In the middle of a huge trip to the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu we had one sole day in Lima, Peru. Actually, more like half a day. Neither one of us had ever been to Lima or even Peru for that matter so we were excited by the prospect of our first Peruvian food exploration...which of course is what we chose to spend our limited time on in Lima! Astrid y Gastón was the obvious choice. Not only has it been recognized as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, #35 to be exact, but everyone we knew who had been insisted that we go as well. So we made a reservation for lunch (dinner was booked 3 months out) and considered our one afternoon in Lima planned!
Originally we had intended to do the full tasting menu but when we got there and they told us that it would be a 3-4 hour experience we decided to just order a la carte instead so we still had a bit of time to explore the city before taking off on the next leg of our trip. As you'll see below we were still able to explore quite a bit of their huge menu...
First up, a little mango and sea urchin amuse bouche. Served in a crispy tortilla-like shell this was a perfect little bite with a nice juxtaposition of salty/sweet and crunchy/soft.
Next we sampled the Peruvian national dish, Ceviche. We love ceviche and have had quite a few great ceviches throughout our well-fed lives but this one immediately rose right to the top of our past ceviche experiences. Really, it's only tied with the ceviche we've had at our favorite Peruvian restaurant in San Francisco, La Mar (which we actually found out is owned by Astrid y Gastón...fabulous!) . The ceviche at Astrid y Gastón was incredibly fresh with a clean taste and delicious sauces that were each distinct yet subtle enough to not overpower the fish. One sauce was traditional lime while the other two were a bit more unique. One spicy with plantains and another with sweet potatoes and hints of mango and coconut. Absolutely divine...best ceviche we had during our entire time in Peru.
Another appetizer we tried was called "La Guerra de los Antiuochos"...tender yet crispy grilled octupus served alongside lightly fried white asparagus and shaved Peruvian olives. This was great...some of the best prepared octopus I've ever had. And the Peruvian olives almost had an intense truffle-like flavor. Wow!
We then moved onto something I have never had before...alpaca. I actually didn't even know that people ate alpaca until I came to Peru and started seeing it everywhere on the menus, but I sure am glad I tried it. The alpaca tartar was tender and flavorful with Astrid y Gastón taking a trio approach for this dish as well. The first was traditional with a bit of tabasco sauce and topped with a quail egg. The second done with a Japanese twist using wasabi and the third sending us to Thailand with some heat from thai chiles and a bit of sweetness from mango. If a pork tartar existed this is exactly what I would expect it to taste like. A bit lighter than beef tartar but full of flavor. Really phenomenal alongside those homemade potato crisps.
I've tried Lomo Saltado time and time again and am always disappointed with how boring it is...but if this Astrid y Gastón version is what real Lomo Saltado should taste like then I've been all wrong! The meat was filet mignon of organic Peruvian Ox and it was so incredibly tender that it melted in your mouth. The sauce had a rich, deep flavor that mixed perfectly with the broken yolk of the egg perched on top. Add in a few perfectly crisped french fries and you have a meal that I would eat weekly if I could find it in the U.S.! Outstanding.
Ah, Guinea Pig. It's a "must-try" for a food explorer like me since I like to connect with the local culture by eating what they eat so this was my first experience with this type of meat. In this high-end preparation I have to say it was quite delicious. The skin was beautifully crisped and flavorful, similar to what you would expect from Peking Duck. Very rich, so the small portions and acidic micro-salads were appropriate but really nice flavors...similar to dark turkey meat if I had to associate it with something we're more used to here. The sauce alongside was a pureed version of Carapulcra, a dried potato and chile pepper stew...pure comfort food that complimented the guinea pig perfectly. I think I may actually try to make Carapulcra myself sometime soon...it was that good. Check out this other post for my more authentic experience trying guinea pig the way the locals eat it!
There were a lot of yummy looking desserts to choose from, but to be honest we were feeling quite full so went with a lighter suggestion from our server. It's probably not one we would have chosen on our own but we were pleasantly surprised at the unique combination of flavors in this dish. Big chunks of mango draped in thin slices of Camu Camu (rumberry) and served on top of coconut tapioca with a mint syrup. Wonderful combination of textures and sweet, slightly bitter flavors. It reminded me a bit of the Thai mangoes with sticky rice dish with a fun Peruvian flair.
Little did we know that we would also be receiving a complimentary dessert carousel filled with 8 pairs of little cookies, truffles and gels. A nice touch, but a bit underwhelming except for one or two of the options.
Full, happy belly and a little over 2 hours later we emerge happy with our choice to forgo hectic sightseeing in order to try out Astrid y Gastón, Lima. Every dish that we ordered was truly delicious...not a bad one in the bunch and for the price (given the exchange rate) the value can't be beat. If I'm ever in Lima again I would absolutely come back here and do the full tasting menu in order to get the full experience of Chef Gastón Acurio's creativity. While I certainly haven't been to any of the other top 50 restaurants (yet!) my experience here tells me that Astrid y Gastón, Lima has rightfully earned it's spot among the elite.