Ceviche – Courtesy of Sipan
By Fiorella Donayre
Peruvian food visionary and leading Latin American chef Gaston Acurio will open his flagship restaurant Astrid & Gaston in Buenos Aires on March 6, joining a growing pool of top chefs bringing a slice of the foodie heaven that is Lima to the Argentine capital.
Charismatic and passionate, Gaston Acurio has a clear objective for his restaurant in Buenos Aires and his role in a process that goes beyond mere cooking.
“Our job is to bring Peruvian food to the most important cities in the world; it’s a way to promote our culture, what Peruvians know how to do best,” Acurio told The Argentine Post by telephone from Lima.
(Click here to see the full interview)
Peruvian cuisine is a mixture of cultures, much like Peru itself, with influences from Japan, China, Spain, as well as the Arab world and Africa. For Acurio this process is still evolving, that’s why the menu at Astrid & Gaston is a mix of tradition and fusion. “We continue to explore new ideas, new flavors that can help to enrich Peruvian food,” he said.
In this search, Acurio and his team traveled throughout Argentina, convinced that all good food must use quality fresh local produce, in this case Argentine meats from the Pampas and Patagonia, Andean vegetables from the northwest and seafood from the south.
With this local produce, his recipes and Peruvian “aji amarillo” – the yellow hot chili pepper is the only ingredient Acurio believes must be imported from his home country – the chef has devised the menu for Buenos Aires. It’s a formula that’s met with success in Bogota, Caracas, Madrid, Mexico City, Santiago and Quito.
Lomo Saltado Nikkei – Courtesy of Sipan
The Argentine Post visited Astrid & Gaston Buenos Aires a few weeks before its opening to get acquainted with the space and the menu.
Outside the large wooden door of the “casona señorial” on a silent street in Palermo Chico, there’s no indication of the intense activity going on inside.
The first thing TAP notices upon entering is the frenzy of the kitchen, where a group of cooks led by Peruvian chef Roberto Grau works nonstop. We pass by the golden cornucopia, a symbol of abundance from the Peruvian flag, into the lounge where the barman Raúl Rosas demonstrates his pisco concoctions for the new staff.
Here we find Hector Teran, general manager, and begin our tour of the restaurant’s eight-and-a-half-meter high wine cellar with capacity for 3,000 bottles, an open-air patio, and three dining rooms with seating for 80, up to 110 if you include the lounge and bar.
Local produce arrives at the restaurant from all corners of the country, with the lamb from Coronel Suarez in southwestern Buenos Aires province. The corvina (sea bass), pargo (sea bream) and besugo (red sea bream) arrive daily from Mar del Plata.
Cold appetizers, such as ceviche and causa have always been the biggest hits at Astrid & Gaston restaurants, Grau says. That’s why they have to take special care in selecting the seafood they use.
The centolla (spider crab) and langostinos (prawns) are used in a Peruvian causa as the filling for cold boiled potatoes that are finely mashed with aji amarillo, oil, and key lime juice.
Ceviche mixto brings together fresh fish, octopus, chipirones (baby squid), and prawns accompanied with julliened red onions, canchita (“unpopped” roasted dried corn), slices of sweet potato, macerated with key lime juice and peruvian chilis.
The braised pork with carapulcra is another plate of note. A dish that pre-dates the Inca Empire, carapulcra is made with “papa seca,” potatoes that have been precooked, chopped, and sun dried. Presoaked, the papa seca is cooked for hours into a rich stew that normally includes aji panca, cloves, port, and crushed peanuts.
Grau highlights other items on the new menu, such as the braised garron de cordero (lamb shank) that comes with a “seco” sauce tipical to northern Peru made with aji amarillo, cumin, cilantro and chicha de jora, an Andean alcoholic beverage made with fermented corn that dates back to the Inca Empire.
There’s also an ossobuco veal shank that comes with a sauce inspired by pachamanca, a precolombian meal normally cooked in layers of meats, vegetables and herbs all buried underground with heated rocks.
Astrid & Gaston is one of several venues developed by Acurio. He’s opened his upscale cevicheria La Mar in Mexico, Costa Rica, Chile and, most recently, in San Francisco, where they serve some 400 people daily and 5,000 pisco sours and 10,000 other pisco cocktails a month. Plans are in the works to open a La Mar in Sao Paulo.
Acurio is preparing to open a branch of “T'anta,” a hip deli that focuses on Peruvian comfort food classics in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, while he is still refining his take on Peruvian fast food at his growing Lima-based chain “Pasquale Hermanos.”
In many countries, Acurio has been the first to open a Peruvian restaurant. But that’s not the case in Buenos Aires, where Astrid & Gaston is just the latest local opening by chefs well known in Lima.
Tiradito Dos Olivos – Courtesy of Osaka
“Osaka,” led by Daniel Delgado, debuted in Palermo Hollywood in July 2006 with a focus on Peruvian-Japanese fusion with additional influences from Chinese and Thai cuisine.
Osaka head chef Luis Francisco Adrianzen, who’s worked in kitche
ns in Peru, Australia, Malasia, Ireland, and Ecuador says one of his most popular dishes is “terimaki” rolls made with prawns, Philadelphia cream cheese, cubes of salmon, julliened lime and teryaki sauce.
Another hit is the Peruvian classic “tiradito,” a cold dish made with thin slices of raw fish marinated in lime juice and served with a creamy hot pepper sauce. His “Vietnamese tiradito” mixes it up with lemon grass and fish sauce.
