Astrid and Gastón: The High Art of Peruvian Cuisine

by Dave on January 30, 2012 · 6 comments

5 types of fresh breads

5 types of fresh breads

In 2011, Lima’s Astrid & Gastón was ranked #42 on a list of the world’s 50 best restaurants.

It was one of only three restaurants in Latin America to make the illustrious list, with the majority being located in Europe and the USA.

Even if I had been planning to travel in these regions, I knew such restaurants would likely be cost-prohibitive.

But since I was already on the verge of visiting Peru, where my US Dollar is worth more, the chance to dine at Astrid & Gastón immediately made my short list of things to do.

Toppings for the bread: regular butter, melted butter, and a chimichurri sauce

Toppings for the bread: regular butter, melted butter, and a chimichurri sauce

Peruvian cuisine is currently enjoying its time in the limelight, the benefactor of positive press in publications from Food & Wine to The New York Times, and the The Wall Street Journal.

Chef Gastón Acurio is the leader of this movement to bring Peruvian food to the forefront, so what better place to explore this new world then his flagship restaurant.

By the time I reached Lima, I’d already been in Peru for a month, having zig-zagged my way down the country trying to enjoy both the mountains and the coast.

Along the way, I’d slowly begun to discover common dishes such as cebiche and causa.

I then spent several weeks in Lima, both before and after my trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu.

I dined at several of Gastón Acurio’s other restaurants, including Panchita and Tanta.

I continued to literally eat all around Astrid & Gastón, even though it was just a few blocks from the apartment I was renting.

I knew I wanted to have the 11-course tasting menu (170 Soles or $63), which according to the website, would require 3 hours of my time.

I was both excited by the food I’d get to try, and petrified of being bored out of my gourd eating alone for so long.

Maracuya Sour

Maracuya Sour

The Restaurant

The day before I was due to fly back to Florida for Christmas, I made a determined walk over to Astrid & Gastón at 12:30 pm, just as the restaurant was opening for lunch.

Located on a nondescript side street a few blocks from Avenida Larco and Parque Kennedy, a doorman standing outside welcomed me in, and the adventure began.

I was greeted by a cheerful woman standing behind a large reception desk. It felt more like I was walking into a home than a restaurant.

I asked if the tasting menu was available, she said yes, and I was then ushered to a table directly in front of the kitchen. It appeared as though I was one of the first diners to be seated that afternoon.

In addition to the main room, which featured a view into the busy kitchen, there was a smaller, more private wine room, and a bar area which would be perfect for sampling cocktails and finger food.

View of the kitchen

View of the kitchen; I was seated at the table seen in the left corner.

The Food

I cracked open the oversized menu, and flipped through the options, even though I already knew what I was going to order.

Foie gras, duck, tuna, sea urchin, cuy.

And those were just the appetizers.

An interesting note featured prominently above the first page, indicating that as part of the dining experience, for 14 Soles ($5) you’d receive fresh breads and 3 sauces, a tray with 3 appetizers, and a box of 10 sweets at the end.

[Though I didn't say anything, I was soon presented with the breads, so these extras are provided, unless you state otherwise.]

To celebrate the dining experience, I ordered a maracuya sour, which I enjoyed much more than the pisco sours I’d tried up until then.

Sea snail from Arequipa with broth, seaweed, and foam of a tuber grown in the Andes

Sea snail from Arequipa with broth, seaweed, and foam of a tuber grown in the Andes

I was immediately challenged by the first plate, sea snail. I liked the presentation, but I was unsure how to get the meat out of the shell.

Thankfully, when I poked my fork inside, the snail slipped out with great ease.

The snail meat itself lacked flavor, and I found it rather tough to chew, however the overall dish was saved for me by the rich brown broth.

Tubers with shredded almonds, served with mustard sauce

Tubers with shredded almonds, served with mustard sauce

Tubers in a bed of shredded almonds

A closer look at the presentation of the tubers

Next, I was presented with a wooden lacquer box. Inside, Andean tubers, herbs, and fresh flowers were presented on a bed of shredded almonds.

