The South American Adventure - Astrid y Gaston

Our last night in Lima was spent having a fantastic dining experience. We reserved our table a the day after the San Pellegrino list of the top 50 Restaurants in the World was released. Astrid y Gaston was ranked #42. The thought was that we would have a great last meal before we made it back home. It was the best idea we had on our trip. And we had a lot of good ideas.

This was our chance to finally dress up (been lugging around a cute outfit this whole time) and see more of the city at night. Adele kept trying to figure out a time to go Salsa dancing, but we were running so hard and the weekends were never spent in Lima, so the final night really was the only time we had for a night on the town. Sadly (for Adele), there would be no Salsa dancing. But there would be eating. Plenty of eating.

The plan was simple. We would chow hard on the Tasting Menu. 12 Courses. 3 Hours. 170 Soles. Add some wine to the mix and we were in for an evening to remember. Let's get started!!

The menu said 12 Courses. I don't believe them. I think it was more like 16. So I'm going to count the bread and the sorbet and the petit fours and anything else that we ate. Cause it should all count, right?? I blame some of the first courses (bread) for what happened to me near the end of the dinner (not dessert) courses.

I took pictures of everything we ate, but I will add a disclaimer. We were told what everything was as we were eating. I do not remember most of what they said (blame the wine and the food and the very strong Peruvian accent). So I'm cheating. I've pulled the name of the dish and the ingredients/preparation from the Astrid y Gaston website. And then I plugged everything into Google Translate. Anything that isn't on the site (Bread, Amuse Bouche, Sorbet, Petit Four) won't have as much ingredient details. Sorry about that one...

Course 1 - Bread

Bread is my weakness. Always has been. And I should just stay away from bread, because it will only lead to tragedy. But this bread was pretty good. We had five types. There was the Chocolate Bread, the Poppy Seed type of bread, the Fruitcake, Quinoa Breadsticks, a Yellow Pepper Bread and another Yellow something bread. The two "Yellow" breads were pretty good. They were very moist, which I appreciate, and worked well with the butter and the oil. The poppy seed had to be my least favorite. I don't like poppy seeds in general and the bread was a little too crusty. The chocolate bread was not too sweet. I enjoyed it, but I was also eating the chocolate bread as I was starting to get full. My two favorites were the Fruitcake and the Quinoa Breadsticks.

I didn't know what to expect from the Quinoa Breadsticks. They were very thin and very long and very crispy. And they definitely were good. I know I have quinoa in my house and I kept seeing it used in Peru. Now I want to do something with it. I don't think I'll make breadsticks, but they had a crisp and nutty flavor. We kept going back for more. Again, not the best move, considering the amount of food we were going to eat, but that wasn't what we were thinking about at the time. We just kept on with the bread. And the fruitcake. Oh, it was cinnamony and sweet and had fresh fruit mixed into the dough. Adele did not like this one, but I could have eaten loaf upon loaf of this stuff. I have some bread cookbooks at home. I want to make a fruitcake (fruitbread??). And I'd like to make it now.

Course 2 - Amuse Bouche

We had three bites that pretty much started the meal. And they started us off on the right foot. The first one we had was a tuna (Tartare?? Ceviche??) in a wonton wrap. It was a crunchy and fishy bite of joy. Then, we had another fishy blend in a fried potato-ish cup. Again, love, love, love!! The third was a potato bite with meat wrapped in a red pepper. I don't like potato, so this was the least favorite of the three. It was still enjoyable, but I would have continued to eat the tuna or other fish bite over and over and over again. I could have ignored the potato one.

Course 3 - Cebiche del amor - Ceviche #1
"Oyster shell, sea urchin, clam, squid, mussel, shrimp, all raw. Leche de tigre with three peppers and essences of passion fruit."

This was our first real course. We had already fallen in love with ceviche after our first day in Lima at El Mulle, but this ceviche was in a completely different class. The fish tasted like the city smelled (I know this sounds a bit bad, but I assure you, it's not meant to be). The sauce was peppery and had a great flavor. What was nice was that there were corn kernels and fried sweet potato balls to round out the dish. I love sweet potatoes more than I can say, so any time a sweet potato showed up in a dish, I was a phenomenally happy camper.

Course 4 - Encebichado del pueblo - Ceviche #2
"Fishing barge, octopus and conch, squid crispy chalaco juice, sweet potato and corn patacon"

The star of this ceviche was the calamari and the fried sweet potatoes (already mentioned my love of sweet potatoes...won't mention it again). The fish was great. So very great. But the fried squid and sweet potatoes just gave an amazing texture to the dish. Of the two ceviche's, this was both Adele and my favorites.

