Let’s wrap up the eats in Lima accompanied by some music…. I had some delicious food at a variety of places, some average food at a couple, nothing bad, thankfully. I did a bit of graze eating on my own – it’s much harder to do solo than with another person or two, so I didn’t try near as many places. Next time someone needs to go with me who’s interested in running all over the city going to hole in the wall type spots to try some of the local foodie’s “best of” dishes.
Started my first full day in Barranco with a visit to Tostaduria Bisetti, Pedro de Osma 116, generally considered one of the best cafes in Lima. One of only two really good cups of coffee I had during a four week trip, the other being at a little cupcake place at Prince and Mott in NYC that took over the space that used to be The Kitchen Club, where I was the chef eons ago. Only objection here was the size – an order for a regular espresso came out as a ristretto – there is a difference (typically, 30ml vs 15ml, or 1oz vs .5oz). But it was really good. And the barra de maracuyá, or passionfruit bar, was amazing. Great start to the day.
Several people recommended the cevicheria Canta Rana, Genova 101. They have a couple of dozen different kinds of ceviches on the menu. They have an owner who was stalking about the place yelling at the staff and throwing things (until he finally left, with apologies from, I assume, his wife, to the staff, after they loaded his car up with bottles of wine and some food). Their supposed best ceviche is their guardia imperial, with fish (cojinoba – a name used for multiple different fishes depending on where you are, the Peruvian one is, I’m fairly certain, what in English would be called a warehou or ruff), char-grilled octopus, avocado and sweet potato. They serve their ceviche, or at least this one, what I’d call sashimi style – the fish is cubed, tossed with some chili, cilantro and red onion, and served raw, with all the other ingredients piled around it, and the leche de tigre, the curing liquid, is served separately in a little jug, for you to add to your tastes. For me (and definitely for Henry), that’s not ceviche, which needs at least 15-20 minutes to cure. So I tried it, then ate the octopus and veggies, and waited for the fish to cure. It was good, a little too salty I thought, but good. I didn’t finish it, but that was more because I had some further grazing in mind.
Huariques are what we might call hole in the walls. They’re typically very small, very casual places to grab a bite to eat, and while they may have a menu of several choices, there’s generally one dish that they’re particularly known for. In this case, it took a walk through a less savory part of Barranco to Mi Perú, Lima 861 at Plaza Butters, for what some have called the “life changing experience” of trying their concentrado de cangrejo, essentially a crab broth with a whole crab in it (that’s been, thankfully, pre-cracked in most of the right places. Savoring the delicious sweet meat of the crab and then slurping down every last drop of the broth, I can understand the sentiment. I wouldn’t call it life changing, but it may just be one of the best crab dishes I’ve ever had, anywhere. There’s an online recipe here (in Spanish), but I have trouble believing it’s that simple. I’m going to give it a try though and see. It started raining, so I headed back to the hotel, skipping over one more planned stop, figuring I’d get it in the next day (I didn’t, unfortunately, it was another huarique not far from Mi Perú that supposedly has the best hueveras fritas, fried fish roes).
Next day, another ceviche to begin, this time at El Muelle, Av Alfonso Ugarte 225, with a ceviche clasico con conchas negras – same base fish, instead of octopus, I had this with conchas negras, a type of bivalve (with the dubious sounding scientific name of Anadara tuberculosa and English name of “pustulose ark”), or as most folk refer to them, black clams. Here, the fish is cured before serving – I’d guess not long before, but at least the process has started before it lands on the table. Quite good, more balanced than the other ceviche, though lacking some of the depth of flavor – I didn’t get any sense of ginger or garlic in it, just pure citrus, chilies, salt and cilantro. Fresh ají limo and puree of rocoto provided on the side to spike it up a bit. The place is a bit touristy, but then most of the restaurants in that stretch of Barranco near to the walkway down to the shore and the famed puente de suspiros, tend to be.
I’d heard about this family run place where you eat in the family house, the food they like to cook. Songoro Cosongo, Ayacucho 281 is the spot, the name is that of a Cuban song (the music above). Father of the family, Hernán, greets each table with a prepared speech about how this is a place that is the family home, they only cook the dishes they like (the menu was pretty extensive with classic homestyle Peruvian food, so they clearly like a lot of different things), relax, enjoy, drink a pisco sour to whet the appetite. It was a canned speech repeated at every table, along with recommendations for trying their ceviche and their sudado. I wasn’t feeling in the mood for more fish, in fact, I was really there to try a highly recommended dessert, the bruselina de lucuma, a sort of torte made with the classic Peruvian fruit, lucuma. But he was so nice about everything, even sitting down to play the piano for me (I was the first one in the room), that I felt like I had to order a main course. Decent aji de gallina, served over spaghetti – nothing to get worked up about, but decent. And then, they were out of the dessert. Damnit.
