I have probably visited more Peruvian restaurants outside of Peru than anyone on planet earth (it’s debatable, but maybe inside of Peru too). In most cases I am left disappointed. The primary reason is the lack of access to high quality ingredients, primarily aji chiles, as well as proper substitutions for limes and other fruits, though at times, the entire concepts may seems off. That is not the case at Ricardo Zarate’s Mo-chica in Los Angeles.
At La Perla, Peruvian chef Carlos Accinelli who learned his trade in the kitchens of Lima and Spain at the Michelin-starred Basque restaurant, Arzak, works closely with owner and manager Roberto Carrascal to ensure the menu gets a facelift as regularly as the petite diner’s stylish interiors. There’s no shifting the stars of the show though. Neither the classic Ceviche Corvina (sea bass ceviche) or the Lomo La Perla, a sirloin steak served with a Roquefort-laced sauce served on a bed of creamy mushroom rice, are showing signs of going out of fashion any time soon.
Now that he has more than thirty some restaurants set in a dozen countries, many of which are fusion concepts like Chinese-Peruvian or Italian-Peruvian, I sometimes forget just how revolutionary Gastón Acurio’s original restaurant, Astrid y Gastón in Lima, was and continues to be. I don’t think I will make that mistake again.
Most of the time straying away from traditional Argentine food in Buenos Aires is not a good decision. While the Argentines have essentially perfected the art of preparing meat, getting good international cuisine in Buenos Aires can sometimes be frustrating for foreigners that grew up with a wide variety of foods. In recent years the trend of puerta cerrada (closed door) restaurants has swept through Buenos Aires garnering international media attention. As a resident of the city, many of them are exciting as they feature unique and innovative cuisines.
How do you fit the whole world into a single room? Ask chef Gabriel Coquel and he’ll tell you, easy, that room just needs to be a kitchen. This is a man who divides the globe up by regional cuisines and local specialties and through his restaurant Tandory, quietly tucked away in suburban Montevideo, he is fulfilling his self-imposed task of bringing his world of flavors and textures home to Uruguay.
I love the sound of an Argentine barbecue. It’s gentle and unhurried; a sizzle here and there as another goblet of fat falls onto the coals and if you lean in close you can hear a slight crackle and pop (yes, like the breakfast cereal, just sparser, and crisper), the sound of meat slowly searing to perfection.
In 2009, after expanding his restaurant empire around the world, Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio opened two new restaurants in the provinces of Peru, his first outside of the confines of the capital of Lima. The two restaurants, both named Chi Cha, bring Acurio’s signature style to two of Peru’s largest cities: Arequipa & Cuzco. Each skews toward regional dishes and ingredients, though also serves a wider national cuisine and Acurio originals. The dining rooms are elegant, yet they’re not stuffy nor is the food over priced. As with most of Acurio’s restaurants, the bar menu is creative with a dozen or so Pisco based cocktails that go beyond a traditional Pisco Sour.
I first discovered Enrique Olvera at Mistura, Lima’s annual gastronomy festival, a few years ago. He gave a presentation on Mexican food that echoed many of the same sentiments I was seeing in Peru about rediscovering native ingredients. He seemed cool too. Not in the least bit cocky, as many Latin American chefs can be. Pujol has been on the top of my Mexico City restaurant list ever since. The restaurant is now a decade old as Olvera opened it right after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in New York.
Nikkei restaurants have been on the rise in Lima for the past several years. The Peruvian-Japanese fusion spots are home to some of the most technically skilled chefs anywhere in Peru, though with the addition of sophisticated restaurants such as Central and Manfiesto in recent years they have been overshadowed. That is about to change. Hajime Kasuga, you know him from his work at Hanzo, a Nikkei restaurant that was exported to Santiago, has opened this week his new restaurant: H, or Ache.
When he was a child Giacomo Bocchio saw Javier Wong, cook in his Lima restaurant. He then wanted to be a chef. Wong has that effect. He now says Bocchio could be the best chef in Peru, if not the world. Wong always thinks in those kinds of terms.