Peru: Lima – Astrid y Gaston

Astrid and Gaston was the only restaurant I booked before we left for our trip, reserving a table for our last night in Peru before we headed to Ecuador. If you take any notice of those “Best Restaurants in the World” lists, it’s on one of them at number 35.

Astrid and Gaston is owned by Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio (you may remember that we also visited another of his restaurants in Cusco – Chicha).

I had researched how long it would take for us to get there from our hotel – about 15 minutes by car – but despite leaving early, terrible Lima traffic got the better of us. What should’ve taken 15 minutes stretched out to 40 minutes, and I had to quickly call from the taxi to apologise for running late. Fortunately they seemed totally fine about it – perhaps being used to people running on Latin time?

Astrid and Gaston is located in Miraflores, an upmarket suburb in Lima that’s also a major tourist spot. The restaurant was on a quiet street with a discreet entrance guarded by a doorman. Inside, the restaurant is spread over several rooms and we were seated in one of the back rooms, surrounded by racks of wine.

There is an ala carte menu, but I had pre-booked the tasting menu (they only do 20 covers of the tasting menu each night so pre-booking is highly recommended) for 320 soles each. We also decided to do the matched wines, at an additional 185 soles each. Even by Australian standards it wasn’t cheap, but by Peruvian standards this was an astronomically expensive meal (for example, we ate a 3 course set menu in Puno for 15 soles.)

The tasting menu consisted of five stages – kind of a condensed history of Peru through the ages:

The Encounter
The Haven

There were several steps through each stage, with a total of 17 steps / courses. It was a very well paced meal and the steps occurred quite quickly – we finished in about 3 hours.

With the menu we were also given a book (and DVD) that had a little story and photos about each stage.

In the beginning.
Millions of years ago,
Land searches for its balance.
Life emerges.

naive, wild.

For the Nature stage, out came a birds nest, and nestled in the branches were five tidbits.

We had:

Achira, herbs and garlic: this looked like a little green twig and contained confit garlic inside.

Kiwicha and seaweed: this one resembled a green leaf and was crunchy and salty, ending with a green tea style bitterness.

The Cashew – the brown looking twig – was both sweet and sour. It was a filo pastry tube dusted with cinnamon and filled with a finely chopped cashew mixture.

The lovely looking Apple begonia – white and decorated with a flower – was an apple meringue. It was a light and airy morsel, and slightly sweet.

And finally, the Maracuya – granadilla sour – it looked like an egg shell and we were instructed to eat it in one bite. The shell was made of sugar, and inside was a sour granadilla (a type of passionfruit) concoction.

Quite an exceptional start to our meal and it definitely fit in the Nature theme.

The next stage was Man.

7,000 years ago…

Nature and man,
Conversing, farming.

Potatoes from the earth,
Corn from the shadows,
Tomatoes from the sun.

The next step was Wild Tomato: a small bowl of quinoa, with micro purslane / herbs and a warm broth of tomato water. It was quite incredible but looked very simple – there were some tiny crunchy grains in with the quinoa so there was an occasional crunchy burst, and the tomato broth was intensely, intensely tomatoey, like the essence had been sucked out of 100 ripe, perfect tomatoes.

Step 3 was Huamantanga potato. This wasn’t a very attractive dish, but like an ugly ducking, the taste was better than the appearance. Very soft potato was hidden under a dusting of pine mushroom dust, underneath which was a dollop of roccoto pepper sauce. It made for a dish that was very strongly savoury and unami.

For Step 4 we had Lima bean.

At the bottom of the squid broth sat two lima beans, which we were instructed to eat in one bite. I don’t know what they had done to the beans, but when scooped up I discovered that they were completely soft and oozy. At the top of the bowl was a scattering of finely chopped brazilian nuts, red ozalis and squid.

Step 5 was Peruvian Corn, which was served with two sea scallops, coral oil and coriander. Two perfectly cooked scallop halves were surrounded by corn dust and tangy sauce, which highlighted the sweetness of the scallops.

We then moved on to the next stage: The Encounter.

1532 AD…

Between gold and the gods,
2 empires face each other.

Between the bow and the sword,
their flavours blend.

The lemon and aji pepper
Once again… Life.

Step 6 was a classic: Peruvian Ceviche Carretilla. Our waiter told us that this was as served on the streets of Peru. At Astrid and Gaston, it was made with silverside, clam, sea snail and sea urchin. It was all fresh and sour: like eating the ocean. Delicious.

