I just returned from a fabulous vacation in Peru. We explored several areas of the country and the best, of course, was Machu Picchu. Hiking through the ancient Inca ruins was amazing with views from every perch. The next best thing about Peru is Gaston Acurio, the famed Peruvian chef with several dining locations throughout Peru.
We have dined at his San Francisco restaurant, La Mar Cebicheria Peruana a year ago and found the freshest most flavorful ceviche. But, his restaurants in Peru are true Peruvian cuisine created with local ingredients with a unique fusion style.
Chi Cha de Gaston Acurio is a rustic upscale restaurant on the main square in Cuzco, Peru. When entering, you would think you are back home at a upscale casual bistro with a large bar and dark wood tables loaded with hungry locals and tourists alike. The menu is quite large with local favorites, appetizers and larger chef selections covering the gamut of Peruvian delights to fuion favorites.
The warm mini loaves of fresh bread placed on your table is just the start, accompanied with creamy unsalted butter and chimichurri for spreading. We began our dining experience with Two Tamals — one creamy white corn tamal with a red pepper dipping salsa and the other a deep green herb tamal with fresh pico de gallo. Both were tender and steamed delicately with salsas that enhanced the flavor.
Next, we chose the Veal Ravioli in a Creamy White Sauce. One surprising culinary note is how the Peruvian culture eats such a large variety of fresh made pastas. We saw pasta on almost every menu, dry as well as fresh. But, these ravioli’s were much different – handmade pillows of (not too large and not too small) pasta with a thin cream sauce. They absolutely melted in your mouth.
Pork Belly with Sautéed Spinach and Sweet Potato was our entrée of choice. I must say — the best pork belly I have ever eaten. It reminded me of the suckling pig of Spain with a super crunchy skin followed by a thin layer of fat and white meat pork on the bottom. You had to pierce the skin using the tines of your fork to dive into the soft tender center. What an experience!
In Lima, we made a reservation a week ahead to dine at Astrid y Gaston on our last Saturday night in Peru. From the outside you would never know it was a fine dining experience but once inside there were several rooms of white linen tables and a bar area for cocktails. Our waiter was very experienced and his English was quite good. We shared culinary favorites and discussed the Gaston empire. He mentioned the restaurant was moving locations in December to the neighborhood next door to Mira Flores — San Ysidro. The space will be much larger and able to accommodate more reservations.
The six-bread platter was the first to arrive on our table. A delectable smattering of mini breads and sticks served with butter, chimichurri and salt from the mines of Peru. We started our meal with an appetizer favorite – Mini Rocoto (red pepper) stuffed with Pork Belly Stew, Skewers of Grilled Chicken with Salsa Verde, Mini Lamb Chop with Sautéed Veggies and Fried Potato Relleno with Ahi Amarillo Sauce. All were fabulous bites of local favorites with a few added fusion touches by Gaston himself.
Next, our main entrees – I chose a seared local White Fish with a Light Veal Reduction and Thin Noodle. This dish was rich and decadent with a smooth deep flavor from the sauce but, subtly lightened when eaten with the fish. My husband dined on Lamb Three Ways – leg of lamb rolled with herbs and lamb loin seared in a demi glace. Both served over a variety of local tubers, all grown locally in Peru and served Au Gratin Style. The tubers were sweet and buttery, a very nice accompaniment to hearty lamb. The third way was lamb shoulder slow cooked and served in a bowl of vegetable soup made from dehydrated potatoes and local vegetables. Peru grows more than 3,000 varieties of potatoes and some are dehydrated to preserve and use in many soups and sauces. Too full for dessert, they still presented us with a treasure chest full of truffles, local cookies and macarons. What a nice ending to a great trip in Peru.