Course 5 - Pulpo al cilindro - Grilled Octopus
"Marinated octopus with cream of potato sauce and olive foam" (not translated at all from Google Translate, cause that one...weird)

We weren't entirely sure how to handle this one. Do you cut the octopus in half or shove it all down at once?? I actually don't remember what we did. I think we tried two bites. It was actually quite tender. If I recall from other octopus meals (sushi-related), it was always so rubbery. This one...not so much. It was good. And this was the first time I've ever had a dish with foam. This foam was the flavor of olive. Disappointing, cause I don't like olive. But I still tried it. Definitely still tried it. The dish was nice and small and super tasty.

Course 6 - Cuy pekines - Cuy Taco
"Blue corn pancakes, hoisin hot pepper, pickled Chinese vegetables"

We knew Cuy. We love Cuy. When the dish was brought to us, we paused for a moment. We had no idea what this dish was or how to eat this one. Luckily, the dish was explained by the waiter. We picked up the pancake and ate this like a taco. It was only two bites. I might have groaned during this course. The meat was tender and there wasn't too much or too little. The condiments were perfect. It was a great course.

Course 7 - Erizos para el alma - Sea Urchin and Noodles
"Black noodles with sea urchins, egg, essence and parmesan crab, then a shot of sea urchin"

If we paused during the last course, we did a double take on this one. The sea urchin came in a shot glass. A. Shot. Glass. So we stared at the dish. Then, one of us broke the egg on the noodles, stirred them up and took a shot. Or maybe twirled some noodles, took a bite, then took a shot. The salty of the urchin and the gooeyness of the eggy noodles matched up nicely. It was enough food to do this three times. And on the third slug of the shot, we got an unexpected treat...a sea urchin chunk!! I enjoyed this dish a lot.

Course 8 - Foie de pato libre y las ocas bajo la tierra - Duck Foie Gras Ravioli
"Duck foie ravioli bred freely in the jungle"

One foie gras ravioli in a lovely sauce and a few condiments from the jungle. I want to pause before I talk about the meat butter (cause that's really what foie gras is). The waiter kept talking about the fruits and veggies from "the jungle." That was one of the great things about this meal in general. No matter what, we will never eat this type of food again. We don't get fruits from the jungle. It's the JUNGLE!! How cool is that?? Answer - Super Cool. I loved that they are basically localvores.

As for the meat butter...moaning did occur. The sauce was a bit on the sweet side. So I was a fan. This dish, I was very much a fan. I liked it a lot.

Course 9 - Paiche orgullo amazonico confitado - Spinach Soup with Potatoes
"With potato bread croutons, mashed potatoes and sausage with fried eggs. An Andean wild spinach soup."

I'll say right now, I also remember some kind of fish in this dish. And this was definitely my least favorite. I didn't care for the potato. I didn't care fir the fish. I didn't care for the soup. But I ate (almost) all of it. And that was the error on my part.

The error happened at this point, because I was starting to hit the wall. The good news is that we had about a half hour reprieve from food due to the large table that came in after we did. There were several people leaving early to catch a train (and they come to a restaurant like this?? Really??), so their meals were being made before ours. I was completely fine with this (though it would have been nice for them to tell us at this point rather than after the meal was over), because I was starting to feel the effects of this amount of food. I didn't know what course we were actually on, so I was starting to get worried about the rest of the meal. And I should have been. The last three "dinner courses" were difficult. So much so that Adele did give me detailed directions to the restroom...just in case. I was able to take a bite or two of the next three, but I was hurting. Really hurting.

Course 10 - Un atún bien bonito - Tuna and Rice
"A pink-wrapped tuna tenderloin covered in foam coconut, tamarind sauce and marigold"

The tuna was very flavorful and the rice...I kept going back to the rice. And considering it was getting hard to swallow food at this point, that was a good sign.

Course 11 - Guerrera carrillera - Veal Cheek with Potato Croquette
"Braised veal cheek. Reduction of seven ancient herbs. Raw potatoes and herbs in cooking cakes, creams and crisp."

