I imagine that wherever someone like Gabriel Garcia Marquez lives, the neighborhood gets better. Sitting down at a table at La Cevicheria in Cartagena’s old walled center, just beside the famed Santa Clara monastery (now a Sofitel), a clown comes by making squeaking noises. He squeaks when a van drives by as he acts like he is keying the side of it. He squeaks wedding music to a couple dining at the table next to mine, then sprays a string of fake ketchup from a red bottle on the girlfriend as she screams…then laughs. Soon three kids, no more than ten years old, rap for two minutes about Colombia. Then a neatly dressed maid walks by with a Dalmatian. She smiles. So does the dog it seems.
Outside Medellin’s MAMM (Museo de Arte Modern de Medellin) it begins to rain. First, a light rain. Then, a downpour. People are rushing across the brick plaza in front, ducking for cover anywhere they can. At Bonuar, the bar and restaurant on the side of the museum, patrons are arriving on the patio with a flurry, closing umbrellas and shaking the water off of their heads. One man takes off his jacket and reveals a t-shirt that asks “Que es arte?” I have been to Bonuar twice now and this sequence of events has happened both times. Well, most of it anyway.
De niña yo tuve un sueño que hoy se ha hecho realidad, poder sentirme a tu lado a traves del cocinar. Hoy estoy aqui en Palermo mezclo sabor y amistad. Veni, sentite en tu casa, podes entrar sin golpear! When I was a girl I had a dream that… Read More →
A glossary. That does it for me on a restaurant’s menu, such as that of Leo Cocina y Cava in Bogota. Particularly when the ingredients being defined are of the food of that place. Many Latin American countries only vaguely know what is edible outside of their region of birth. You learn that name is a Caribbean tuber, that guayusa is a highly caffeinated Amazonian plant, and that cabeza de mico is a mix of shredded coconut and green banana that is common in the Afro-Colombian communities of Cordoba. The glossary tells me immediately that this chef, Leonor Espinosaa one time ecponomist and publicist, is a sort of culinary explorer, testing which ingredients work together, and which do not. In a place with the level of biodiversity of Colombia, this is important.
It took a trip to Fiesta Gourmet in Lima to realize I needed to spend more time exploring the food of Peru’s Northern Coast. It was the Arroz con Pato a la Chiclayana to be exact. It’s the restaurants most popular dish and quite possibly my favorite dish in Peru. What intrigued me was that it mentioned the town of Illimo, outside of Chiclayo, as the source of the cilantro, an ingredient equally as important in the dish as the duck or rice, though it lacks the headliner status.
Opened in mid-2009 in a hidden spot not far from the Larcomar shopping center in Miraflores, Central is one of the most exciting restaurants to hit Lima’s scene in some time. Thirty-one year old chef Virgilio Martinez is a Peruvian who worked in New York, Paris, Madrid, Colombia, and Southeast Asia for many years (& sometimes in the kitchens of Gaston Acurio) and returned to Lima to open his own restaurant. The global flair came with him in the kitchen: an English pastry chef, a Colombian sous-chef, a Mexican sommelier, and a Spanish mâitre d’.
In 2005, Gaston Acurio had just opened his second restaurant in Lima, Peru. It was called La Mar. It was a modern rendition of a typical Limeño lunch only cevicheria, like Sonia, a closed door Chorrillos haunt that Acurio had helped rediscover with his television show, Aventuras Culinaria.
Somewhere far, far away, hanging off the end of the Chilean Lake District, in a wooded stretch of coastline near the far end of the island of Chiloe, there’s an upside down boat. The wooden structure was built purposely upside down, somewhat like the island’s UNESCO world heritage wood shingle churches, which were also modeled after boats turned on their heads. It’s at least two hours from anywhere. In this boat is Espejo de Luna (www.espejodeluna.cl), aka Lef, a restobar and café serving some of the most resourceful food in Chile.
There are tens of thousands of chifas, the local name for a Chinese restaurant, in Peru. They are found on almost every street corner in Lima and even in remote communities in the Amazon rainforest. They are overwhelmingly simple and generally inexpensive. They are far less fusion than most Peruvians think. While their influence on mainstream Peruvian cuisine is clearly evident (see Lomo Saltado), most chifas serve what is for the most part standard Cantonese cuisine. While there are a few chifas in Lima that serve dim sum and are a bit more upscale than normal, no major chef has attempted to neither reinvent nor modernize this variation of Peruvian food. Nikkei dishes yes, the chifa never.
A Pacific scented wind blows off the Miraflores malécon outside of the Miraflores Park hotel, where the restaurant Mesa 18 can be found. Lima has lacked a really good hotel restaurant for some time. There’s Perroquet??? in the Country Club, which is more about socialites mingling than the food, and the Sonesta El Olivar used to hire promising chefs but jumped off that train long ago. Orient Express, which manages the Miraflores Park, chose to make the restaurant a destination unto itself, rather than make it another hotel eatery like the predecessor. Gone is the stiff red and gold décor and formal setting. In came a plant filled open-air terrace and an edgy dining room designed by a Jordi Puig.