Sunday, May 10, 2015

Gaston Acurio - Tanta and Astrid y Gaston, part 1

Before I travel somewhere, one of the first things I do is to look at what good restaurants, I might have the opportunity to try there.  When I first thought about traveling to Peru, I looked, and quickly discovered Astrid y Gaston.  It was listed as one of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World, but I wanted to find out what it was about.  In my investigation, I learned about Chef/Restauranteur Gaston Acurio.  His history really interested me and his restaurant aims convinced me that Astrid y Gaston was a restaurant that I really wanted to go through.  The son of a politician, Gaston, first went to Law School thinking that he would follow in his father's footsteps, but he discovered that he really didn't want to be a lawyer and went to Paris, where he went to culinary school.  He met his wife in Paris and they returned to Lima in 1994 where he decided to apply his acquired fine dining skill to Peruvian food and try to introduce the world to Peruvian cuisine.  Through the years, Gaston Acurio has opened about 40 restaurants in several countries including the United States (La Mar in Miami, San Francisco, and San Diego, and Tanta in Chicago).  I had been to Tanta in Chicago and found that Peruvian cuisine was a fusion of various influences and it really interested me so, when plans for a trip to Peru started happening, I knew that Astrid & Gaston had to be on the list of places to visit.  We made plans to do an organized tour, but also to spend several days in Lima after the tour ended, so we would have a chance to explore things at a more leisurely pace and to see things that we might want to see on our own.  Looking at our schedule and what day might work to go to Astrid y Gaston, we found that our best day to go was going to be on the day our tour ended so that is when I made the reservation.  We left our tour hotel and settled into our apartment in the morning and our reservation wasn't until the evening so we decided to explore.  We were fairly close to the coast, which was a cliff and there was a mall, Larcomar, built into the cliff.  It was a place recommended while we were on the tour so we decided to check it out.  It was a very nice mall with a lot of high end stores, but what makes me mention it is that Gaston Acurio's Cafe Restaurant, Tanta, was located there.  As it was lunch time and we had not eaten yet, we decided to stop there for lunch and use it as kind of a preview for Astrid y Gaston.  I will start out by saying that Tanta Larcomar and Tanta Chicago have very little in common except that they serve Peruvian food.  Tanta Larcomar is very brightly colored, using a lot of reds and yellows in their color scheme.  It reminds me of a restaurant/bar that you might find on the beach which is appropriate.  It actually has two levels, the main level which is primarily bar and patio with a red and yellow canvas tent roof.  The interior of the restaurant is on the side of the cliff and you actually have to go down from the main level to get to it.  The outer walls were windows overlooking the ocean and allowing for a lot of light.  While the place looked relatively casual, the waiters were dressed very professionally with black pants, bright blue shirts (with a Tanta logo) and ties.  The place looked very friendly and casual and the menu looked very good, but as we were going to be having a 29 course meal for dinner, we thought it a good idea possibly, to take it easily and eat lightly.  After ordering and seeing other people's orders come out, we determined that that was not going to really be possible.  I started things out with Tiraditos Dos Cremas.  I knew from having it earlier that tiraditos is a dish of raw fish or seafood prepared similarly to ceviche and it sounded good.  This Tiradito was prepared with Corvina, a Drum Fish native to the Southeastern Pacific, and two sauces, Aji Amarilla (yellow pepper) and Rocoto (Red Pepper).    The Corvina was very thinly sliced and covered in the sauce, so when the plate came, it looked at first as it if I was getting a plate of sauces divided by garnishes (Sweet Potatoes, Peruvian Corn, and Red Peppers).  I had to stab my fork into the sauce to find that the plate was actually covered with fish before the sauces and garnish went on.  The corvina was very tender and tasty and went very well with both sauces.  The sauces also use a lot of lime juice so they were both pretty sour.  Of the two sauces, I would have expected the red to be spicier, but it was actually the yellow that was more spicy.
For my main course, I went with a Roast Pork Sandwich with Vegetables with a side of French Fries all served with a Yellow Pepper Sauce.  The vegetables were fresh and crisp, the pork was thinly sliced and the French bread that it was served on was crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside like good French Bread is supposed to be.  The way the flavors and textures came together, this really reminded me of a Banh Mi and I really liked it.
My dining partner had a Chauffa, a Peruvian Chinese (Chifa) dish of Fried Rice and Potatoes with Shrimp, Onions, Corn, and Beef.  While it was similar to Chinese Stir Fries that I was familiar with, it very definitely had a Peruvian bent to it with the potatoes and the sauce.  Everything tasted very fresh and it tasted very good.

While some of the desserts that we saw looked very good, we really wanted to have room for dinner that night so we waived dessert.  The food and service here were very good and I would happily return. but on this trip we had other hills to climb.

We arrived a little early for service at Astrid y Gaston that evening and were told we could sit at a high top outside the restaurant which was part of the attached bar.  The place was actually an old Spanish-style farmhouse and was enormous.  There were actually herb gardens and green houses in the front that I would have investigated further had I been able to see better, it was night after all.  When we were first seated inside the restaurant, we were seated at low love seats with a low table and a round light between us.  We had a view overlooking an inner courtyard and a kitchen which was great, but my first thought was that if we were going to be sitting here for an extended time, it could get uncomfortable.
We were told that the theme for tonight's dinner would be Things We Remember.  Our first course was then served which consisted of a Sparkling Cocktail, Guinda de Huaura, a drink containing some Sparkling Wine and Morello Cherries, and some Pate Finger Sandwiches.  The drink was very bright and flavorful and the sandwiches were delicate and flavorful.  It was a great start and I was excited to see where we might go next.

Where we went next actually was on a tour of one of the restaurant's five kitchens before being seated inside in one of the interior dining rooms which was decidedly more comfortable.  The room had tall ceilings and several round tables with comfortable chairs.  The windows were curtained and there was a tall bookshelf with knickknacks and shelved mirrors on either sides.  There were also several paintings in the room that were seemed meant to evoke memories of childhood.

Such was the start of our dinner.  To be continued in part 2.  

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