I LOVED the presentation. Colorful, playful, fun. But there’s no getting around the fact that the tubers look like turds.

Not only that, they were incredibly difficult to cut with the regular knife I was using.

A serrated steak knife should’ve been offered, unless the tubers were that tough because they were either under or overcooked.

Again, I appreciated this dish more for the novelty factor and presentation than the actual flavors. The mustard sauce was appreciated.

Lobster with mashed potatoes, foam, and capers

Lobster with mashed potatoes, foam, and capers

The lobster dish was a welcome change. Lots of flavor with a sophisticated presentation.

This was one of my favorites, but I can’t explain exactly why.

Cuy taco

Cuy (guinea pig) taco

The cuy taco was a fun way to pay homage to the all-important guinea pig, which I tried twice in Ecuador.

I rolled up the little taco, and it was gone in a few bites.

Spicy, crunchy, delicious.

Chicken liver with corn and heart of palm

Chicken liver with corn and heart of palm

Course #5 was a little bit of chicken liver mixed with corn. Peruvians love their big white corn kernels, but I prefer the yellow corn I grew up on in the USA.

Still, in small doses as was presented here, it works fine for me. I’m a fan of the occasional foie gras (duck liver), however this was the first time I’d eaten chicken liver.

It was cooked perfectly, melting in my mouth.

White fish in ojo de tigre (cebiche sauce) with corriander and lakeweed

White fish in ojo de tigre (cebiche sauce) with corriander and lakeweed

In dish #6, presentation once again plays a key role.

Ojo de tigre is the term for the seafood juices of cebiche, and in this case, the cebiche was presented with a rich and creamy ojo de tigre.

Like the liver before it, the white fish melted in my mouth.

Cebiche (fish, scallop, octopus, sea snail) with ojo de tigre, and 3 shots of peper sauce

Cebiche (fish, scallop, octopus, sea snail) with ojo de tigre, and 3 shots of pepper sauce

Dish #7 was the main event for cebiche lovers, featuring fish, scallops, octopus, and another sea snail. It was easily the most colorful dish as well.

Three shot glasses of pepper sauce were also presented, and if I understood the instructions  properly, I was to take the shooters after finishing the cebiche.

Cebiche in Peru is typically spicy, so I was already feeling the heat after eating the seafood.

I then started taking the very flavorful shots of pepper sauce until my mouth was on fire. I couldn’t finish them.

By this point, two hours into lunch, I was starting to feel full, and sleepy. Part of me wanted to tap out, and go home so I could lie down.

But I was in this for the long run, and besides, I couldn’t leave before the desserts arrived.

Lamb soup with potatoes

Lamb soup with potatoes

Time for the protein dishes.

Perfectly cooked lamb, in a light and yummy broth.

Wagyu beef with raspberry sauce, and 3 types of potatoes

Wagyu beef with raspberry sauce, and 3 types of potatoes

Dish #9 was another one of my favorites from the lunch, on account of the sweet raspberry sauce and way in which three different varieties of potatoes were incorporated.

Cannelloni with aji (pepper) ice cream

Cannelloni with aji (pepper) ice cream

When it comes to desserts, I’m a simple guy.

A slice of decadent chocolate cake, or rich chocolate mousse, and I’m happy.

Key word being chocolate.

The highlight of the first dessert, course #10, was the spicy aji ice cream. To the right of it was a small square of apple crumble.

Bananas

Bananas

The 11th and final dish was a dessert incorporating bananas and vanilla ice cream.

There’s more to it than that, as you can tell from the sugar-based shell that contains something else, but I couldn’t keep up with the waiter’s explanations by that point.

Bite size sweets: macaroons, chocolate truffles and more

Bite size sweets: macaroons, chocolate truffles and more

And just when I thought I’d crossed the finish line, I was presented with a box of 10 sweets, just as the note on the menu had promised.

