Thursday, July 30, 2015

Peru: Senor Panza

After Chez Wong, we had quite some time to kill before our reservations at Astrid y Gaston.  We did our best at the Museo Larco, but ended up with just enough time to be too early for dinner, yet not enough time to fit in a trip home to rest.

Instead, we wandered around the San Isidro neighborhood where Astrid y Gaston is located, looking for a cafe of some sort where we could sit and sit and sit.  Senor Panza fit the bill perfectly:

While Senor Panza does offer food, we went straight for the drinks.  I ordered the pineapple juice (S/.5 or slightly under $2):

My sister got the granadilla or passionfruit juice (also S/.5):

Points to Senor Panza for using fresh fruit in their juices, but they should probably be a little less generous with the water.  Just sayin'.

Anyway, I can't really complain because we got exactly what we wanted: a place to sit and chill until it was reasonably early to show up for our dinner reservations.  Having fresh fruit juice (watery as they were) and free wifi were definite bonuses.

Senor Panza
Av. Conquistadores 181A, San Isidro, Lima, Peru
421 6725

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Peru: Chez Wong

Our first actual meal in Peru was at Chez Wong.  The name kept popping up when we were researching places to eat in Lima, so making reservations via their email address was one of the first things we did in planning for our trip.  Peruvians, like most of the world besides Americans, tend to eat later in the day.  We got the earliest reservation possible, which was at 1:00pm when the restaurant opened.

We flagged down a cab in Miraflores and away we went.  We were dropped off in a seemingly random residential neighborhood.  We must have looked a bit lost, because a Peruvian man asked us if we were looking for the "chifa" (the term Peruvians use to refer to Chinese cuisine).  To make sure we really understood him, he added in the seemingly universal sign for anything Chinese by taking his fingers and pulling the corners of his eyes outwards.  Slightly offended, but also slightly amused, we nodded and he helpfully pointed across the street to an unmarked door:

The door was locked.  We hesitated for a bit before finally drumming up the courage to knock.  A few seconds later, a man opened the door and looked at us expectantly.  When we awkwardly mumbled about having reservations, he herded us in and up a small flight of stairs to the dining room:

The restaurant is essentially in Chef Wong's house.  (Apparently he lives just upstairs.)  The converted dining room fits only about eight tables.

The staff at Chez Wong is very small, just three people besides Chef Wong.  While he does all the food preparation, everyone else is busy answering phones, handing Chef Wong whatever he needs, and bringing his masterpieces to the tables.

Water comes bottled at Chez Wong.  We quickly learned the difference between "sin gas" and "con gas".  At first we misheard and thought the server was talking about whether we wanted ice or not, but some charades and broken Spanish cleared up the error and we let him know that no thank you, we did not want carbonated water.  We did, however, definitely want the cute as shit glass that came with our drinks:

We had to control our urge to surreptitiously slip the glass into our bags and take it home as a souvenir.

How Chez Wong works goes something like this.  You make reservations.  You show up.  Chef Wong serves you whatever he wants, usually in the format of one ceviche followed by two other dishes.  Every dish contains flounder.  You eat.  You enjoy.  You shed a tear in gastronomic ecstasy.  The end.

Chez Wong takes the open kitchen concept to a whole new level.  From any table in the restaurant, you can watch as Chef Wong fillets and chops his famous flounder:

You then watch in awe as he mixes up a beautiful ceviche of flounder and octopus right before your eyes in just a matter of minutes:

Since we were a table of four, all three of our dishes came family style.  That ceviche was without a doubt the best ceviche I ever had in my life.  So fresh.  So refreshing.  I wanted more.

After our scraped clean ceviche plate was cleared away, we watched at Chef Wong proceeded to play with fire:

And from the flames came this amazing stir fry made of flounder, woodear mushrooms, and surprisingly, some kind of melon:

The melon was completely unexpected and took us all aback before we realized how genius the addition of its sweetness was.

Afterward, when the server brought us two shot glasses of leftover ceviche juice, we were a bit confused:

You could literally see the salt sitting at the bottom of the glass.  Hell, three fourths of the glass was salt.  Were we supposed to drink it?

It turns out that the answer was yes.  They'd added some pisco (a type of Peruvian alcohol) and we were supposed to down them as shots.

No thanks.

