Three chefs are igniting the culinary explosion that makes Lima the gastronomic capital of Latin America, with 4 spots on this year’s list of the world’s top 50 restaurants. Astrid y Gaston, one of Gaston Acurio’s numerous restaurants, holds down one of those spots with its 17 course tasting menu. Trained at Cordon Bleu, Paris, Acurio is a champion of ‘cocina novoandina’, new Andean cuisine, seeking out traditional ingredients, from jungle forest to altiplano, putting them together borrowing ideas from Peru’s cultural influences – indigenous, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese. The result is a wonderful palate of new tastes. Acurio’s cooking school, in a scruffy part of Lima, is training the next generations of innovators with 450 applicants for its annual intake of 25 students.
Every restaurant we eat at has menus in English, but we’re never quite sure what we’ll be served. The unique local fish, fruits, herbs and vegetables (including 3,500 types of potatoes and 29 different kinds of corn) don’t translate – fruits like lucama, chirimoya, pepina, camu camu, tumbo. Fish with names like caballa, cabrilla, chita, mero, lenguado, among many others. Ordering is an adventure.
We’re in the mood for something more casual than the Astrid Y Gaston three hour experience, and reserve at La Barra de la Moreyra, his open kitchen dining room. The ceiling is hung with air plants from the Amazon, the menu changing to reflect what’s in the markets and his garden.
Our server warns us that main course portions are meant to be shared and we order the herb crusted roast of pork for the three of us. It will take 50 minutes to cook and we foolishly order three starters – black quinoa with octopus, cannelloni made with strips of zucchini instead of pasta, and sea mushrooms.
Unfortunately, the warm breads are also delicious.
Our mouths fall open when the pork roast arrives – stunning and HUGE. Sliced into four 2″ thick rosy pink pieces, it is glorious, fork tender, juicy perfection. But even Mark’s outsize appetite is no match, and, to his very real dismay, one slice goes back to the kitchen. He will have bad dreams about this more than once.
Did I mention that restaurant checks in Lima are about 1/3 the bill at a comparable place in the U.S.?
For more on Acurio – www.astridygaston.com