that time: i dined with gaston

The reason for my recent travels to Peru was pretty simple. While many travelers are motivated by the mystique of Cuzco and the imposing site of Machu Picchu or the deep unknown jungle of Iquitos in the Amazon, I went to Peru for none of the above.

Gaston Acurio is the man that first peaked my interest in the South American country. The past few years have seen a  surge in interest in Peruvian cuisine and Acurio is the cause. The Peru native is considered by many the ambassador of Peruvian cuisine: Acurio has made it his mission to spread the Peruvian food gospel. What has started as one restaurant in Lima’s Miraflores neighborhood has turned into somewhat of a mini-empire. Acurio’s eateries span the globe and the flagship, Astrid y Gaston, in Lima ranked one of the world’s top 50 places to dine. In addition to his dining establishments, Acurio has been the focus of numerous documentaries and started the wildly successful annual Mistura food festival in the nation’s capital.

Despite all of what Peru has to offer, the opportunity to dine at the original Astrid y Gaston is what got my butt to head down South. Needless to say, the experience there (and at Acurio’s famed ceviche joint La Mar Cevicheria) did not disappoint. Opting against the standard tasting menu, Sarah and I decided to have a blow out meal and create our own.

from top left clockwise: bread w/accompaniments, happy for our amuse, Peking cuy, char grilled octopus, alpaca trip, beef short rib w/potato puree, triggerfish saltado saute and wasabi foam scallop served in the shell.... and yes I feel Asian when taking these photos.

The bread starter alone is to die for. Accompanied by olive oil, chimichurri and butter the varieties encompassed the traditional Peruvian ingredients of purple corn and potato amongst the more familiar. Next up was an amuse bouche of a sweet potato croquet and mango bite. Perfectly tender octopus, scallops with wasabi foam, and a trio of alpaca followed. The alpaca trio may have been the start dish of the evening. Tender and subtle, tasting almost like veal, the meat was served as a mini burger with foie, pastrami-ed on a cracker and in an exciting tartar. I’d fly back to Lima for this dish alone.

Noticing of our culinary enthusiasm, it was to our delight that the chef brought over an Acurio special: Peking cuy, otherwise known as guinea pig. Infinitely better than our first attempt at the local delicacy (more on that in later posts) the meat was succulent and tasty. If you hadn’t known what you were eating you’d most likely think it was some sort of salted poultry. Served with purple corn pancakes and a pickled radish concoction, we gobbled it up. We ended our meal with two recommended mains. The first, triggerfish served over a quinoa type risotto and a pepper onion and tomato based sautee. The second, beef short rib with a potato puree that could be eaten with a spoon. Amply stuffed, we were once again surprised by a dessert chest that was brought to the table to us to consume.

Dining at Astrid y Gaston was without a doubt one of the highlights of my trip to Peru. I did make it of course to Peru’s main destinations, but it may very well be the experience at Astrid y Gaston that stays with me the longest. Once simply the curious diner, Gaston Acurio has cemented my interest as a burgeoning foodie.

Astrid y Gaston, 175 Calle Cantuarias  Lima, Peru, (0)1 242 5387

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