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’.
Few restaurants that have opened in Lima this year have intrigued me as much as Amor Amar. The restaurant pairs for the first time Argentine chef Luis Alberto Sacilotto (renowned for his work at La Gloria) and Víctor Away Chang-Say (the owner/creator of Pescados Capitales). With this duo at the helm, my expectations were high.
Brasil a Gosto, on a quiet tree lined street in São Paulo’s Jardins neighborhood, is one of those restaurants that teaches you as much as it feeds you. The restaurant was in fact founded after the chef Ana Luiza Trajano searched 47 different Brazilian cities across the country to complete an inventory of regional ingredients and recipes and then wrote a book, the same name as the restaurant, about it. Trajano takes many of those recipes, many of them usually found in dirt rooms shacks and market stalls, and presents modern interpretations in a contemporary dining room with high quality ingredients.
Somewhere north of the center of São Paulo, where the endless sea of skyscrapers fades into two story buildings and the population becomes decidedly less flashy, is a 30-year old restaurant called Mocotó. It’s in the middle of nowhere, sort of close (a 10 minute cab ride) to the Tucuvuri Metro station. So far that a cab ride from the center will set you back $50.
Mayta is one of the most promising restaurants to open in Lima (Miraflores) in 2009. The chef, Jaime Pesaque, is quite young but he has a lot of experience (Cordon Bleu, other top restaurants in Lima). Mayta has received nearly 100% positive reviews from the local critics in Lima. I’m sticking with them.
In Quito’s La Floresta neighborhood, Alkimia, which opened in 2008, has a young Peruvian chef who prepares Latin dishes with mostly locally sourced ingredients. The owners are the same as Teatrum, which is considered one of, if not the best restaurants in Ecuador.
Cartagena’s dining scene is more impressive than Bogotá’s, if not more so. The atmosphere is definitely better. Vera is one of the most anticipated restaurants to open in the walled city in a long, long time. Part of the reason is the setting. Vera sits on the ground level, partly poolside, of the most anticipated boutique hotel to open in Cartagena ever, fashion designer Silvia Tcherassi’s seven suite Tcherassi Hotel + Spa. The breezy open air dining area is all white, like much of the hotel, and fronts the courtyard, pool, and an amazing vertical garden that features 3,000 plants native to Colombia. Mirrors line one wall. A second, air-conditioned dining room is equally as sleek.
La Gloria has been a landmark on Lima’s dining scene for years. Run by chef Luis Alberto Sacilotto and owner Óscar Velarde, the restaurant has been training for many of the most important Peruvian chefs of the past decade. Is it the best restaurant in Lima? It’s definitely one of the best. I’ve only been there once though and I don’t toss around that ranking lightly, so can’t confirm. It lacks the creativity that a place like Malabar or Rafael has, but as far as execution goes La Gloria is as good as any restaurant in South America. If Michelin came to Peru (I’ve heard their putting out a guide in Brazil in 2010), La Gloria could easily earn a star.
It took five knocks on random doors to find the right house, even though I had been there before. When I finally found Chez Wong I was told that I couldn’t come in because I didn’t have a reservation. I looked behind the doorman and no one was there. I pleaded but no luck. He handed me a business card with a phone number and asked me to call later. The following week, this time with a reservation, I returned to Chinese-Peruvian chef Javier Wong’s closed-door cebicheria in his house in La Victoria, an unassuming neighborhood of Lima, Peru near busy avenue full of auto body shops.
Panchita is the latest Gastón Acurio creation in Lima. The emphasis here is on traditional Criollo dishes, which are served in large portions. They call Panchita an anticucheria, though that might be a bit of a stretch. While in general I like most of what Acurio puts out, it is hard to get an honest review of most of his restaurants because most everyone in Lima is so blinded by his star power that they accept whatever is put on their plate for gold. He makes Peruvian food that is acceptable for the international crowd and the restaurants can stand on their own in any city in the world. That said, I always have a good meal at one of Acurio’s restaurants, just not a great meal.