It is hard to pass a newspaper stand and not see Gaston Acurio’s face surrounded with a mop of curly hair on the front cover of a pocket sized recipe book hanging for sale. The man is a legend within Peru, known for revolutionizing the way that Peruvians feel about their own cuisine as well as developing and reviving the art form. So there was no choice but to pay a visit to Astrid Y Gaston, Acurio’s original restaurant, which is regarded as one of the top restaurants in Lima.
The restaurant, located on a quiet street is set in an old colonial house in the Miraflores district of Lima. The interior is comfortable, not stuffy like you can often expect from top end restaurants. The back end of the dining space has a nice view of the open kitchen, the walls are painted warm shades of red and the art on them are modern and thought provoking. It is a restaurant frequented by mostly international businessmen, presumably using the company AMEX to wine and dine clients.
The four of us agreed upon each trying the 8 course tasting menu (like in most restaurants the whole table has to take part in the tasting menu.) Though the style of cuisine here is modern, Acurio reinvents the many different traditional flavors of Peruvian cuisine in every dish. The unprecedented evolution of flavors makes for a lively tasting menu that keeps you at the edge of your seat for the entire meal.
Our first course was of thinly sliced tuna served with an avocado and mango salsa with a peanut sauce emulsion at the base of the plate. The flavors fused nicely creating a nice preface for the remainder of the evening as well as a sharp sensory introduction to our palettes. Our second course was a great melody of seafood ceviche which included grouper and octopus that was perfectly balanced by sweet potato and corn as well and lime and red onion. This part of the meal as well as a course following, which contained grilled octopus has happily left me with a new found love for the 8-armed cephalopod.
For me personally there was only one really major flub within the 8 courses. This came at course three where we served meat from a conchas (a type of sea shell,) scallop, and shitake mushroom under a layer of spinach ravioli. Both the shellfish meat and the scallop seemed overcooked leaving them both dry. Though this was a bit of an initial disappointment the courses here move swiftly not leaving much time for lingering negative thoughts.
The remainder of the courses all shined in their own ways and left us all beyond satisfied, full and a bit confused about how it was possible that we had just eaten that much good food. Just when our seams were about to burst, the final course; dessert was brought out. And no, it was not just a small sampling of one dessert, but more like 5 decently sized portions all beautifully presented on one plate. The desserts ranged from fruity, to sweet to extra sweet and somehow we all miraculously found a way to finish them. It was the perfect end to possibly one of the most delicious meals I have ever had and by far one of the most flavorful. Each course brought along a unique taste of Peru that was given a sort of shock treatment by Acurio and his team. It goes without saying that Acurio has created quite the experience and I am thrilled to say that I had the opportunity to enjoy it.