We sipped a little to be polite, chocked on the saltiness, and then left the rest alone.

For the final dish, Chef Wong again turned up the heat and from the flames came this beauty:

I don't know what to call it, but it was some kind of sweet and sour flounder with veggies and pineapple chunks.  A little spicy too.

Everything at Chez Wong was delicious and full of surprises, but heavy on the salt.  Throughout almost the entire meal, we mentioned how much better things would taste with rice around the same number of times we moaned about how good the food was.

Was it delicious enough to be worth 60 bucks per person?  Now that I'm not so sure of.  While we certainly enjoyed our meal, I'm not sure if I would go back a second time.  Chez Wong definitely caters to the tourist crowd.  Not only is the price high, but Chef Wong has a signature pose (holding up a giant flounder) when posing with people for pictures.  (We were the only table who opted out while everyone else lined up for a photo in the middle of the meal.)

At the end of lunch, we struck up a conversation with the American couple sitting at the table next to us.  They were stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Peru and were trying to cross things off their to-do list before their reassignment back to the States.  Though the husband seemed to care mostly about bars (he wrote "bars bars bars" on the map he drew for us), we were able to also score some actual food recommendations for Arequipa, our next destination.

Hooray for friendly expats!

Chez Wong
Calle Enrique Leon Garcia 114, Lima, Peru
+511 470 6217

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Peru: Cafe Haiti

I'm back!  And I'm bursting with stories from my trip to Peru.  Now the problem is getting all these stories posted before I forget them.  (Which is a definite possibility because let's face it, I have horrible memory.  Comes with getting old.)

Anyway, just some basic info first.

Fellow travelers: my sister, CK, and CK's husband, AG

Location: Peru

Time: 2 weeks

Goals: eat everything, see Machu Picchu, make it back in one piece

We arrived in Lima very late at night.  So late that we didn't get to our Airbnb apartment in the Miraflores district of Lima until almost two in the morning.  It felt like I barely got any sleep before I was rudely awakened by continuous honking from the early morning traffic.  The other members of our group weren't as bothered, so it was another few hours before everyone was up and ready to go.

Though we had a general itinerary in that we booked all the transportation and lodging prior to arriving in Peru, we didn't really have anything concrete planned for each city except for three things.  We had tickets to Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu.  We had reservations for Astrid y Gaston.  And we had reservations for Chez Wong.

Notice how two of those three things were restaurants.  Priorities, man.

Our reservations for Chez Wong weren't until 1:00pm, so to kill time, we walked around Kennedy Park, gawked at all the wild cats, found an ATM to withdraw much needed soles, oogled at the McDonald's menu through the window, and then stopped for coffee at Cafe Haiti:

Cafe Haiti had a very European feel with its awning and row of outdoor tables facing the sidewalk.  Given the late morning hour on a weekday, it shouldn't have been surprising that we were the youngest people there.  All the other tables were taken up by elderly gentlemen enjoying a cup of coffee and their newspaper.

CK and AG couldn't start their day officially without a cup of joe.  They each ordered a cafe con leche:

I'm not a coffee person, but they seemed to like it.

With lunch on the horizon, we didn't want to overstuff ourselves.  We decided to play it light by ordering dessert.  We got the pie de limon or lemon pie (S/.16 or around $5):

And the crema volteada or milk and egg pudding (S/.12 or $4):

The lemon pie was rich and tart and delicious.  The pudding was basically flan, a really dense flan.  Both were kind of expensive (definitely on par with American prices), but it was worth it to have a place to sit, people watch, and...wait for lunchtime to come around.

I should mention that even though the original plan was to take it easy and leave stomach space for lunch, AG (rebel that he is) bucked the plan by ordering a full-on breakfast entree of an egg sandwich with fries.  No regrets though, because that sandwich was amazing.  Sometimes, the simplest things are the most enjoyable.  What I do regret, however, is not taking a picture of it.

Cafe Haiti may not be the most "Peruvian" of experience, but we enjoyed our time there.  Our server was this cute elderly gentleman who was extremely patient with our broken Spanish.  The food was good (albeit on the pricey side) and the atmosphere casual and relaxed.  It's definitely a place where people can go to sit for hours and hours without feeling rushed.

Cafe Haiti
Diagonal 160, Miraflores Lima 18, Peru
+51 1 4450539
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