Destination: Peru: Lima
Astrid & Gastón
One of South America’s most celebrated chefs, Gastón Acurio has become a true ambassador for Peru through his culinary talent. The menu at this landmark restaurant calls Peru “a land of unlimited ingredients, . . . of infinite dishes, . . . country that the world is just starting to discover.” Set in a colonial townhouse in Miraflores, Astrid & Gastón has come to represent the new Peruvian cuisine, and foodies visiting Lima must have a meal here. The massive wooden doors open to an attractive bar and lounge to the right and the main dining room to the left. Despite the building’s age, the interiors have a contemporary design, with skylights flooding the rooms with sunlight during the day, large modern oil paintings on the walls and spare furnishings. (Small wine rooms have walls of stacked bottles for private parties.) The atmosphere is sophisticated yet informal, as are the diners and the food. Acurio describes his cooking as just like the new Peru: criollo, a mix of Andean, Spanish, Italian and Asian.
When I came for lunch, businessmen and well-dressed families sat near travelers who, from the looks of their hiking boots and windbreakers, were taking a break from trekking. Although Acurio has expanded his empire to Bogotá, Quito, Buenos Aires, Madrid and other cities, the emphasis here is entirely regional. Among his most popular starters: huancainos (potatoes, yuccas and corn with Peruvian cold aji-cream sauces), Peruvian seviche and tamales with deep-fried pork and stuffed potatoes. One of the main courses, named Lima’s Favorite, is hand-shredded chicken in an aji-amarillo sauce served with pecans, Andean cheese, native yellow potatoes, black olives, egg and plain rice. In addition to the many seviches, the seafood dishes include wild scallops from Paracas and sea-urchin shots (prepared three ways), while carnivores can savor delicious veal and pork leg in peanut sauce or alpaca osso bucco in a homemade curry sauce. The dishes are not light, but you must save room for a dessert like picarónes clásicos (a kind of doughnut), manjar blanco (a concoction of milk, sugar and egg yolks) or sacha tomate (a tomato filled with cream cheese, served on French toast with a tomato sauce). Reservations recommended. Open daily, except Sunday, for lunch and dinner.
Bottom line: There may be no better place for a crash course in the richness of Peruvian cuisine.
Note: Tips cannot go on the credit card bill, so bring cash.
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