Chocolate truffles. Bite-sized macaroons, and another sweet I didn’t try.

The nails of sugar in my coffin.

The Service

Overall, the service was excellent, as you’d expect at one of Peru’s, and the world’s, best restaurants.

I appreciated that they sat me at a prominent table right by the front of the kitchen. Being exposed to an open kitchen is one way to keep yourself occupied when eating alone.

While it felt like things got off to a little of a slow start in the beginning, dishes were soon coming out at a consistent pace, and the whole lunch lasted three hours as expected.

At one point, a Peruvian couple with a baby sat down at the table next to me.

The mother was holding the sleeping baby in her chair, when their waiter brought over another, and created a little bed out of two empty chairs.

He put a napkin down on the chairs, and placed another on top of the baby like a blanket. It was so cute, I wanted to take a picture.

The Atmosphere

As more and more diners arrived, the room filled with chatter.

The background music was just loud enough for me to identify a favorite song, Kothbiro by Ayub Ogada, which was featured in The Constant Gardener.

Cost

The final bill for the 11-course tasting menu, including cocktail, tax, and tip was $95. A real deal by Western standards.

Final Thoughts

The menu challenged me. I didn’t like every course, but I don’t think that’s the point. If it were, I’d have ordered a single entrée instead.

The lobster, cuy and lamb were highlights, while I won’t be bothered if I never see another Andean tuber again.

Spending an afternoon exploring the ingredients of Peruvian cuisine at Astrid & Gastón, from the common to the exotic, was a real pleasure.

Astrid & Gastón:  Calle Cantuarias 175, Miraflores, Lima, Peru. Lunch is served from 12:30 pm – 3:30 pm. Dinner is served from 7:45 pm – 11:45 pm. Closed on Sundays.

____________

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Categories: Features, Food, Peru, Reviews
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6 Comments

Philip January 30, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Hi Dave–

I was hoping to dine at Astrid and Gastón during my three and a half days in Miraflores and Lima. I walked by one evening and felt a bit intimidated as the place was packed and everyone was really dressed up (I had my backpacking clothes). I did make it to Gastón’s Chi Cha in Cusco where I had an excellent dinner. Thanks for the virtual tour and reminiscences of our fine dinner in Medellin. Next time I will do lunch. Love the cuy taco idea. ¡Buen provecho!

Reply

Dave January 30, 2012 at 2:28 pm

Yea, I think I felt a little intimidated going in there wearing a t-shirt and jeans, but the lunch crowd was equally casual. If I’m eating alone, I always prefer to do it at lunch instead of dinner, especially at the nicer places.

Reply

Kevin Post January 31, 2012 at 3:21 pm

A meal like this should be shared, I feel full just by looking at these pictures. Besides, I would need someone to awkwardly bring up the fact that a portion of the meal looks like a turd one would take in the woods!

Reply

Jeff April 1, 2012 at 1:50 pm

I love this restaurant. I’ve been to the one in Panama City and Bogota. One day I need to make it to the original in Lima.

Reply

Dave April 1, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Hey Jeff, it was a great experience. I still remember how I had to waddle out of that restaurant in the mid-afternoon sun. Like having a food hangover.

Reply

Kendall Q May 12, 2012 at 9:16 am

While the food looks amazing, and I’m sure its was as I’ve always had excellent food at Gastón Acurio’s restaurants (including Astrid), I must point out the the NY Times article could hardly be called “positive press”: the critic gave Gastón’s Manhattan restaurant the lowest rating he has ever given and restaurant (this by the critics own admission). Whether fair or unfair I can’t say, I’m from NYC but as I now live in Perú I can’t bring myself to pay NYC prices for food I get every day in Perú. All restaurants have minor bad moments now and then, I guess that time unfortunately for Gastón, all the bad moments seemed to happen all at once. Of course I know that restaurant critics are not gods, (Je Je, lo siento Dave) and I rarely read them or give them much salt, that one caused enough of an uproar that I had to.

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