Peri-Peri brings spicy taste of South Africa to local residents
By Kelley Carlson
Restaurateur William Sussman has spiced things up on the North County dining scene with the addition of Peri-Peri.
The dining establishment – named after its signature fiery sauce — opened March 1 in the Torrey Highlands Village Center, at 7845 Highland Village Place, Suite C101, in San Diego, 92129.
“We’re looking forward to giving San Diego’s South African community a taste of the traditions they love, whilst introducing these new, vibrant flavors to the local San Diego community and creating a hub of gastronomical goodness for everyone to enjoy,” Sussman said.
Peri-peri is a tradition that dates back hundreds of years. It was introduced to Portuguese explorers by indigenous Africans in Mozambique around the 15th and 16th centuries. Originally referred to as African Bird’s Eye Chili or pili-pili (“pepper-pepper”), the Portuguese – who embraced the ingredient in their cooking — changed the name to peri-peri. Eventually, emigrants from Southern Africa began to share this culinary “secret,” and today, it’s known throughout the world.
Sussman noted that more and more often, Americans are seeking international cuisine.
“The popularity of ethnic restaurants and the variety of concepts for food in San Diego is growing on a daily basis,” Sussman said. “Having been raised in South Africa, I wanted to introduce the flavors of peri-peri to San Diegans without losing the authenticity and traditions that my family and I grew up with.”
It was while he was still in South Africa when Sussman began learning about the restaurant industry. He helped a friend who needed an extra pair of hands and eyes by performing miscellaneous duties such as hosting and bartending.
“I spent 20 years talking about owning my own restaurant,” Sussman said.
The following 20 years were spent realizing his dream. When Sussman moved to San Diego from South Africa in 1994, he opened Terrific Pacific Brewery & Grill on Grand Avenue in Pacific Beach. Sussman said the microbrewery was the fourth to open in San Diego.
In 2001, he sold Terrific Pacific and moved on to another venture – Kalahari Café, a fine dining establishment in the Gaslamp District that was cosmopolitan, with a heavy African influence.
However, Sussman parted with Kalahari in 2004 when his wife, Sharon, became critically ill, and he thought he was done with the business.
“It was more important to me to take care of her rather than the restaurant,” he said. “It wasn’t a conscious decision I made to quit the restaurant industry — it was just that I couldn’t see myself getting involved in it again.”
In the period that followed, Sussman got a real estate broker’s license and worked in that field. His wife passed away five years ago.
But Sussman was destined to return to restaurants. In December, he received a phone call from a friend, who touted a location for a possible eatery in Torrey Highlands.
“My first reaction was, it’s not going to happen,” Sussman said.
But he relented and decided to take a look at the site anyway. When he saw it was a neighborhood-friendly location in a stable area, “(I thought), this could work,” Sussman said.
“It’s in my blood; it’s what I love to do,” he added.
Subsequently, the 3,000-square-foot space was transformed into Peri-Peri, which includes a full-service dining area, bar and outdoor dining area. Head Chef Kenny Raponi, a graduate from the Culinary Institute of America at Napa, helped Sussman introduce his concept, which includes peri-peri prawns and chicken, as well as traditional South African curry dishes. There are other classic South African entrees, as well, including sosaties (a curried lamb kebab), boerewors (a traditional beef sausage flavored with coriander) and savory cottage pie.
On Wednesdays, Peri-Peri offers bottomless bowls of curry for $25 per person. The two “standards” are Natal Curry, a medium heat beef curry; and Saag Curry, a 100 percent vegan concoction with spinach, chickpeas and beans. In addition, there are three rotating varieties, which range from the creamy Chicken Tikka Masala and the spicy Madras Lamb Curry to the Murgh Badami Curry, a smooth chicken curry cooked entirely in yogurt, and flavored with ginger, coriander and almonds. Sussman ensures there are always vegetable, lamb, beef and chicken curries available.
And “every (curry) is different in character,” he emphasized.
Not only does the food boast a strong South African influence, the wine list does, too. Sussman’s daughter, Megan, a sommelier for over eight years, compiled the selections, which also includes labels from California and other regions.
Brews on tap and bottled beers from regions of Africa are available, as well.
According to Sussman, reservations are strongly recommended on Friday and Saturday evenings, and takeout is available.
Dinner is served daily; lunch is offered Tuesday through Sunday.
For more information, go to www.periperisd.com; check the website or call (858) 538-2282 for current restaurant hours.
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