Saturday, August 8, 2015

Peru: Astrid y Gaston

When I first started toying with the idea of doing a Peru trip, multiple people gushed about Astrid y Gaston and its tasting menu and how it is something you must experience while in Lima.  Since it came so highly recommended, we made reservations at the restaurant for our first dinner in the city.

Our first impression of Astrid y Gaston was sheer awe.  I mean, come on.  It's basically an entire mansion called Casa Moreyra:


















We were still a bit early for our 7:00pm reservations, so we were directed to hang out at La Barra, the bar adjacent to the actual restaurant (separate, but still inside the mansion) where you can also order off the a la carte menu.

We stuck to the bar since we wanted to keep our stomachs empty for the feast that was to come.  My sister and AG went straight for the alcohol, while CK and I checked out the non-alcoholic offerings.  I'm not usually in the habit of ordering drinks when I go out (I'm cheap like that), but I figured if I'm going to splurge on a nice meal, I should go all the way.  So I ordered the star fruit and pineapple cocktail (non-alcoholic, of course) even though it cost S/. 28:























So freakin' delicious.  I can't say the star fruit taste was particularly noticeable, but I loved the pineapple, lemon foam, and hint of cilantro.  So refreshing I forgot the price tag.

Almost.  If I actually had been able to, I would have ordered a pitcher of that stuff.

When our table was ready, we were led to a beatiful balcony upstairs where we could look down into the courtyard:


















Our server was a young man with a charming smile and perfect English.  He informed us that we were about to embark on an "experience" and that the theme was Lima.  We were going to start our journey on the balcony with some "snacks" then proceed inside to the dining room for the main course(s).

Our procession of "snacks" started with a glass of vermouth encased in ice.  Our server, having pre-ascertained that CK and I did not want alcohol, got us a non-alcoholic version.  The drink came along with a white chocolate covered grapefruit bite resting on a frozen rock:























The grapefuit candy was fun, but the drink was not.  I took one sip and then slipped the rest to my sister.

Just a warning to all readers: from here on out, my memory of the dishes start to blur.  In my defense, there were just so many!  At the end of the meal, we did get a copy of the Lima theme menu, but not everything on it matched what we actually had.  So please forgive me if I cop out from time to time and just leave you with a pretty picture.

Like this one:























I think it was some kind of root veggie, but I'm not sure.  I just remember that one bite of it prompted my sister to exclaim, "It takes like a barbecue chip!", which in turn caused our server to enjoy a chuckle or two at our expense.

But it did.  Taste like a barbecue chip, that is.

Then came one of the weirdest things I'd ever seen:























It was crispy at the top, but foamy at the base.  The textures were so strange and weird that they're all I can remember.  What did it taste like?  Beats me.

This little seafood crisp was like a piece of art:


















It came spotted with squid ink and decorated with edible leaves.  The chip itself was infused with fishy flavors.

The fishy vibe continued with the chocolate and anchovy roll:























Strange combination, but it worked.  Not to mention the gorgeous presentation.

The goat cheese brioche with black olive jam was cute, but not my cup of tea:


















I just don't like goat cheese very much.  Or at all.

After the last snack, our server walked us into the main dining room.  On our way, he led us into the kitchen, one of many in the mansion, and gave us a chance to take pictures inside:


















Then we were handed off to another server, an older woman who also had perfect English (she later told us that she'd worked on a cruise ship for many years).  She led us to a table in what honestly looked like a beautiful and cozy dining room in someone's house.

Someone rich, of course.

As with our previous server, our new one was super courteous and patiently explained each dish as it was laid before us.  First up was Astrid y Gaston's take on pisco:























No idea what was in the two foam blobs, but I do remember the final spritz of pisco bitters that our server lovingly gave our plates at the table.

Next came guinea pig rillete topped with whipped lard and radish:























We expected to be blown away by the guinea pig, but the meat itself wasn't particularly distinctive.

The dried seaweed with clams and caviar was pretty, but not the most memorable:


















The seafood "soup", however, was one of the weirdest food experiences of my life:


















Clearly foam, but such an explosion of flavors!

The tomato medley came with tomatoes that I'd never seen before:


















And also with scallop and fresh mint.

The avocado ceviche was one of the highlights of the night:


















The avocado was unbelieveably creamy and went perfectly with the leche de tigre ("tiger's milk"), which is what Peruvians call the citrus-based liquid used to make ceviche.

The potato puree in green soup was an interesting mix of temperature and texture:























The soup was cold and slightly gelatinous, while the potato was warm and creamy.

