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Popular Brings Beautiful Peruvian Flavors To Lower Manhattan

Food and drink at POPULAR, a new collaboration between award-winning chefs Diego Muñoz of Lima, Peru … [+] (top left), and Chef John Fraser of New York City (top right)


Ian Schrager is a legend of New York City nightlife. So when he announced the launch of his own PUBLIC Hotel back in 2017, expectations were sky high. The 367-room property in Manhattan’s Lower East Side did not disappoint, delivering on its promise to provide sleek and stylish luxury at an approachable price point. Now it’s undergone a significant upgrade, including the addition of Popular—the city’s best new outpost for Peruvian food and drink.

A transportive oasis draped in verdant foliage, the space showcases an exciting collaboration between chef Diego Muñoz—the visionary behind Astrid & Gastón in Lima, Peru—and Michelin-starred chef John Fraser, a frequent Schrager collaborator. The menu features a parade of highlights including bright and acidic offerings from the ceviche bar, and tender, succulent proteins rolling off of a wood-fired grill.

Fans of the native spirit of Peru will want to spend a significant amount of time exploring the Cantina and Pisco Bar. Shelves here are lined in a colorful combination of bespoke infusions, comprising perhaps the most expansive collection of Pisco anywhere in the city. The concept fills a particular flavor niche that had been surprisingly underserved in the borough.

In an exclusive interview with Forbes, Ian Schrager and chef Diego Muñoz shed some light on what brought them together and what you can expect from one of the city’s most exciting new eateries.

A room with a view at Popular in Manhattan’s Lower East Side

Nikolas Koenig

What made you choose Peruvian cuisine for the hotel’s signature restaurant? 

Ian Schrager: Peruvian food is a little bit misleading, because it’s really a global food, it’s really a world food. It’s because of all the different waves of immigration that Peru had over the years and the influence that they have had from Asia, including Japanese and Chinese, and European—like Spanish, Moorish and Italian. When you combine all these things, Peruvian food is really a world food. And, by the way, it’s also very, very healthy and based upon fresh vegetables and fish and things that are very current with what people really want today, but it’s done in a tasty and delicious kind of way. It just seemed like a modern and appropriate cuisine [for the space] and it didn’t seem to have any big inroads into New York City, which is one of the food capitals of the world. I just thought it was perfect to introduce to New York, instead of the usual suspects and go outside the box and find something new and original. 

Why do you think this cuisine is especially relevant now for New Yorkers and travelers?

IS: I think that everyone is concerned about their health and well-being and eating properly and rightfully so. It’s so funny, over the summer, when I would be walking on the beach—it’s a long walk—I would be seeing not that very many thin people. And it was a little bit discouraging to me. And then when I came back to New York City, downtown, finally I saw some thin people again. I just think everyone is very, very concerned about well-being, eating appropriately and living the right life. And I just think that this kind of cuisine is just perfect for that because it is very healthy. That’s a side benefit that we didn’t even anticipate. 

What makes Chef Diego Muñoz’s collaboration with Chef John Frazier unique?

IS: It’s such a great and obvious idea. Any great chef is going to be focused on the originality and how great food is put together, getting the greatest elements, the greatest ingredients, and getting all of those in the local markets and knowing where to get them. Somebody, like chef Diego, might have to go through a learning curve with that. Getting an operations manager to run the front of the house is not going to be somebody that’s going to be on the same level with the same intensity and the same inspiration as a chef who is in the kitchen and preparing the menu. To get Chef Diego to focus on the food, which is really why we brought him here, and then to get another great chef with John Fraser, to be able to implement it, execute and extend the idea of the food into the restaurant and the way it’s served and present it to the guest just makes for a completely seamless, holistic experience. It’s one of those obvious ideas that are so apparent, but I think everyone overlooks it. I think a great chef serving a great chef’s food is a one plus one makes three. It’s almost like the perfect storm for a restaurant. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it’s something we’re going to be doing going forward.

Chef Diego Muñoz


What sets Peruvian cuisine apart from other cuisines?

Diego Muñoz: I believe what makes Peruvian cuisine unique is the confluence of many things. In chronological order I will say the richness of documentation and appreciation of the pre-Hispanic Peruvians towards food all over this diverse territory. It changes from a really rich Pacific Ocean coast with two different sea currents, a long and arid desert, up through the Andes and over the vast Amazon. They were able to domesticate and deal with produce from all over the empire, from the south of today’s Colombia to the Maule River in Chile. 

Then the Spaniards arrived, bringing new produce and their own flavors that were already deeply influenced by the Moors, as well as African culture with its own gastronomic heritage. Then the Chinese came over and added more flavors and different culinary techniques. After them, some Japanese settled and added to the mix and, in the last century, a small, but culturally powerful wave of Italian immigration settled in Peru. All this adds up to what our gastronomic heritage is made of, a melange of all these different cultures that blend together in a very rich and diverse territory.

How have guests responded to your culinary vision?

DM: We tried to bring our version of our classic cuisine concepts as a starting point and went from there. Of course, there was a lot of fine-tuning and adaptation to the local palate, cutting down a bit on the intensity of flavors and adapting the concept to great local produce. My feeling is that our guests have taken to it very positively. I think our excitement and enthusiasm is felt in every dish. We are very thankful and humbled by this fantastic opportunity.

What are the five most popular dishes at POPULAR?

DM: Ceviche Clásico; Ceviche Elegante; Chicken & King Crab Causa; Pork Char Siu Fried Rice with Prawn Tamago; and Lomo Saltado.

What was the inspiration for creating a bar that exclusively features Pisco-based cocktails?

DM: The inspiration for our Pisco Bar was Lima’s cantinas and tabernas of the last century, where Pisco was poured straight or mixed into cocktails. Some of them are still in business in our capital city and some other emblematic ones are in different regions.

How have guests responded to these cocktails?

DM: I feel the response has been fantastic. The Pisco Sour is an automatic order, but we have also put together a very cool Chilcano program and other Pisco cocktails as well, which have been very well received by our guests. Our team is constantly being trained to share their knowledge of different Piscos and use great cocktails as a way to enhance our guests’ appreciation of the spirit. Most of the producers of the Piscos that we serve have visited the bar and provided the team with outstanding training and a deep understanding of what Pisco is all about.

Why do you think Pisco will be having its moment to shine?

DM: One of my biggest hopes is that Pisco plays an important role in the New York City bar scene. I think we are at a pivotal moment in terms of the quality of Peruvian restaurants that are doing a fantastic job in the city right now, with great bartenders behind their bars in places like Mission Ceviche, Llama Inn, Llama San and the newly opened Contento, and great Piscos are now being made being available by spirits distributors in New York State. I think all of us have the same passion to share our culture and encourage our guests to enjoy it.

Sticky Prawns with toasted peanuts from the wok

Liz Clayman

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