to the Council was only part of what Saldana plans to offer — there will be more Peruvian and fusion dishes on the final version, which Bristol won’t have to wait long to see. Saldana plans to open Saturday, with an official opening event planned with the Peruvian consulate from Boston at a later date.
“People don’t really know our food,” said Saldana. “But it’s growing.”
Other establishments expanding offerings
Granted a class BV liquor license was Fabio Lopes of the Bristol Sunset Cafe, who operates the popular Hope Street breakfast and lunch establishment alongside his mother Maria and sister Daniela. Their application included a selection of drinks they hope to offer, including a grapefruit daiquiri, espresso martini, and bloody Mary, with mimosas on tap.
“We’ve been in business almost 23 years, first continuing the bakery then as the cafe,” said Daniela in support of the petition. “Sunset has been such a staple in Bristol’s history, and this is one more thing we could offer.”
Tina Micheletti, representing Pio’s Pizzeria at 381 Metacom Ave., was granted a class BV limited liquor license. Pio’s will be a spinoff of the Micheletti family’s popular Wood Street Italian establishment, Pomodoro.
“I think beer and wine go great with pizza,” said Micheletti, who says she hopes Pio’s will open in August. The councillors seemed to agree. “It’s nice to see your business thriving,” said Mary Parella.
Like his State Street neighbors before him, Bristol House of Pizza was granted a permit for seasonal outdoor expansion with alcohol service; the application included a proposed design that includes a wood-construction perimeter surrounded by planters.
A dancing and entertainment permit was granted to the Rhode Island Brewers Guild for the Ocean State Brewers Festival, to be held outside at the Pivotal Brewing Company, 500 Wood Street, on Sunday, Aug. 27 from 2 to 7 p.m.
Jordan Sawyer of Brick Pizza Co. was issued a dancing and entertainment license for his Unity Park restaurant, a local favorite since opening 18 months ago. Sawyer admits he was not initially interested in moving seats around to accommodate a band or a dance floor, but between the restaurant and the event space he is seeing an increasing demand.