A little background…
Jose and I were fascinated with Peru and it’s culinary potential so naturally we had to incorporate it as part 2/2 of our honeymoon, first part being Japan. (Japan roundup post and an additional post on Peru to come soon…) The food adventures up to this point were all mind blowing. Tokyo and Kyoto offered up refined and beautiful food with an emphasis on product perfection. After 2 weeks of exploring dishes that feature only one kind of seasoning or featured spice our palates had grown more sensitive and often times we found ourselves craving that punch of flavor in the mouth. There is no doubt that Peru delivered on flavor. Night 2 in Peru we had a reservation at the famous Astrid & Gaston. We heard from some people that it was slightly cheesy and somewhat dated so we went into this experience with lower expectations. After the first couple dishes it was clear that the above sentiments were not going to tarnish our meal. . The experience was magical and quickly made us forget about our jetlag. Astrid & Gaston was without a doubt the most memorable meal we had in Peru and one of the top five from our 3 week trip. I’ll Let Jose explain in his words more about the meal.
My uncle used to tell me that I had a very narrow view of the World. I was always confused when he said that, because at that time I had just graduated, I had traveled around Europe, and I enjoyed all that Madrid had to offer. I was under the impression that I knew it all. But, oh well, I have discovered that my uncle couldn’t be more right. Dining at Astrid & Gaston actually leaves with you a similar feeling — a feeling that the ingredients and sensations we are used to in Europe, Asia or North America are just the tip of the iceberg and there is so much more to discover.
The menu at A&G is in fact called “El Viaje” (The Journey. Themed From Liguria to Callao, 100 Years of Flavor) a metaphoric trip to discover what Peru has to offer, seen from a perspective of an immigrant child of Liguria, who embraces the culture of Peru gradually, without forgetting his Italian roots.
This “Viaje” represents the capacity of Gaston Acurio and his team to conceptualize almost any topic from a Peruvian perspective. In the same way Albert Adria conceptualizes Peruvian/Japanese cuisine with a Mediterranean touch at Pakta, or almost any type of cuisines at 41, Gaston takes the Italian influence to Peru and creates a menu that really showcases Peruvian ingredients and years of overseas influence. It is hard not to compare both chefs. Both have a multi-course “new molecular” tasting, but don’t get me wrong — with the molecular techniques, in these cases, they just serve to emphasize the flavor and Peruvian ingredients, without using all the unnecessary smoke and mirrors, to make things look what they are not.
The menu at Astrid & Gaston is not only limited to food. El Viaje, that was created with the support from Massimo Bottura, El Bulli alumnus and other artists, is surrounded by a specific sound track, dishware, and a menu with pictures about the Lima of the early century and other media. I have to say that these surrounding elements help to build the story of the the Italian Viajante, but at the same time they might come across as a distraction and cheesy. For example the menu is presented in a kind of leather wallet with CDs with some media and the soundtrack that is playing during dinner. In my opinion there is too much paraphernalia, and who has a CD player at home anymore?
But don’t be fooled by the shiny silverware, soundtrack, leather menu box, figurehead dishes or dressed up waiters. And don’t believe that Gaston Acurio now is only focused on chefs’ conventions or rankings. The food at Astrid & Gaston is an eye opening combination of Peruvian ingredients perfectly integrated with Mediterranean ones — intense flavors, textures and techniques, making this restaurant quite unique and like no other. The evolution of El Bulli into the next culinary frontier: South America.
Onto the Dishes and not better way to start the journey than with a Negroni:
Along with the gnocci with papa amarilla, lard, huacatay and mushroom, this concha dish was our favorite of the night. A perfect harmony of of Peruvian products concha / scallop in its coral broth, topped with melted parmesan cheese.
The result from El Viaje might come across as theatrical, but behind the story of this Italian immigrant there is a solid and unique cuisine and a chef able to conceptualize almost anything, using some of the most promising ingredients and culture: the Peruvian one. Unlike the Spanish Conquistadors that spoiled South America, Peru has embraced multiple cultures from Asia and Europe, taking the best from them without forgetting their roots. This has brought to life one of the most a unique and rich combinations, and no one else is able to express it like Gaston Acurio.