Monday, November 11, 2013

Zingaro, Lazos and Zigzag Restaurants – Arequipa, Peru

In recent years, Peruvian cuisine has received glowing reviews and increased international attention. The Wall Street Journal named Peru’s food scene “The Next Big Thing.” In 2011, the Organization of American States selected Peruvian cuisine to receive the title of Cultural Patrimony of the Americas, the first ever recipient of this award. This is partly due to the country’s diversity of crops and to the international influences adopted from immigrant groups who have made Peru their home. Peruvian dishes reflect a combination of culinary tastes and ingredients that have made it one of the most interesting and unique in the world. Typical of arequipeños is their strong local identity, and this is perhaps best exemplified by the pride they demonstrate when referring to their regional cuisine. Although the city does not have many contemporary, luxuriously appointed restaurants, the historic center is full of superb, atmospheric casual restaurants where you can sample some of the most delicious gastronomy in the country and to start with, we tried what is supposed to be the top three! Zingaro was the first of the “big” three we tried. It is characterized as serving typical, traditional Peruvian cuisine with a Novo-Andean twist. The restaurant is very attractive with about 10 tables on the first floor and an attractive wrought iron, lattice staircase winding up to the second floor. There were only two tables occupied when we arrived and we chose a table for two by a window tucked behind the stairs. The menu is not too extensive and divided into sections for starters and soups, main courses separated by meat which included beef, alpaca, chicken, cuy (guinea pig), seafood, pastas and vegetarian and some sides. We had an advantage in that Tom had been here in the afternoon and had tried their signature “pisco sour”, which he told me came with no sugar on the rim of the glass and was a little too frothy. That decided it for me and I chose a glass of the house white wine, which was decent and Tom had a Cusquena beer. Our waitress quickly brought our drinks and a plate of flat bread. The bread was a low point in the night. Dry, hard and completely tasteless, we were very disappointed. We decided against an appetizer and I settled for the “Zingaro beef”, which came out as three beef grilled tenderloin medallions, cut quite thick with a mushroom sauce and Tom opted for grilled alpaca ribs in red wine sauce. These were actually a cut similar to a porterhouse cut, so there was bone but with fillet and plenty of meat on each side and there were three of them. We both asked for our meat to be very rare. My steak was excellent, cooked to perfection, tender with just the right balance of sauce and served with potatoes. I also really enjoyed the alpaca but Tom thought it a little tough although we both agreed it was very flavorful and the sauce very complimentary. We ordered a bottle of Rutini Cabernet from Argentina and it went well with both meats. For dessert we tried the crepes which were served with fruit and ice-cream and coffee. The crepes arrived warm and accompanied with the ice-cream were very good. The service was excellent and our waitress charming and efficient. The entire meal with tip was 200 soles or about $72.00. Two doors down from Zingaro is Lazos. With the same owner, it is considered Arequipa’s best parrilla. Meat is the primary item on the menu and after some fabulous parrilla in Argentina; we are looking forward to trying this one. With two entry doors, we entered through the one on the left, which took us past the familiar style barbeque. Built from brick into the wall, it has two sides. One smaller where the wood is burned and the fire maintained. The burning embers are then transferred to the larger grill so the meat is charred but never burned. There is already a variety of sausages and meat cuts barbequing and it smells wonderful. Through another door and we are inside a beautiful arched dining room with walls and ceiling made from the white sillar volcanic stone. Contrary to imaging a cold block feeling, the room exudes warmth and softness and our waitress points to several tables that are available. We choose one which gives us a perfect view of the parrilla. The menu, no surprise offers various meat selections and cuts and although the most popular appears to be the set parrilla dinners for two persons or more, we opt for steaks. The fixed dinners come with different types of sausages in addition to some beef cuts but we want steaks. Tom chooses the “angosto” (rib eye) with a salad and roast potatoes and I the ancho or sirloin accompanied by golden potato and vegetables and of course we ask for very rare. The waitress brings a condiment tray with four dipping sauces and toasted, sliced baguette bread. She explains the sauces which range from a very mild mustard style to an extremely hot red chili concoction which Tom loved. They were a very nice compliment to the bread and we decide they need to introduce something similar at Zingaro. We also ordered a Trumpeter Malbec red from Argentina to go with our steaks. Whilst both steaks were very good, my sirloin cut was much more tender and to our liking. Although the same weight, the rib eye was thinner and so was a little too well cooked for our liking. My sirloin was thicker and juicier, although both cuts were very flavorful. The salad, roast potatoes and vegetables which comprised of thinly sliced carrots and beets were excellent but the golden potato was dry and flavorless. For desert we shared a brownie with ice-cream which was very good, along with espresso. The total cost of our meal with tip was 250 soles or $90.00 which we considered good value. The food was good, the ambiance perfect and the service excellent and professional. We highly recommend this one to anyone who wants a tasty, fresh, authentic Peruvian parrilla. It turned out we saved the best for last. Located within Arequipa's historic centre, opposite the beautiful Plaza San Francisco, Zig Zag is just the place to discover new food and to enjoy a different kind evening in cozy surroundings. The restaurant is built from the traditional sillar stone with a gorgeous arched barrel ceiling and a winding wrought iron staircase to the second floor designed by the French architect Gustave Alexandre Eiffel. Yes, that Eiffel. While much of the Peruvian food we had eaten so far was tasty, some of it is really rich and there were a lot of spices and herbs mixed into the sauces. I was in the mood for something plain and simple, and Zig Zag fit the bill. The menu featured all different kind of meats, most of which were sold by the gram and simply prepared. We picked out an appetizer of three different fish tartars served on bruscetta – trout, tuna, and salmon. All three with simply prepared with a little bit of olive and citrus. Each was topped with a sundried tomato that was intensely flavorful and came with a toothpick marker so we could identify the fish. The fish was super fresh, and nicely cut into small cubes and the portions were ample so every bite included lots of fish. For the main part of our meal, they brought us paper bibs to wear. Yes, bibs. Our waitress told us they were “necessary”, and when our food came, we saw why. I had ordered a grilled platter that came with three different kinds of meat; alpaca, beef, and duck and Tom ordered a steak. The meat was served on hot volcanic stones and was sizzling hot. The juice from the meat was literally sputtering when the platter arrived, so the bibs protected our clothes. The meats I ordered were again marked with toothpicks so we could identify what each one was and for sides I ordered fries and ratatouille and Tom had sautéed potatoes and a salad. There was an abundance of food which simply prepared just a little seasoning and grilled on the stones. The alpaca was tender and tasted similar to venison. The beef was fork tender and the duck was nicely gamey. We dipped the meats into the various bowls of sauce that included an ajo sauce (garlicky), tartar sauce, herbed butter sauce (the best) and a spicy pepper sauce. The meats were cooked to perfection on the stones and as the stones cooled, it kept our food hot while preventing them from overcooking. The potatoes both fried and sautéed that came with the meats were heavenly. Seasoned with salt they were super crispy on the outside, potato-y on the inside and not greasy at all. Our table was absolutely filled, and we made a pretty good dent into everything. We ordered a nice bottle of Italian Red Zinfandel to go with the variety of meats and it paired up wonderfully. We even ordered desserts. A chocolate soufflé and a blueberry tartlet, again both were exquisite with espresso and a grand Marnier. Overall we both absolutely loved Zig Zag and ate here on two other occasions. We were never disappointed. It was one of the best meals we had in Arequipa. The meats and fish were all top notch and the presentation was pretty neat. Service was great and the prices were actually really reasonable. If you find yourself in Arequipa, run, don’t walk to Zig Zag! Reservations are definitely recommended and remember to ask for one of the two balcony tables.

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