Moved to my second hotel, in Miraflores, where I’d very nicely been upgraded to a suite at no extra charge, no idea why, but who’s complaining? In fact I decided that pretty much other than to eat, I was done with vacation, and wasn’t going to leave the room. And I really didn’t, other than a quick trip to look for something Henry asked me to try to find, and visits to the hotel’s gym. Dinner the first night at the much touted Rafael, San Martín 300, just a couple of blocks away. No reservation, it’s a small place, but their bar was wide open, so I grabbed a table there. The menu is really, really, long, which is surprising for a place that’s supposed to concentrate on very intricate, high quality dishes, but then looking closely, I realized that a lot of it is just repeating ingredients over and over in different combinations. They have a fairly long abrebocas, or sort of tapas, menu, and I decided to order a few of them. Out of six dishes, only two were above average, and only one of those would I think about ordering again – the pea risotto with poached egg, above. Peas, various types of eggs, and way too much truffle oil seemed to be the order of the day. [When I met up with some friends the next day who are in the restaurant biz, they both said that they consider the place highly overrated and have never understood why anyone goes there. Wish I’d known.] Very, very touristy, and very expensive.
Next day, met up with the aforementioned friends at ámaZ, Av. La Paz 1079, for lunch. Far, far better experience. The food is Amazon inspired modern cooking. The service is a tad pretentious. I arrived about 20 minutes before my friends got there and had a chat with my waiter, who informed me that they were going to “provide an experience”, a phrase that tends to start raising the hairs on the back of my neck. I started asking about different dishes and portion sizes, as the menu is broken up into sections of what are basically tapas, appetizers and main courses – his response was that it didn’t matter, because they would size the portions to how many people were at the table, adjust the costs accordingly, and everything would be served family style so that each person got a taste of each thing ordered. I asked what if I just wanted one of the plates of tapas for myself with however many portions it was listed at on the menu, and he informed me that that was not an option, it was sharing, and resized plates, period. I hate that. I really hate that. Seriously, don’t tell me how to order or eat my food, unless you’re not providing an a la carte menu to begin with and only offering some sort of tasting setup. Had I been solo, I’d have probably walked out – even though I wouldn’t have been sharing anything with anyone, and who knows, perhaps with one portion of each thing, I’d have gotten to try lots of things – I just find that sort of non-accommodating attitude offensive. Since my friends highly recommended it and they were on the way, I took a few deep breaths, ordered a mixed juice cocktail, and waited for them.
They arrived, and we got down to the ordering. We had a lot more food than pictured above, but this is representative – a trio of appetizers on the table at one point – some chicken wings in a crunchy rice coating with a cocona foam (type of fruit that tastes sort of like a cross between a tomato and a lemon), some yuca flour empanadas with vegetables and a mild chili sauce, and the winner of the day, the huge river snails with tapioca pearls with mixed regional chilies. We also had a tuna ceviche made with passionfruit, some plantains with chili sauce, bread with an avocado cream, and then the main courses. Interestingly, the main courses are not served family style, but individually, with a bowl of rice in the middle of the table to share. In my case, I wanted to try their duck stew, flavored with lemon curd and bitter chocolate. Excellent dish, and a flavor combination I expect I’ll be playing with, though likely not in a stew form, where the individual components kind of got lost. Overall, other than the service style, I like the place. And, it’s not that I don’t like to share dishes, but I like to decide if/when/what I want to share. The food is delicious, and I’d try the place again on a return visit to Lima. Expensive, but not nearly as pricey as the meal the night before.
I decided for my last meal in Lima to head back to Maido, San Martín 399. I’d had such a good meal there last year and was in the mood for some great sushi before heading home. I have to say, it was a completely different experience, and a bit shocking, given that in the interim they’ve garnered a spot on the list of Latin America’s 50 best restaurants. From the minute I sat down, service was weird. The sommelier (who I do know is brand new to the restaurant, but isn’t brand new to being a sommelier), approached and gave a very nervous, lost boy sort of speech about his capabilities as a sommelier and how he would guide me through the winelist. I asked to see the sake list and for some mineral water, he just turned around and walked away. My waiter, who was actually I’m pretty sure the same one I had last year, approached a few minutes later with the menu, I told him that I’d also asked the sommelier about the sake list and for some water, and his response was “he only does wines, he doesn’t do sake or water”. WTF? The staff were far less attentive, far less friendly, I noted later when leaving that the hostess from downstairs was just hanging out on the stairway with the floor manager, giggling away, chatting, just short of making out on the steps, and neither of them paying any attention to anything around them, I actually had to ask them to let me pass twice before they moved out of the way, and not a single word like goodnight or we hope you enjoyed yourself, from them, the sushi chefs, or the waiter.
The food, while still delicious, was not quite to the same standard as last year. The sushi was cut a bit unevenly, the rice was refrigerator cold – surprising. And it wasn’t just my memory – look at the photos of the sushi I had on last year’s visit – it’s pristine, beautiful, generous. Even the one dish I really liked this time, the “onsen egg” with cecina, cured pork, was sort of set on the bar, a little jug of the sauce was sort of splashed over it slightly by the waiter, and then the jug was just left on the counter off to the side, where it remained the rest of my dinner (that’s a service, not cooking issue). Never did get any pickled ginger to accompany my sushi, even though I asked. Watching the sushi chefs it seemed like they were just going through the motions, there was none of the animated, hospitable style that they showed on my previous visit. Overall, disappointing, and really, really surprising – hopefully it was just a single night aberration. As a note, the head chef, Mitsuharu Tsumura, was away at one of the big gastronomy events – when the cat’s away….
And that rounds up Lima for this trip. Catch you back in BA!