Maybe ground zero is the wrong term – it isn’t as if Mitsuharu Tsumura, or Micha, the chef at Maido, invented nikkei cuisine. It was around long before he was born. But there’s no question that he’s one of the stars of the modern nikkei movement (nikkei is the term for Peruvian – Japanese fusion cooking, the sort of thing that seems to be taking the world by storm the last few years), and his restaurant garnered 11th in 2013 and 7th in 2014 in the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants listing. And, he’s “written the book” on the history and development of this style of cooking, Nikkei es Perú (free in Kindle edition, and you can find pdf format copies all over the internet as that’s how he originally released it, and although it says it’s Spanish only, it’s actually dual Spanish and English – Micha is fluent in both – and has spent a fair amount of time in the States, his chef training was at Johnson & Wales).
I’ve eaten at Maido twice – in those same years. My first time, it was borderline impeccable – amazingly good food, fantastic service, at most I had a couple of minor quibbles that didn’t remotely keep it from being a “five star” experience. Last year, the food was still excellent, though some faint sloppiness showed up in the plating, but service was way off – I noted that the major service flaw was a new employee, albeit experienced enough not to have behaved the way he did; and, that the chef wasn’t there in the kitchen keeping an eye on things. It was still a great experience, and I chalked it up, hopefully, to an off night.
Given that I had two days solo planned in Lima, I contacted a couple of local friends – not just to get together, but, having been on the road for more than three weeks, and feeling a bit like I wanted something to do other than sightseeing and eating in restaurants, I offered up that perhaps I could spend a few hours in one or another kitchens in which they were involved. My friend Gregg, the wine director at Central, where I’d hoped that perhaps the chef would let me observe a bit of modernist cooking – still a near void in my repertoire, got back to me with the alternate suggestion of spending an afternoon with Micha, who’s a good friend of his. I realized that basically all I’d ever tried at Maido was relatively traditional sushi, and I’d never ventured into the nikkei realms, so, why not?
And, that’s what I did. I met up with Micha at noon, we sat and got to know each other for about half an hour, trading histories, talking about the industry, all the stuff that’s interesting to chefs and probably not so much to anyone else. And then, I basically followed him around in the kitchen, trying to stay out of the way (very narrow kitchen, not so easy) – he wasn’t doing the cooking, his chef de cuisine was running the kitchen for lunch service, so it allowed for more time for him to explain things that they were doing, show me some really interesting techniques (some of which may just be coming down the pike at Casa S), and sticking little nibbles of ingredients and parts of dishes in front of me to try – fruits, herbs, spices, mostly from the Amazon, that were new to me. And somewhere in there, he sort of casually tossed off, that when we were done in the kitchen, he wanted me to sit down and eat my way through the thirteen course tasting menu, as his guest. (I’d been debating internally what I was going to do in regard to eating there – given it’s ranking these days, reservations are nigh on impossible at last minute – and I’d actually been figuring out how to broach whether I could get a seat and try the tasting menu. And then, with all the nibbling in the kitchen, I was thinking – I don’t really need to eat more… maybe come back in the evening.) But hey, cool!
Wasn’t really up for cocktails, beer or wine, and was going to go with just water, the bartender whipped this up for me to try – a fresh lychee and black tea virgin “cocktail”. Yum. I’m going to use that.
This is going to be hard to translate – so many of the ingredients and terms are ones I simply don’t know. So I’m going to give you the name and description from the menu (provided only after you eat – in fact, not only do you not get to see the tasting menu beforehand, but they basically don’t tell you much of anything about what is in front of you – encouraging you to just taste, enjoy, and then later find out the details).
Piel crujiente de pollo, salsa pachikay; Senbei de arroz, chorizo regional, platano asado, emulsión de sachatomate.
Crispy chicken skin, ginger sauce; Rice cracker, regional (amazonian – they buy them from a woman up in Iquitos, if I understood correctly) chorizos, roasted plantain, tamarillo emulsion.
Churos al shoyu, chalaca, espuma de dale dale.
River snails cooked in soy, chalaca is a traditional garnish of, usually, corn, tomato, onion, chili, and lime; foam of dale dale, an Amazonian root.
Cebiche de Lapas
Tierra de cancha chulpi, lapas, palta punta, leche de tigre al ají amarillo nitro.
Toasted corn “soil”, limpets (a type of mollusk), avocado, yellow chili ceviche curing liquid that’s been frozen with liquid nitrogen and then quickly ground to a powder and mixed with the toasted corn soil.
