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.
I randomly met Romina Puente-Arnao at a famed fried yucca stand in Lima, Peru’s Mercado Palermo earlier this year while filming for the Travel Channel’s Street Eats International and was excited to learn that she was helping launch her family’s pisco label in the United States this year. While most Peruvian piscos are far less mass produced than those in Chile, the brands that have made the trip north thus far are some of the largest labels and are no longer family owned and operated, which is a generally a defining characteristic of Peru’s, mostly small batch, piscos. The brand is called Capurro Pisco in the US and Nazca Pisco in Peru. While Nazca Pisco has been around for decades in Peru, Capurro just launched in Miami this September and has plans to make its way up the East Coast later this year. It’s a much needed addition to the American Pisco market. Puente-Arnao was kind enough to give us a detailed story of Capurro:
I woke up to the sound of waves just outside my window. My eyes weren’t open yet, but I felt the tropical breeze give me a morning kiss. Slowly, as if curious, early sun rays filtered themselves into my cosy seaside cabin and a delicious smell of wood and saltwater gently filled my nostrils. I peeked lazily from under the covers and caught a glimpse of the deep blue sky. Waves splashed, I grinned – this definitely wasn’t Kansas anymore!
The Ica region is Peru’s leading grower of grapes, with the area around the city of Ica itself being the epicenter. Pisco, a sweet aromatic grape brandy is produced here, as well as wine.
Recently there has been some debate about the spelling of ceviche. In Peru, ceviche is generally spelled either cebiche or ceviche. Cebiche with a B is more typical in Lima, though with a V is more common nationally and especially internationally. Some think it should be spelled with an S, as Seviche. I don’t. Here’s why.
If you happen to grab a bite in Peru’s Amazonian region and come across plates of yellowish balls served all around you, don’t panic! It’s nothing out of the ordinary, just one of the most wonderful dishes Peruvian cuisine ever invented. Served in every village, town and city in the jungle, tacacho is part of a strong gastronomic tradition that still remains a secret to the rest of the world. Although Peru has been enjoying a culinary boom for the past few years, its Amazonian region hasn’t gathered much international attention. However, it’s a solid gastronomic identity simply craving to be discovered.
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 was recently given a sneak peak at Solbeso, a spirit being distilled from fair trade fresh Peruvian cacao fruit. It’s the first spirit of its kind. It’s not a chocolate liqueur, but a clear spirit with a consistency like that of pisco. It is said to have the same the chemical benefits of dark chocolate, yet none of the sweetness or flavor. On tasting it, I smelled chocolate notes immediately as soon as I brought the glass to my nose.
For those of you that read the magazine Saveur, I have an article in the June/July issue (2012) on Lucuma Ice Cream from Helados OVNI, a small ecological ice cream producer on the side of the Pan-American Highway south of Lima in the town of Chilca (Kilometer 63.5), a perfect summer stop for Limeños traveling to their beach houses in the Playas of Asia.
As most of my work as of late involves eating and restaurants in Lima, Peru, I am often asked where to go. What is the cevicheria of the moment? Who is the hottest chef of the moment? Where should I go for a taste of the Amazon? Who has the best anticuchos? Which of Gaston Acurio’s restaurants should I go to? I could literally go on for days describing where to eat in Lima. While I’m usually scouting out huariques and market stalls in obscure districts, though for the passing writer or foodie that wants to know what is in right now, here is my Lima IT list.