Next came an interesting take on pasta:























The "noodle" was wide and had a bit of a slimy chew to it.  It came topped with chili powder and parsley.

The egg yolk with fried bread was my favorite:


















Our server explained that we should dip the bread into the yolk, which we did obediently.  Oh my gawd.  The yolk was savory and amazing and I wanted to lick up every drop.  The bread was delicious on its own, but downright heavenly with the egg yolk.  I wish we could have asked for seconds.  And thirds.

The climax of the meal, if I had to pick one, was when our server brought out this giant clod of dirt:


















She told us about how Peruvians prepare potatoes by baking them in the ground as she lifted off the dirt "lid" to reveal...more dirt.  She laughed sheepishly and then did a bit more digging to finally unearth the little potatoes:


















She then proceeded to season the potatoes with an array of oils and powders:


















Until the potatoes looked like this:


















As if that wasn't enough, she proceeded to make huancaina sauce tableside by rocking a large stone over some yellow peppers and other ingredients:























Here's the final product:


















Peru is said to have over 4000 types of potatoes.  While I can't say that I've seen even 1% of that number, I can say that I've encountered more potatoes in Peru than I've ever seen anywhere else.  One example is this tiny purple potato:


















It tasted...just like a potato.

The "salad" that came on the side was crisp and refreshing:


















The potatoes were followed by a mashed sweet potato mound with red cabbage and pine nuts, all smothered by something similar to a sweet soy sauce:


















The whitefish that came after was succulent and sweet:


















Then came a risotto with seaweed and cucumbers:


















The savory part of the meal ended with some beautifully seared beef:


















When we found out the beef was the last entree, we all felt a sense of relief.  Little did we know we still had a long ways to go.

Just offering one dessert wasn't enough for Astrid y Gaston.  Oh, no.  Instead, out came a parade of desserts until we all wanted to beg for mercy.

The first dessert was a frozen raspberry and pistachio cream pie:


















Then came thin parmesan wafer sandwiches with some kind of flower and cream filling:


















The parmesan wafers added a interesting salty twist to the dessert.

Then came goat cheese ice cream with peppermint meringue and plum:


















Astrid y Gaston's version of huevo chimbo (a traditional egg cake dessert) came with a candy eggshell, an icy "yolk", foam, and a sweet bed of leaves on the strangest plate in existence:


















I don't remember much about this dessert:


















Just that I was given the choice of opting out of the run ice cream, which I did.  My ice cream was nice and non-alcoholic.

I also don't remember much about this icy palate cleanser:


















I think I had entered a food coma by then.  I was so out of it, I forgot to take pictures of the coffee after our server finished beautifying each glass:























We were all so full that we could barely bring ourselves to try a truffle:


















Much less a chocolate and mint cigar:


















And with that, we finally concluded out dinner at Astrid y Gaston.

The entire experience lasted about 3.5 hours from start to finish.  We had been warned by the couple we met at Chez Wong that the kitchens at Astrid y Gaston have the preparation of every dish carefully timed.  Just going to the restroom could throw the timing off the rest of the meal.  With that in mind, we were all too scared to go to the restroom during dinner.  (Luckily, there was an intermission of sorts in the middle where we were allowed to take a breather and make a bathroom run.)

We'd originally predicted that we would leave Astrid y Gaston hungry.  That was definitely not the case.  Even though each dish is basically just enough for a bite, by the end of the meal we were all stuffed to the brim.

You definitely get your money's worth and more at Astrid y Gaston.  The tasting menu (without wine pairing) costs S/. 385 or about $120 per person.  Water is an additional S/. 22 or about $7 per person, yes, but oh, well.  That's part of the "experience."  Astrid y Gaston may be pricey, but it's really, really worth it.  A similar meal in the States would easily set someone back $250.

At the end, our server asked us what address we would like the taxi to drop us off at.  When I gave her the address of an anticuchos (meat kebabs) restaurant, she did a double take.  The embarrassment was real as I explained how it was our last night in Lima and thus our last chance to check out Anticuchos Grimanesa, which only opens at night.

The embarrassment was doubly real when we got outside and were greeted by another staff person who double checked yet again that yes, we intended to eat more that night before helping us into a cab.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending how you look at it), we were 30 minutes too late for Anticuchos Grimanesa.  By the time we got to the restaurant, it was already closed.  Though we were disappointed, there was a definite overall feeling of relief as we directed our taxi driver to take us back to our apartment.

Whew.

I really don't know if I could have fit more food into my stomach if Grimanesa had been open.


Astrid y Gaston
Avenida Paz Soldan 290, Lima, Peru
+511 442-2775
http://www.astridygaston.com/

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