Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Astrid y Gaston

And the award for the best lunch I've ever eaten goes to....drum roll please...Astrid y Gaston in Lima, Peru!

In conjunction with Oscar season and the newly announced winners, I can't help but hypothetically hand out my own awards for outstanding performances. There are so many people that deserve recognition and Gaston Acurio, chef and owner of Astrid y Gaston, is one I'd like to acknowledge, praise, and thank for an unforgettable three-hour, mid-day feast and some of the best food I've experienced in the world.

My husband and I entered a taxi at Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, Peru. The car took us along a series of congested streets, past dire poverty, a labyrinth of whirling cars and motorcycles, and then through a seemingly abandoned neighborhood of narrow corridors and ominous characters. Palm trees danced to the rhythmic honking of car horns and the howl of the gusty sea breeze.

We entered the barrio (neighborhood) of Miraflores, an upper crust district of Lima famous for shopping, gardens, flower-filled parks, beaches and restaurants. After a turbulent ride, I stepped out of the car at Astrid y Gaston, ranked the 42nd best restaurant in the world by 2011’s San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants Guide, widely considered the ‘Oscars of the Restaurant World’.

It was an honor to step into Gaston Acurio’s flagship restaurant. We were seated at a table in a cozy room, reminiscent of a 1920s style French mansion. The menu is French-influenced Nuevo Andino. Acurio features seasonal Peruvian fare, with exceptional fusion specialties. We started out with Peru’s national cocktail, Pisco sour, and perused the comprehensive menu. The aperitif was potent, properly frothed, sour and sweet. After a couple refreshing swigs, we decided on the three-hour, 12 course tasting menu to try a sampling of the best on offer.

Pisco Sours

The 20-hour braised veal cheek and potato croquettes deserves an honorable mention but as the Pacific ocean is mere meters away, the seafood certainly stole the spotlight. Highlights from the 12 course meal included...

Love Ceviche- oyster, clam, sea urchin, squid, langoustine, scallop – all served raw together with tiger milk and three different aji (chili) purées. Ceviche is Peru's most famous dish and countless varieties are available throughout the coastal regions of the country. 
Love Ceviche
Peking Cuy- Crispy Guinea Pig with chifa pickles, rocoto hoisin chili sauce and purple corn crepes. Guinea pig (Cuy) is widely eaten all over Peru. I sampled it in other Andean restaurants but this preparation was hands down the most delectable.
Peking Cuy
Sea Urchins for the Soul- squid ink-colored black noodles with sea urchins, crab essence with seaweed and a sea urchin ceviche shot. This dish was truly soulful and embodied the sweet and briny taste of the sea.
Sea Urchins for the Soul
Octopus Cilindro Style- baby octopus marinated in Anticucha sauce with purple olive bubbles and yellow potato cream. Anticuchos are a common street food that date back to colonial times. This is an elevated version that was smokey, salty, creamy and delightful.
Octopus Cilindro Style
Lima is an immigration center, a vibrant melting pot of cultures and the gastronomical capital of South America. A trip to Astrid y Gaston displays the diversity of Peruvian produce, mix of culinary styles and is a not to be missed stop on the itinerary.

Acurio is a master of melange; he incorporates the old with the new, Peruvian ingredients with international flare, formality with playfulness. He creates unique, forward-thinking dishes that will turn any foodie into a fan. Acurio is a South American superstar, largely responsible for putting modern Peruvian cuisine on the map. He's a celebrity truly worthy of a 'Food Oscar'. Buen Provecho!

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