Lima standard “Francesco,” with two restaurants in Peru and one in Miami, opened its doors in Palermo Nuevo in mid-December.
Led by Raul Hanza, Franceso specializes in fish and seafood dishes, including a “tiradito Franceso” and “lenguado Franceso,” a charcoal grilled filet of sole served with a walnut, shrimp and calamari sauce, and a side of grilled asparagus.
Peruvian celebrity chef Rafael Osterling also has his sites set on Buenos Aires, with plans to open a local branch of his eponymous restaurant “Rafael,” according to his website, although the details remain to be hashed out.
Other Peruvian chefs have made names for themselves with eateries unique to Buenos Aires.
Jose Castro-Mendivil, former partner and founder of Osaka, opened Sipan early last year on the first floor of an office galery at the corner of Paraguay and Florida in the microcentro. There the fusion has shifted from sushi back to Peruvian classics – “comida criolla,” ceviches, sino-peruvian Nikkei cuisine, and “chifa,” the Cantonese-Peruvian mainstay that’s been popular since a wave of Chinese laborers landed in Lima a century ago.
A popular spot for business lunches, the restaurant takes on a serene air at night, with tables filled with a mix of locals and foreigners. The portions are generous, so sharing courses is recommended. Among standout first courses are the “conchitas a la parmesana,” oven roasted scallops on the half shell marinated with key lime juice, white wine and a touch of Worcestershire sauce topped with parmesan cheese au gratin.
Conchitas a la Parmesana – Courtesty of Sipan
Another hit is the “tacu tacu,” a mix of beans and rice shaped into a small flat loaf and lightly fried and served with a variety of stews or, most classically, with a cut of lomo steak, a fried egg, and a side of “salsa criolla” — juliened raw red onions and hot peppers in lime juice.
On the fusion front, Mendivil devised “lomo saltado nikkei” a sizzling plate that adds teriyaki sauce and grilled calamari to lomo saltado, an old-standbye stir fry of sirloin strips, red onion, aji amarillo and tomatoes served with french fries and rice. Don’t miss it.
The best bang for your buck may well be Palermo Soho’s Zadvarie Doc, where owner Neco Kvasina adeptly fuses Peruvian cooking with fresh Argentine produce.
With seating for just 32, the kitchen staff consistently delivers well executed dishes, such as the pechuguitas de pollo marinadas in aji mirasol, huacatay y cerveza (chicken breasts marinated in mirasol chili peppers, Andean black mint, and ale), which put a fresh twist on ingredients common to Peru.
Three types of ceviche showcase constistently fresh fish, while the classic take on lomo saltado is always on the mark. The lunchtime specials remain a sweet deal.
Palermo Chico’s Libelula is another hit with sushi and seafood lovers. Amidst a move from their original spot on Lafinur – a few meters from Astrid & Gaston – the owners are keeping their new proposal – in another lovely “casona senorial” at Salguero 2983 near Avenida Libertador – shrouded in mystery.
At Palermo Hollywood’s Ceviche, the menu has shifted more toward Japanese fusion under the tutelage of Roberto Nishida. Try his “ceviche nikkei,” made with cubes of raw salmon seasoned with lime juice, soy sauce and a touch of wasabi, oil and sesame. Nishida’s “maremoto” (seaquake) is made with scallops and salmon pan seared with aji mirasol, “flambeado” with sake, topped with a maracuya (passion fruit) syrup and served with a sushi roll, teryaki sauce and a touch of togarashi.
At “Mosoq,” also in Palermo Hollywood, Nicolas Vainberg focuses on “novandino” dishes that incorporate exotic Andean grains such as quinoa and kiwicha.
Peru’s national liquor, pisco, also plays a prominent role at several restaurants including Sipan, and Bardot Loisir.
Sipan’s Castro-Mendivil, a pisco pioneer in the city to make virtually all of his drinks with Peru’s fragrant grape brandy, plans to expand his bar in a new lower-level lounge in May.
In Palermo Soho, Lima native Paul Cruzatt heads the bar at Bardot Loisir, which shifted to a Peruvian menu six months ago when Marco Espinoza, a former chef for the Peruvian ambassador, took over the kitchen after leaving Moche, which has since closed.
Cruzatt’s offerings include more than a dozen “macerados,” piscos infused with herbs, spices and fruits such as coca leaves, ginger, cinnamon and aji panca. He also deploys a variety of simple syrups to put numerous twists on that classic Peruvian cocktail, the Pisco Sour.
After the apertif, try Espinoza’s take on “mero (grouper) a lo macho,” which he makes with a creamy curry hot sauce, fresh cilantro, chicha de jora and serves alongside “arroz morada,” a purple rice made with chicha morada, a non-fermented maiz drink popular in Peru.
Off the fusion trail, Buenos Aires has a variety of no-frills restaurants that serve up homestyle Peruvian classics. Among these, don’t miss “Status” in Congreso, “Contigo Peru” and “Primavera Trujillana”, both in Belgrano.
*Fiorella Donayre is a Peruvian lawyer who moved to Buenos Aires in 2004. She completed the professional chef’s program at Mausi Sebess in 2006 and has worked as a pasante at the Caesar Park Hotel’s Agraz restaurante in recoleta and at El Senorio de Sulco in Lima.