Awww...I wanted to eat hard on this one. It was an insanely tender piece of meat. Great!! And the potato croquette was stuffed with some meaty goodness. Also, great!! The had to be some kind of fried potato. Still great!! I think I was able to eat one bite of each of the elements. They were so good, but I just couldn't do anymore. I was starting to get depressed about how crappy I was feeling at this point. I didn't know how many dishes were left, but I didn't want to throw in the towel!! This is all fantastic food and I'm a mess by now.

Course 12 - Se seco el chupe y se volvio a mojar - Seafood Risotto
"Shrimp, prawns, scallops and squid are added to a wheat risotto in a vegetable broth."

You can never go wrong with risotto. Until you're on Course 12. The wheat risotto gave the dish a much nuttier flavor than I expected (not bad per se, but I might have enjoyed the dish a little better if it was white rice instead of wheat). And the just can't have bad seafood here. I was able to have a bite of the risotto with shrimp. Then I had a piece of the squid. The squid was a little rubbery and I wished I hadn't had it (only due to my complete fullness at this point). The risotto was still excellent.

Course 13 - Sorbet

I'm not sure what happened at this point. The sorbet came and it was pineapple, a jungle fruit and another fruit (ahhh...memory). And there was a sugar topper. Within a few minutes, I had slicked down the whole thing. Yes, I know what you're thinking...weren't you a mess and possibly headed to the bathroom a few minutes ago cause your stomach couldn't hold anything more?? Yes. Yes, I was. But apparently, my stomach has a second section. The dessert section. And god bless that section, cause I caught a second wind. Hooray!!

Course 14 - La tapioca de Camu Camu - Camu Camu Tapioca
"Milk chocolate mousse, iced coconut soup, cinnamon foam and sorbet with candied orange camu camu"

I sure don't like candied fruits, but the rest was fantastic. It was very Neopolitan-like with the three colors. And I kept expecting it to taste like strawberry, chocolate and vanilla. The chocolate tasted like chocolate. I don't think I realized the "vanilla" was actually coconut. And I very much knew the "strawberry" was a fruit from the jungle. It was a lovely flavor. It was definitely a fruit, but nothing I'd ever eaten before. Then the addition of the tapioca just sent me over the edge. I do love tapioca. I could actually have a bubble tea right now. Mmmm...bubble tea...

Course 15 - Esfera de chocolate - Chocolate Sphere
"With raspberry compote, ice cream and foam lucuma creme brulee"

When we were waiting for our next course after the spinach soup course, we watched a couple the next table over get this dish. The presentation was amazing. The dish came to us fully formed. It was a fully chocolate sphere. Then, the waiter brought a pitcher of hot chocolate/fudge. When he poured the chocolate over the sphere, the chocolate of the sphere began to melt, exposing the inside of the sphere. The ice cream, and other internal goodness (cause even though I see the description, I don't entirely know what was inside the sphere other than ice cream) was excellent, but I'm very much not a fan of dark chocolate and all of the chocolate was dark.

Course 16 - Petit Fours

The last course (an unofficial course) was all about the presentation. The waiter brought over a lucite box with several drawers. As he opened each drawer, we saw more and more goodies. There were the jellies (no idea what flavor). And the macarons (chocolate and what seemed to be raspberry/lemon). And the chocolate truffles. I won't deny...I couldn't do the chocolate truffles. I was a little chocolated out after the sphere. The jellies (which I'd first had at Next a few months ago) were gooey and excellent. The macarons were a mixed bag. I enjoyed the raspberry/lemon one (though I really don't think it was a raspberry/lemon was probably some jungle fruits...again). The chocolate one...oof. Did not care for that at all. And Adele really hated the raspberry/lemon one. I did have a second raspberry/lemon macaron, so I couldn't complain.

We were also presented with a White Chocolate/Fruit Ice Cream bite on a stick. I don't know what the fruit was, but the bite was great. Overall, this was a great end to the meal.

When we threw our napkins on the table in defeat/completion, our waiter came by and we had a great conversation. He asked us where we were from and how we liked everything. Apparently, the tasting menu only changed a week or so before. The waiter said the chef was still trying to figure out if there was enough or too much food. Or if there was something that did or didn't work. I was ignoring the fact that I hit a wall (but pushed through) and kept saying, "No, it's not too much food!! Why would it be too much food??" The waiter was great and we had an excellent conversation.

We walked out of the hotel a little before midnight. We were very full, but highly satisfied with the dinner. It was a wonderful experience and something we'll be talking about for years. While we were slightly in pain the next day (while being on the crappiest plane ever), it was the best end of a trip we could have had. Thanks, Astrid y Gaston!!


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