So I think I have this straight. There was a well known chef in Lima, Ivan Kisic, and he was opening a restaurant here in Miraflores about three years ago. He died shortly before opening night in a car crash. His family decided that in tribute to him, they’d continue with his plans for the restaurant, and his twin brother Franco, who was working in Spain with Albert and Ferrán Adría, came back to run it. I gather shortly after, their cousin Monica, came on board to be the chef in charge of the kitchen. Albert Adría’s right-hand man, Sebastian Mazzola, came with Franco to consult as creative director on the project. While the kitchen is in the hands of the Kisic family, Mazzola, according to the information they’ve now sent me, returns once a year to collaborate on a new menu and train the staff in the new dishes.
I’d tried to make a reservation a few days in advance, only to be told that the dining room was sold out. They could seat me at the bar if I didn’t mind. I didn’t as long as I could still order the tasting menu – they were fine with that. The bar is a cute little slightly sunken room all appointed in various woods and seeds – they call it the Semilla Room, or Seed Room. Service is friendly, all the waiters and bartenders and runners seem to be cute young boys who can’t be more than their late teens or early 20s. They also explain everything. Everything. Seriously, everything – why things are arranged in a certain pattern, why they serve a certain way, not only what your plate is, but pointing out individual ingredients, and talking about the traditional dishes on which each modern take is based. It’s a bit much – when your plate gets set in front of you, there’s around a full minute of explanation before you’re apparently allowed to start eating it. But hey, friendly and cute. I ordered an ají amarillo chilcano – a nice bit of spice in one of my favorite drinks.
The tasting menu is eleven courses, but there are actually three additions. You don’t get to know what the tasting menu is in advance, nor after. They simply won’t tell you, or give you a list of what dishes you ate – that’s just weird. Especially because of the amount of explanation that went into each dish – thankfully I take copious notes. The first amuse was a chupe – a concentrated seafood broth poured into the shotglass at tableside. Prior to the photo what you would have seen were exactly 1 baby shrimp, 1 baby scallop, 1 half centimeter cube of fish, and 1 pea in the bottom of the shotglass. Good, but a little underseasoned.
Actually, let me get this out of the way. Everything was underseasoned. I can’t think of a single dish other than the desserts during the tasting that didn’t need salt, acid (a little lemon or lime), perhaps some pepper or chili (in fact, not one of the dishes includes any chili – on request they brought me a little dish of chopped rocotos). That said, with one exception, I liked all the dishes, just wasn’t wowed by them. Here, for a second amuse, an Andean potato chip topped with duck anticucho (a sauce that should be almost pure ají panca, herbs and vinegar, but seemed to have none of those), and a yam chip with a creamy cilantro infused ceviche of chiri, what we call palometa in Argentina.
The first official course. They actually explained that, including what they meant by official course. In case I was counting or something. Okay, I was. Hermandad Sellada en un Tiradito was the name of the dish, roughly translated as Brotherhood Sealed by a Sliced Fish. The slices of fish, fortuno, a type of jack, with granadilla and ginger gelatin, daikon, kumquat, flowers, and a nikkei style leche de tigre (not sure what made it nikkei, there was no soy or sesame oil, or anything of that sort, but okay).
La Comunidad del Tomate – The Community of the Tomato – various tomatoes and herbs, chia, and a vinaigrette made from chicha de jora (corn beer) and olive oil. The white ball, I think, was gelled tomato water.
Ceviche Amazónico – finally, not a fanciful name – paiche (those huge freshwater fish we checked out in Iquitos a couple of years ago), wok sauteed with pisco, culantro (different from cilantro), tamarillo, and, they claimed, charapita chilies, but there was no picante in it – I added some. Plantain chips on the side.
Vapor y Aromas del Oriente – you can figure that one out. More chiri fish, this time a fillet that’s been steamed over water infused with ginger and hierbaluisa (lemon verbena), with a little pot filled with more of the water into which they drop a sizzling hot stone so that you get vapor wafting around. Zucchini-cilantro puree (a trifle gummy – I’m guessing they thicken it with xanthan gum and used too much), and a couple of half rounds of sauteed zucchini and some bok choy leaves.
Sensaciones del Huerto y Aromas del Mar – Garden Feelings and Sea Aromas – This was the only course I didn’t like. The flavors were fine, albeit a little bland, but, the “arroz cremoso”, basically a cilantro and spinach risotto (topped with squid and palm hearts), was so undercooked that the rice was inedible. When the waiter saw I wasn’t eating it, he asked why, and I told him, and he said there was noting that could be done about it, shrugged, and took the plate away.
This, on the other hand, my favorite course – not listed on the menu (they told me there would be one or two things not from the a la carte menu) – cuy, guinea pig, three ways – a pate served with a blue corn chip, a piece of crispy skin, and a confit of leg in escabeche. Delicious!
Molleja de Altura – hmmm… “high altitude sweetbread”? More or less. Veal sweetbread, grilled, ollucos, or papalisas, in two textures – a sort of stew of them under and around the bits of sweetbread, and little crispy chips on the side. The chalaquita sauce, is basically a traditional herb, onion, and pepper salsa with the vegetables cut in very fine dice.
Entre el Choclo y las Mostazas – Between the Corn and the Mustards – teriyaki braised pork belly, corn in a variety of textures – a puree, a crispy puff, some baby corn, a sort of dehydrated corn snow, and some mustard seeds. Didn’t get the relationship between the teriyaki and the other two main flavors.
The palate cleanser, or pre-dessert, apple slices in pisco, a smoked apple puree, some other textures of apple. My waiter said it was an apple granita on the side, the website says it’s a tarragon granita. Maybe it’s both – it didn’t have much flavor.
I have to admit to not remembering all the components, and this is one not from the menu – I know it was various textures of cocoa – a sorbet, some cocoa nibs, some ganache “beans”, and I don’t recall what the white ice cream was – maybe a cocoa butter ice cream? It was good. The last official course.
Some petits fours served up “festively because Peruvians are all about celebrating” – so balloons, ribbons, and whatever – white chocolate truffles filled with passionfruit, and dark chocolate truffles, and on the side, some chicha morada (a fruity purple corn drink) marshmallows. All was fine until the waiter started throwing confetti over everything… don’t do that.
All in all, interesting. Lots of great ideas, and I wish I could say that they were excellent, but unfortunately I just didn’t have that experience the night I was there. The biggest issue was that the dishes were almost uniformly under-seasoned (cardinal rule of restaurant kitchen work, “taste everything before you send it out” may have simply gone out the window during a busy, stressful night), one was blatantly under-cooked, and while friendly and informative, the waiter, bartender, and runner, were simply upfront that nothing would be done about it – which for a restaurant that is striving to be one of Latin America’s Top 50, is a pretty big service faux pas. The meal was just average, which is disappointing given the $100 price tag, plus drinks, plus tip – about $120.
[Update: While my experience at the restaurant itself may have been disappointing for the price, it was by no means a bad meal – I enjoyed my evening thoroughly. Unfortunately the followup after this blog post was a trio of phone calls from the chef/owner to my cellphone back in Argentina screaming at me for daring to criticize his food or anything about the restaurant, claiming I was trying to ruin his restaurant, destroy the livelihood of his hard-working staff, and disparage the memory of his brother, and then he punctuated it by copying me on an email to his staff telling them that I was an egotistical self-important person who wasn’t deserving of their attention. All because, apparently, I dared to note here that things weren’t perfect. Classy, no?]