Monday, December 7, 2009

Peru, Day 10

Today was a good day. First of all, I woke up realizing that I had a full twenty-four hours to see Lima – my last day in Peru before I fly north to Quito, in neighboring Ecuador. (Quito is 9350 feet above sea level, so I’m hoping I don’t have another bout with altitude sickness.)

I woke up at six so that I could grab a shower and then hit El Mercado Numero Dos before it fully got in swing. I ended up leaving my hotel at a little before seven and got to the market about ten minutes later – it was a nice, brisk morning walk from my hotel. The neighborhood got progressively worse, and more crowded, as I neared the market, but the area was interesting in its own right. The number of hulking security men in berets and camouflage around the market itself told me that the area probably isn’t where I want to hang out, but it looks like a good place to buy foodstuffs.

The people working inside were friendly, too, and didn’t mind me poking around taking photos. I ended up buying a guanabana for six soles (~$2), which I haven’t eaten yet but need to before I leave Peru.

I hung out there until a little after eight a.m., and while the market was getting busier I’d say that only half the stalls, at most, were even open. I’m sure if I’d returned at ten the place would have really been bustling.

Afterward I came back to my hotel and availed myself of free breakfast.

Once I’d filled myself with nondescript food, I grabbed a taxi for Museo de Larco, which I recommend to anyone visiting Lima who wishes to get a deeper understanding of Peruvian pre-Columbian history. During this taxi ride my feeling about Lima changed even more. As we drove through the neighborhoods of Miraflores, San Isidro, Jesús Maria, and Pueblo Libre, I became increasingly impressed with how beautiful Lima is -- yes, this is a backtrack from what I said about my initial impressions of the city. There are a great many parks in Lima, and the architecture in these neighborhoods is beautiful. It goes without saying that it's too bad that crime is such a big problem here, as Lima seems to offer so much. Having come here from more rural areas of Peru, it's also worth saying that the socioeconomic differences between Lima and every Indian community I passed through are insanely steep. Much of Lima is very affluent, whereas the Indian communities that I saw are very poor indeed. I noticed this going from Cuzco to Poroy train station (a thirty-minute trip) for my trip to Machu Picchu, too, but Lima in many parts is far more affluent than even Cuzco.

But back to Museo de Larco. While the museum is known for its gold and silver collection from Ancient Peru, and also its textiles, I was most impressed with the pottery pieces on display. The creativity in all the works was astounding.

And the sheer number of civilizations represented – Peru, after all, is one of six regions of the world where first civilizations (“cradles of civilizations”) developed independently of other societies – is mind-boggling. Oh, and the erotic archaeological collection is mind-boggling, too. It almost makes the Kama Sutra look tame.

In addition to the museum pieces, there are two nice stores on the grounds and what’s supposed to be a great restaurant.

There’s also apparently a resident Peruvian Hairless that sleeps on the entrance walkway, blinking its coffee-bean eyes in the sun.

Museo de Larco is located at Av. Bolívar 1515 in Pueblo Libre, Lima. Tel: 461-1312. Email: Web: Tickets for adults are 24 soles (US$8.37).

By the time I finished at Museo de Larco it was lunchtime, more or less. So I took another taxi to a place that was also in Pueblo Libre called Restaurant El Bolivariano.

I got there just as it was opening, and had my pick of tables.

I ended up ordering causa acevichada (ceviche on top of a cold casserole-like serving of mashed potatoes, avocado, hot peppers, and onions in an ají amarillo sauce).

I had a frozen lemonade, too.

The causa acevichada was beautifully presented and also tasted great. The flavors were milder than I expected – ají amarillo is always mild, I’m coming to understand – but the combinations were pretty amazing. By itself each portion would have been good, too, but putting them together like this doubles the fun (if not the flavor). After this I was convinced by my friendly waiter to try the “postre nacional de Peru” – picarones, which are rings of fried bread served with cinnamon and cane syrup. He said they were small and not to worry that they came in a dish of four. Being the trusting type, I said fine. When they arrived, however, they were huge.

Being the eating machine that I am, I squeezed them down. All four of them. It was easier than I’d expected. Actually, they didn’t have much flavor to them, and surprisingly even the cane syrup and cinnamon didn’t add much, either. But they were there, my stomach was telling my brain, “Gimme more,” and I was game for anything. My causa acevichada cost 19 soles (US$6.62) and my picarones were 7 soles (US$2.44). El Bolivariano is a great choice if you’re in Pueblo Libre to visit Museo de Larco or Museo Nacional de Arqueología (just a two-minute walk away from the restaurant). It’s located at Psje. Santa Rose 291, Pueblo Libre, Lima. Tel: 261-9565. Email: Web:

But I wasn’t done yet. Amazingly, I found the fortitude, both mentally and intestinally, to visit an 88-year-old tavern called Antigua Taberna Queirolo.

The place is famous for its pisco sours and fortified wine, which is brewed next door (which is in turn next to a church, which I’m sure loves the tavern’s proximity). I ended up ordering what I think was called a Chilado de Pisco, which my waiter told me was the especial de la casa.