Sanguchito de paiche
Pan al vapor, chicharrón de paiche, criolla de lulo.
Steamed bun (if I followed everything accurately while in the kitchen, the dough is actually made with the flesh or an infusion of flavor from the pez sapo, or toad-fish), fried paiche (the huge Amazonian fish I’ve mentioned a few times before), and a little salsa of naranjilla.
Gyoza de cuy
Gyoza de cuy, ponzu amazonico.
Guinea pig dumpling (the technique to get that crust is so different from what I imagined – I wrote a little about my speculation back on my first visit – I was wrong – I also had no idea that the gyoza were filled with guinea pig rather than pork!), and a ponzu sauce with some regional herbs and spices.
Sushi – Mar
Calamar – Conchas con chia
Umm, yeah, what it says – not a lot of detail – two nigiri sushi from the sea – squid, and scallops with chia. As to what the garnishes and sauces were – no idea.
Camarones, pejerrey, leche de tigre nikkei, charapita, chonta, fariña.
Shrimp, silverside fish, nikkei style curing liquid (some soy it seemed), those little fiery yellow chilies from the Amazon, palm heart strips, and a little crumble of coarse yuca flour cooked with garlic and usually beef broth, a puchero, in classic cooking.
Chancho con yuca
Panceta guisada con yuca, mishquina, piel crujiente, reducción de ramen, cocona.
This one fascinated me, and I got to see it being made in all its components. He starts with a traditional pork and yuca stew, and cooks it down until it’s really thick and unctuous, and then lets it solidify in the refrigerator, cuts in cubes, wraps the cubes on four sides in flattened bread, browns the four sides in oil, puts a piece of crispy pork skin on top; mishquina is a seasoning mix based on turmeric, and the sauce is a reduction of pork ramen broth, and cocona is a fruit from the amazon that tastes a bit like a cross between lemon and tomato.
Soba de sachapapa, aderezo rojo, vongoles, cangrejo.
The bowl of noodles on the side were just so I could see them uncooked, not part of the usual service. They’re soba noodles made from a jungle yam root, the “red dressing” was based on ají panca, the dried red chilies; clams and crab.
Suahi – Tierra
A lo pobre – Molleja.
Nigiri from “the land” – the former, a strip of hanger steak, marinated and topped with a fried quail egg – the cool thing here, they fry the eggs, and then while still hot, they inject the yolks with ponzu sauce – the yolks, amazingly, self-seal and the sauce doesn’t leak out; the latter, lightly crispy veal sweetbread slice topped with something I simply don’t remember.
Crema de palta, culantro, frejoles regionales, gel de ponzu, crujientes de quinua, crumble de café.
Avocado cream, culantro (not cilantro, though similar), amazon beans, ponzu gel, quinua crisps, coffee crumble – Micha says it’s his take on nachos.
Gindara, miso, casho fermentado, escamas de castaña, crema de papa sangre de toro.
A somewhat classic of the genre, miso glazed black cod, fermented cashew apple (the fruit around the nut), cashew flakes, puree of bull’s blood potato (a beautiful potato that’s blood red in the center, surrounded by vibrant yellow, and then a reddish brown skin).
Asado de tira Wagyu – 50 horas, yema de huevo de corral, chaufa de cecina, ajicito de la selva.
50-hour sous vide cooked Wagyu shortrib, free range chicken egg yolk, cecina (amazon cured pork) fried rice, and a “jungle chili” sauce.
Chocolate amador – Piura – 70%, yuzu, helado de shica shica, mochis, castañas de bahuaja, nibs de cacao.
70% dark chocolate from Piura (northern Peru), yuzu, a palm fruit gelato, glutinous rice cake, brazil nuts, cocoa nibs.
Helado de maduro con shoyu, tapiocas de camu camu y taperiba, crujientes y gelatina de coco, leche de arroz.
Ripe plantain and soy gelato, camu camu (a small, tart, Amazon fruit) and mombin (another jungle fruit) tapioca pearls, coconut crisps and gel, rice milk.
I have to admit, by not much past midway in this meal, I was seriously considering bulimia as a lifestyle choice. It would have been fine had I not already been sampling my way through the kitchen for a couple of hours beforehand. Service was, thankfully, back to flawless, and good as the sushi that I’d had before was, there’s no question that the nikkei food is where this restaurant shines. And, very cool to make a new friend in Lima!
I opted not to go out for dinner (it was past 4:30 before I finished this meal), ordered a club sandwich in the hotel around 10pm and nibbled my way through almost half of it, then gave up.