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Central (Lima, Peru) at Cabra

Central (Lima, Peru) at Cabra
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  • Central (Lima, Peru) at Cabra

    Post #1 - September 10th, 2019, 3:55 pm
    Post #1 - September 10th, 2019, 3:55 pm Post #1 - September 10th, 2019, 3:55 pm
    (Note to mods: I really didn't know where this should go...feel free to move if necessary)

    Thanks to the Lovely Dining Companion’s quick reflexes, we snagged a couple of tickets to lunch at Cabra, a joint effort she presented with Virgilio Martinez, chef at Central in Lima, currently one of most highly regarded restaurants in the world. We had tried to get a table there last fall when we were in Peru and even a couple months out, we were completely unable to get in. So we were looking forward to this collaboration immensely. They closed the restaurant for the event and each presented several courses. Martinez and his wife, Pia Leon, also a very highly regarded chef, brought a small contingent from Lima and landed in Chicago just the night before the event. It showed: though he was gracious and very active, he had exhaustion written all over his face.

    Lunch began with three passed appetizers: a hamachi tiradito, an ahi tiradito, and an empanada (with goat, we think). Tiradito is like sashimi—raw fish in a spicy sauce; it reflects the strong Japanese influence on Peru, which, thanks to its coastline, boasts spectacular seafood and is why it is world-famous for its ceviche. Both tiradito offerings were excellent but the empanada—specifically the crust—was to die for. Hands-down the best either of us has ever had.

    Ahi tiradito

    Goat empanada

    But to the menu – and the food.

    the lunch menu

    Razor clams, kiwicha ash, beets, smoked aji

    I happen to be a fan of razor clams but I would never have dreamed of pairing them with beets. In the presentation, the beets were decidedly not beety. By which I mean that the beet flavor was there as was the special beet “tang,” but both were much softer than usual. The beets were not at all assertive and, for that reason, pairs in an unusual way with the razor clams.

    Classic ceviche

    With bass, golden raisin leche de tigre, pickled shallot, cancha corn, baby sweet potato slices. It was good and we enjoyed it, but I'd be lying if I didn't say we've had better, including here in Chicago. Perfectly fine but nothing special--and that was a surprise under the circumstances.

    Crab causa, aji potato, avocado

    Pronounced kowza, these dishes featuring different proteins (tuna is very popular) are a mainstay of Peruvian food. The foundation of the dish is the causa itself, sort of a glorified mashed potato base. Keeping in mind that Peru supposedly is home to some 4,000 potato varieties, mashed potatoes there are unlike any you’ve likely had anywhere else. Potatoes are eaten at most meals and the variety is truly astonishing—the flavors range widely and are truly an eye-opener. Here, the causa base was topped with a generous portion of crab and you’d have had to hate both elements to think this dish was anything but extraordinary.

    Pumpkin, shrimp, citrus

    Pumpkin, once started

    Stellar dish, possibly the best of the lunch. I’ve never had pumpkin this luscious and the flavor—I have no idea what, if anything at all, she did to the pumpkin itself—was really exceptional. The paper thin corn tortilla (I don’t know what it was except that it was very, very thin, very crispy, and very strongly corn-flavored) on top hid the pumpkin custard which, in turn, hid the shrimp. Just extraordinary.

    Adobo de cabrito

    Okay, I’ll confess. I just wasn’t looking forward to this dish. I’m not sure I can articulate quite why, but I wasn’t. And I am particularly pleased for that reason to say that it was among my favorites. That “sauce” was one of the best I’ve had in a long, long time and the dish as a whole was quite impressive. Never had goat chorizo before and this rendition was less…spicy than, say, typical Mexican chorizo, which it otherwise resembled.


    As noted in the menu, the ingredients included green beans, sweet corn, heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, fried cheese, olives, chimichurri, and blueberries. I’ll just say that this dish went off the rails for me when Izard added blueberries. Honestly, it put me off an otherwise very enjoyable dish. After we got home, I searched my cookbooks and online. While I’m hardly an expert on Peruvian food, I find it interesting that not a single recipe I found for this classic dish included fruit of any kind. Based on all the recipes I was able to find, it’s a savory dish. And the freshness of these ingredients was so terrific that the blueberries, frankly, made it a little weird. It would have been absolutely top-notch without them….

    Andean cacao (with “Amazonian nuts”)

    Mango mint

    After lunch had concluded, Phil Vettel did a short “interview” with both Martinez and Leon. It didn’t add much; Martinez was visibly exhausted and the “questions” were so generally pointless that it seemed clear that Vettel hadn’t spent much time (or decided there wasn’t much point) thinking about solid, informative, educational, or insightful questions that he might ask. The event closed as all those who had purchased Martinez’s coffee-table book in advance swarmed for his autograph.

    Our takeaway? All of Izard’s dishes save two were from Cabra’s menu. Anyone interested in her offerings can easily have them by visiting Cabra for dinner. The two items that do not appear on the menu (though, who knows, they may make an appearance at some point) were the adobo de cabrito and her mango mint dessert. Overall, the quality was very high and the food, almost without exception, was excellent. If there is anything that was disappointing it is that Martinez, who was likely here primarily for the dinner offered the next night (and/or his appearance at a local bookstore), only contributed one dish (though he collaborated with his wife on the cacao dessert and she contributed the stellar pumpkin dish). It would have been treat to have him in charge of the menu. We did the lunch because we couldn’t attend the dinner.

    Are we sorry we missed Central when we were in Lima? Even more than we were before we went. Will we return to Cabra and check out more of her menu? Likely. It was a terrific thing for Izard to bring Martinez to Chicago and we can only hope that it is only the first many more such stellar cooperations.
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)