Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Restaurant Astrid y Gaston and Restaurant Central, Lima, Peru

During our time in Peru, the diversity of cuisine has been astounding and the quality of restaurants exceptional; not too leave out value which leaves most tourists feeling as though they could eat out here all the time and it wouldn’t break the bank. Lima boasts of two restaurants that are on the 50 best-restaurants-in-the-world list, both are listed as serving “Novoandina” cuisine and both are in the Miraflores neighborhood. Astrid y Gaston had been on the list for 10 years and is ranked 14th and this year Restaurant Central made it on in the 50th position. So, naturally our stopover in Lima demanded that we try both of them out. As soon as Tom had made his appointment with the consulate, we were calling for reservations and as we had been warned, they are difficult to get. Central was 8 days out on their reservations and Astrid y Gaston a whopping 15 days but since we are going to be here, it is ok and we cheerfully put our name on their lists. Anyone traveling to Lima, who still wants to go after reading this, should make reservations as soon as they have their travel dates. First up is Restaurant Central. We had made reservations for 8pm and arrived a little late due to the fact our cab driver got lost! The hostess however was very polite and understanding and we were quickly shown to our table on the second level. The place is very modern, classic in design, neutral colors and well decorated with an interesting touch; Tom loved it but I found it to be just a little sterile, too austere and felt it needed a little warmth. But that is the only complaint of the evening. The owner, Virgilio Martinez’s years in leading kitchens has led to Japanese, Vietnamese, French and Italian cuisine and methods permeating the menu. But the outcome is vividly Peruvian. For starters, we ordered the Lines of Scallops and Seared Foie Gras and for our entrees, Tom ordered Singha Sea Bass and for me the Suckling Goat. Going over the extensive wine list could have been time consuming if not for their excellent sommelier. Once he knew the price range we were comfortable with, he suggested a mid range wine that was very good. The waiter was attentive but unobtrusive. He knew we wanted to share the starters and served them accordingly. Our table was thoroughly cleaned between courses of dishes, cutlery and any errant crumb or speck of food. The wine was poured at a measured and suitable rate that our glasses were never empty but the bottle lasted throughout the entire meal. Unfortunately we were too full for dessert and settled simply for espressos. At the higher end pricewise by Peruvian standards at just a little over $200.00 but we were not complaining. This restaurant is fabulous and we loved it. We would definitely go there again and recommend it to others. Two thumbs up. Next was Astrid y Gaston and again our reservations were for 8pm. This time, our taxi driver did not get lost and we were on time. We are once again in the upstairs room but unlike Central, there is nothing austere about this one. All the walls are lined floor to ceiling with built in wine racks displaying wine from all parts of the world. They obviously must have a true cellar for keeping more vintage wine at the correct temperature but we saw many waiters come and go throughout the evening pulling out various bottles. The tables were far enough apart to be private and we both loved the décor. That unfortunately, was the high point of the evening. Gastón Acurio has a fine-dining empire that now stretches from Madrid to New York, but this Miraflores original remains his signature eatery, epitomizing not just his Peruvian- Mediterranean style but also his own character. Astrid, by the way is his wife. After being seated our waiter brought the menus over and went into a complete lengthy and poetic presentation of their "El Viaje" tasting menu. First, this menu is around 24, yes that is right, 24 different courses but first of all, we were not THAT hungry and second those tasting menus always have items on them that I either don’t care for or don’t like. After rejecting him on that menu, he left us to our own devices. No explanations, no discourse, nada. When he decided to come back, we had already made up our minds about what to order. For appetizers, we decided on the Cuy Pekines (Guinea Pig, Chinese style) and the Tres Ceviche and entrees were going to be Pez de Altura (a combination fish/shellfish dish) and for me their baby goats dish (cabrito lechal). I know, I know but done right, baby goat is really delicious. We were also left to our devices to muddle through the extensive wine list, no offer for sommelier help. Our waiter brought the bread, an amazing basket of assorted bread and accompanying spreads but the explanation of them was so rapid that we missed most of it and then before we could ask, he was gone, again. And then came the biggest “faux pas” for me, only to be repeated through each course. Our table was not cleaned! Yes, the dishes were removed but we were left our entire meal with crumbs from bread, a spot of spread that had gotten spilled on the table. Now, even in lesser restaurants, waiters come around with those knife thingies that sweep up crumbs and what have you off the table. It bugged me. I also had to remind our waiter more than once to refill our wine glasses. We did order desserts and coffee. And I will say, if you come here order the chocolate volcano dessert. Delectably, decadently delicious. It was also the most expensive meal to date – just under $300.00. The food was very good but not outstanding, the restaurant is lovely but the dining experience was neither. Each dish (including the bread) was expertly prepared and plated but I would not exactly call it a fine dining experience. I have rarely been to a more pretentious restaurant. Take the Peking guinea pig for example as described on the menu: “Tired of being rejected by the world, the guinea pig decided to disguise itself as a Peking duck, dressed with rocoto and purple corn crêpe. It got a standing ovation from everyone.” Well! And I have never had such incomplete and chaotic service in what is considered to be a top restaurant. 14th in the world! I still can’t get over the table not being cleaned. Would we recommend the place? Definitely no, but you would still go because it still is THE restaurant to visit when in Lima. Would we return to Astrid y Gaston? Definitely no and given their reservation list, I 'm sure they don't care one way or another! One other thing, there were no Peruvians in either restaurant, all tourists. So, Central – yes: Astrid y Gaston – no. Or skip both and while in Miraflores go to Las Brujas de Cachiche, upscale it is, touristy, it isn’t. It’s where the locals go for fine dining.

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