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Astrid y Gastón (Lima, Peru)

Astrid y Gastón (Lima, Peru)
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  • Astrid y Gastón (Lima, Peru)

    Post #1 - November 14th, 2018, 5:02 pm
    Post #1 - November 14th, 2018, 5:02 pm Post #1 - November 14th, 2018, 5:02 pm
    Lima, a city of 11 million. Of whom, our guess would be, 10 million are in their cars at any given moment. Lima is a city of districts, one of which—San Isidro—resembles nothing so much as Winnetka, say, picked up and dropped into an otherwise teeming, crowded city. Enter San Isidro and the world drops away. And tucked away within San Isidro is one of those reputed temples of gastronomy, Astrid y Gastón.

    Gastón Acurio is exceedingly well-known in Peru. Trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, he brought Peruvian cuisine to the world stage in 1994, opening Astrid y Gastón (named for his wife and himself). In the process, he earned international recognition and fame. Among other things, Astrid y Gastón was ranked first in the inaugural Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2013 and Astrid herself was recognized as Latin America’s Best Pastry Chef in 2015.

    They have dozens of projects plus a couple fistfuls of restaurants at any given moment (including Papacho’s in Cusco, which I posted on here). Among the Acurio outposts is Tanta in Chicago. But it remains Astrid y Gastón (a perennial fixture on the “World’s 50 Best” list) for which he is best known and which catapulted him to fame.

    The Lovely Dining Companion and I recently spent a couple weeks in Peru, ending our journey with a few days in Lima. We tried but were unable to secure a reservation at Central, currently #6 on the above list, even several months out. The menu at Maido, another extremely highly rated spot, just didn’t intrigue us. But having heard so much for so long about Acurio and his empire, we were happy to have lunch at Astrid y Gastón.

    Astrid y Gastón moved from Miraflores (an upscale district) to a very old (but exceptionally restored) former plantation house in San Isidro in 2014. (You may be interested in checking out turkob’s review of his meal at the original location in 2013 here (you need to scroll down a bit into the post.) The current grounds encompass the main dining room plus a gastrobar, a botanical garden, two private dining rooms with their own kitchens and bars, and even a research and development lab. Entering the main room and watching our fellow diners, we were interested to see everything from jeans to suits. The tasting menu, for the curious, cost a little under $130 per person (food only).

    The room, which I’ve seen referred to as a “minimalist salon,” is not especially impressive. You’ll note the plywood facing on the kitchen in the pictures below and yes, those are plywood squares decorating one of the walls. Dozens of plants in white pots are suspended upside-down from the open, airy ceiling. The artwork no doubt appeals to some and, although the tables are well-spaced and the chairs comfortable enough, this is certainly no Grace.

    The “minimalist” approach extends to the menu. The current incarnation, entitled “Lima Love (Más amor por favor),” is a single sheet of paper folded into quarters. It contains a short message from Astrid and Gastón which, among other things, highlights the theme of the menu: “this Lima of all bloods.”

    the menu

    The tasting menu thus celebrates the diversity and variety of Lima’s citizens by having each course nod in a particular direction. Chinese and Japanese immigrants have contributed heavily to Peruvian society and food for close to two hundred years; the indigenous influence is unmistakable, from the Amazon to the Andes; the Spanish colonial influence is, likewise, distinctive and readily evident; there are even distinct Jewish and Italian populations and aspects to the meal. (Although there is an a la carte menu available, we saw only a few tables ordering from it while we were there.)

    Every course on the menu had its own title and almost every course introduced us to a new ingredient. And so we encountered words new (to us) like tiradito, Sancochao dumplings, chupin sauce, arracacha, picanteria sauce, chaufa rice, chicha de jora, huacatay, and manjar blanco. But rather than turn this post into an essay on Peruvian cuisine, let me just share some pictures.

    Entrance – (Courtesy of “DINK Travels”)

    Reception area

    Room shot 1 (and one of the kitchens)

    Room shot 2

    Room shot 3

    Suits to jeans

    We began lunch around 1:45 in the afternoon. We left after 4:00 pm.

    Fishermen empanada, stuffed blue potato, sea urchin toast
    The empanada was filled with clam and cau-cau juice, the blue potato with lamb. Both were exquisitely made and unreservedly delicious. The sea urchin toast featured a decidedly generous portion—more the pity that it’s not something either of us enjoys sufficiently. An auspicious start, though, both gustatorily and aesthetically.