I’d say fully half my glass was pisco, followed by ginger ale, lime juice, and two other things that I couldn’t translate. It cost 10 soles (US$3.49) and took me about half an hour to polish off. Then I got sleepy…I wasn’t the only one drinking at 1 p.m., but everyone else was eating sandwiches or ceviche. I’m sure they just thought I was a lush. Anyone regularly reading my blog might think so, too.

From there I took a taxi home and rested for a bit. But not for too long, because I had more eating to do. At 7:30 I headed to what is widely considered to be Peru’s best restaurant: Astrid & Gastón. That’s right, the best restaurant in a country famous for its food. I felt woefully underdressed for the occasion – all I had was a striped polo shirt (yes, it was clean), a pair of dark jeans (clean, too), a black jacket (not so clean), and a pair of running shoes (clean if you don’t look at the soles), and I was afraid they’d turn me away. But thankfully they let me in – they told me that reserved seating began at nine, so I was safe for a while – and sat me at a table more or less in the middle of their main dining area.

I was immediately given bread and asked what I’d have to drink. “A piscopolitan,” I said quickly and a little guiltily. But hey, it’s my last night in Lima and I felt like splurging. I forget exactly what a piscopolitan is, but it has pisco, of course, and cranberry juice, lime juice, and several other fancy ingredients. It came quickly and was excellent.

For my main course I was really torn – everything on the menu sounded extraordinary, and just reading the menu made me realize that I was in a special place indeed. Possibly this would be a once-in-a-lifetime meal. But the pressure was on them, not me, and I felt good ordering the Cabrilla del mar de Piura, which the menu describes as “steamed spotted grouper from the sea of Piura with glazed scallops, razor-clams, ají Amarillo and mint, and creamy rice, peas, and corn).” Not bad, eh?

As I was waiting for it, one of the waiters saw my camera and asked me if I wanted to take photos of the kitchen. Sure!

He ended up giving me a tour of the entire restaurant, showing me the kitchen, an outdoor “office area” with an art installation in the wall, and answered my questions about the place.

Nice guy. Maybe he was worried that I was a food reporter from the New York Times and wanted to make a good impression on me. Then again, I’m pretty sure I was the worst-dressed customer they’d seen in some time, so maybe he just felt sorry for me.

Shortly after returning to my table my food arrived. It was beautiful.

The creamy, light-green rice held my gaze for some time, and my first bite didn’t let me down. This might sound improbable, but the flavors were in fact new to me. The sauce was perhaps a tad salty, but the dish itself was fantastic – the grouper was perfect in its firmness, with a tinge of pink in the middle, and the scallop and razor-clams were just as good. There were also two pieces of squid mixed in, and the green rice, which seemed to be of a sticky variety, and therefore absorbent of all the flavors, was quite good, too. Surprisingly, the mint was cooked, which seemed to take away the mintiness I was expecting. But it was a fantastic dish, all the more so since it only cost 49 soles (US$17).

Following my entrée I decided to push the limits of my stomach’s capacity yet again and ordered dessert. It was a tough choice, but I went with the “dismantled tiramisu with fruit compote the ‘maiz marado’ (purple corn) way” (28 soles [US$9.76]).

Look: I’ve had more than my share of desserts in my lifetime. Nothing I’ve ever had compared to this. I mean, the entrée was excellent, but the dessert was in a class all by itself. I had the “maiz marado” in Cuzco, but that was like eating rotten bugs compared to this. The dismantled tiramisu is a brilliant idea, and that cream log in the middle was just unbelievably good. The fruit compote, too, was superlative, even though it only consisted of four small squares. In this case, I was thrilled to have pushed myself to the limits of my stomach’s capacity. I finished off the meal with more alcohol – a pisco de café y algarrobo: “coffee pisco and algarrobo (a kind of tree that grows on the coast in northern Peru where the weather is always warm).” Again, superlative.

As if that wasn’t enough, they served complementary candies at the end. I didn’t eat them, don’t worry…

The entire meal ended up costing me $47. Yes, it’s expensive – not compared to prices in Aguas Calientes, amazingly – but to me it was worth it. It was not only the best meal I had in Peru, but it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. For $47, it was a steal. Even more so since I went there without a reservation and probably looked like I was going to a campground after my meal.

Astrid & Gastón is located at Castuarias 175 in Miraflores, Lima. Tel: 242-4422 / 5387. Web: They also have restaurants in Santiago, Caracas, Bogotá, Quito, Madrid, México City, and Buenos Aires.

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  1. wow, what awesome meals to have for a day! that dismantled tiramisu sure looks classy. I hope you enjoyed your last day in peru and hope to see more posts on equador!

  2. Anjelikuh: I know. I kind of overdid it with the food...and pisco sours. The dismantled tiramisu was really amazing -- I think I dreamed about it last night, or tried to...Thanks for your comment!

  3. I've never gotten to eat at Astrid & Gaston's, even living in Peru for 2 years, but I don't have to anymore! What an awesome post!

  4. There are those face pots! My husband stayed in Miraflores (in a hotel across the street from Larcomar Mall) and really enjoyed the area. Unfortunately, he couldn't remember the name of the restaurants he visited (sigh: non-foodbloggers!) but I hope he would've remembered if he went to Astrid & Gaston. It must have been an amazing meal but I'd really love a bit of that causa acevichada. An excellent end to your Peru travels!

    I'm signing off for the evening and will return to continue reading about your next stop: Ecuador!