Step 7 was one of my favourites: Tiradito. Thinly sliced fish was presented with artichoke chips and fish skin, plus a mound of cold parmesan and olive dust on top of Leche de tigre.

Leche de tigre (tiger’s milk) is a Peruvian term for the marinade that cures seafood in a ceviche. It usually has lime juice, onion, chilli, salt and pepper, plus the juice from the fish that’s been cured.

The combo of the raw fish with the melting unami packed cold dust was fantastic.

Step 8 was Sudado, which consisted of mussels, mackerel and sea lettuce. It was fine, but was my least favourite course as it was quite salty, and wasn’t as well balanced as the other steps.

Step 9 was Chupe: shrimp with ricotta, yellow potato and broad beans. This dish was intensely starchy but with a slight floral undertone. It was delicious – particularly the piece of fried shrimp shell.

That moved us on to the next stage: The Haven.

For 500 years…

Peru’s voice sounds off in the distance.

In the midst of tears and dreams,
People of the world arrive.

Step 10 was Dashi, and this saw a siphon brought to our table, which attracted the attention of surrounding tables.

In the bottom chamber was the liquid, with the top chamber holding lime skin, chilli, shiitake mushroom and lemongrass.

When the broth was ready, it was poured over smoked octopus, black sesame and small circles of daikon and avocado. The broth was very pure and aromatic, highlighting the smokiness of the octopus.

Step 11 was another one of my favourites: Peking Cuy. As you will remember from my cuy post, cuy is guinea pig.

The dish was brought to the table wrapped in paper, I presume to resemble Chinese takeaways. This was then opened to reveal a small cylinder, which contained confit cuy leg in a purple corn wrapper, topped with a thin slice of caramel and matchsticks of carrot, cucumber and capscium. Crunchy, savoury and a bit sweet – it was delicious.

Step 12 was Carbonara, except instead of pasta we had yuca noodles, topped with a quail egg.

It came with a crunchy bread roll and mascarpone flavoured with basil.

The yuca noodles were firmer than regular pasta and it made for an interesting interpretation.

Step 13 was our last savoury course: Carapulcra. This was pork served in a chocolate sauce with native potatoes and peanuts. I really enjoyed the thin caramel wafers, and the pork made me think of a Chinese pork and taro dish.

And finally, we entered the fourth and final stage: Today.

Sweet chaos

Of illusion and esctasy.
Of ideas and challenges.

Of mischievous children.

The remaining four steps were all sweet.

Step 14 was Chirimoya (custard apple) with caramel, crispy caramel cake and orange. Served cold, it was creamy and sherbety.

Step 15 was a lucuma popsicle. It came presented in a freezer box – just as served on the streets of Peru. We reached in and pulled out an ice cream made from lucuma, a subtropical fruit native to the Andean valleys of Ecuador, Peru and Chile.

We dipped the popsicles into melted 60% native cocoa chocolate and then into Andean granola. So fun! Lucuma has flavours of maple syrup and sweet potato, though I still believe it tastes like roast pumpkin.

Step 16: Besof de Moza. These are chocolates you can buy in Peru.

Inside the chocolate shell was butterscotch and meringue, and a dollop of tangy jam made from camu camu, a fruit from the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon.

The last step was a series of petit fours:

Lucuma tuile.
Pumpkin cake.
Mango – basil – camu camu jelly.
Algarrobina truffle (a syrup made from the Black Carob tree)
Pisco cup.

And we were done. Phew!

With the wine matching, fortunately they didn’t match to every single step, otherwise I doubt we could’ve made it back to the hotel! Instead there were six different drinks throughout the meal: a pink French champagne, a local pale ale, a deliciously dark beer that was like coffee, a white wine from Spain, a red wine, and to finish: an unusual sweet red dessert wine – Alcyone Tannat. Unfortunately I didn’t take note of all the drinks, but it was an interesting range and I did enjoy them – particularly the dark beer and the dessert wine.

It was an exceptional meal. As expected, service was flawless and friendly, and the food was excellent. This was a very special meal: I found it very imaginative. I loved the usage of Peruvian ingredients, the concept of the stages/steps, and the twists on, and references to, traditional Peruvian dishes. It’s a meal that can only be experienced in Peru and was the perfect way to farewell the country. And it may be my favourite meal of 2012 (sorry Loam).

Astrid y Gaston
Calle Cantuarias 175
Phone: +(511) 242 5387 or +(511) 242 4422