    River shrimp with apple

    Cebiche of all bloods

    Tiradito Lima-Sichuan
    Cebiche and tiradito are related but not the same.

    LDC’s tiradito of tomatoes
    The LDC does not like raw fish and so, for her, the kitchen came up with this. We’re pleased that they took the trouble to do something but, in the end, find it kind of a let-down, a cop-out for something more thoughtful or creative.

    Bread basket
    A wide array, including bread made from purple corn (with gooseberries), focaccia, a corn muffin, and (memory fails).

    Bread spreads
    Including “regular” butter, a smoked tomato spread, an avocado spread (that strongly resembled an unspicy guacamole), and whipped lard.

    Cuy pekin
    A purple corn wrapper encompassing one of Peru’s most infamous ingredients. Truth be told, the LDC was a little reluctant, having once had a guinea pig as a pet. As it turned out, the hoisin sauce and other elements pretty much effaced any taste of guinea pig that might have peeked through. (This course was also partially sabotaged by our server’s English. Though a kind and helpful man, his English was heavily accented and not quite up to what he was doing. To compensate, he ran through the description of each course extremely quickly. And in this instance, neither one of us understood that the wrapper was part of the course until we had almost finished when he came by and was quite dismayed at our failure to wrap the cuy with it.)

    Sancochao dumpling and pepian
    Still not sure what was inside this except to conclude that, on the whole, I didn’t care for this course.

    River shrimp, menestron emulsion, chupin sauce, lima beans
    Note the “tempura” seaweed. Neither of us have ever seen or heard of such a thing and it was done brilliantly.

    Rabbit in Lima curry, quinua jasmine

    Beef tongue skewer, caramelized arracacha, picanteria sauces
    I must confess that I found the beef to have a spongy consistency, unlike anything I’ve had before. It wasn’t tough but…springy. The flavor was excellent, but I found the texture a bit offputting.

    Roast short rib stew; chaufa rice
    Note the purplish seaweed on the plate.

    Chicha de jora sorbet, coca, quinoa and tamarillo
    Chicha is a classic Peruvian beverage dating to the Incas. It can be fermented—or not—and it can be made from grain—or not—although the traditional version is made from corn. Chicha de jora is, in essence, beer made from corn. This little “ice cream cone” was impressive for the depth and breadth of flavor, including coca (yes, Virginia, it’s what you think it is), quinoa (omnipresent in Peru), and tamarillo, an indigenous fruit sometimes known as a tree tomato both for its appearance and one aspect of its extraordinary flavor.

    La Papa: Potato, saffron, kumquat, honey, huacatay, manjar blanco y Porcon mushrooms
    Potatoes are critical in Peruvian cuisine and indeed there are reputed to be some 4,000 different varieties. We had a number of different kinds throughout our stay and the variety is truly astonishing. The little sculptures on the plate honor some of the best-known and loved kinds. And this course is Acurio’s tribute to the potato. It arrives looking like one and the server simply instructs you to smash it with your spoon.

    La Papa opened
    Which we did. A clear winner and one of both of our favorites.

    Cajamarca chocolate mousse, nougat, cacao nibs, yuzu and lemon
    That’s Astrid and Gaston, fifth and sixth from the left.

    This is Astrid’s creation. All made in-house. And it took quite a while for our server to simply to identify all the various options. I think the easiest comment is simply: Extraordinary.

    In the end, I am much inclined to echo turkob’s thoughts. Although I do not agree unreservedly, I think his conclusion comes fairly near our own sentiments: “I have to admit to being a little disappointed by Astrid y Gaston…. I got a sense that on some level Gaston is a victim of his own success. His vision and techniques have become commonplace across the city so the food really didn't stand out as much as I would have expected. Certainly this was an excellent meal and I would gladly recommend it to anyone, but I have to think there are newer restaurants pushing the envelope a little more and executing more exciting takes on the cuisine.”

    What you take away depends, as with most places, on your expectations. If you want cutting edge, this isn't where you should head. If, however, your tastes don’t require the absolute up-to-the-minute trends and ingenuity, it’s hard to imagine you won’t be extremely happy with what you’ll find at Astrid y Gastón.

    Astrid y Gastón
    Avenida Paz Soldán 290
    San Isidro, Lima 27 Peru
    Phone: +51 1 242 44 22
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)
  • Post #2 - November 20th, 2018, 9:04 am
    Post #2 - November 20th, 2018, 9:04 am Post #2 - November 20th, 2018, 9:04 am
    Very good stuff.