Sunday, May 17, 2015

Restaurante Central

In my planning to go to to Peru and Astrid y Gaston, I happened to notice that there was another great restaurant in Lima called Central Restaurante.  When I first started looking, Astrid y Gaston was rated much more highly than Central.  Astrid y Gaston was rated the 16th best restaurant in the world by The World's 50 Best Restaurants and Central was rated 50th, but by the time we went, Central had made a rapid rise on the charts to 15th and Astrid y Gaston had fallen to 18th (which is still great).  Despite this, I didn't plan on going to Central until we found out on the day after we went to Astrid y Gaston that we were staying on the same block where Central was located.  We didn't notice it the several times that we walked by it, so when I found out that we were as close as we were, I had to find it and decided that since we were as close as we were, that it would be a shame not to at least try to go.  The building in which Central Restaurante is located looked like any other house/apartment on the block with the exception of the very solid looking double door at the entrance and a small plaque in the sidewalk indicating that it was Central as well as the year 2008 which I had guessed was the year that it first opened.  Further research revealed that the restaurant didn't open until 2013, so I really have no idea what the 2008 meant.  Inside the formidable doors is the host station with the reservation book.  After checking in, we were guided to the main dining room behind another set of heavy double doors.  The room was done in a color scheme of greens and browns and had a banquette along one wall where we were seated as well as several round four tops in the center of the room.  The room was lit by natural light from skylights and a glass inner wall that looked into the kitchen on the other side of a narrow courtyard which was used to set the dishes up for delivery to the diners.  Through the window, we could see the chef, Virgilio Martinez, working at the front of the kitchen.
As dining here was not really planned, we decided to dine a la carte and go for non-alcoholic beverages.  They had a pretty good selection of non-alcoholic beverages, so it wasn't really an issue.  I ordered a Lemon Verbena drink with Key Limes and regular Limes.  It was carbonated, sour, and surprisingly green.  It had a flavor similar to lemonade although it was more herbal.  The other drink that we ordered was a Passionfruit Soda with Passionfruit, Tumbo (Banana Passionfruit), and Muña Mint (Andean Mint, used for it's medicinal properties).
We looked at the menu, made our orders, and while we were waiting, a bread plate was brought out.  It was actually three bread plates with three very different breads presented with two butters.  Our first bread was a small and pre-sliced loaf of Coca Bread with a greenish cast to it.  The bread was made with coca and reminded me, like the raw coca leaves that I had tried, of asparagus.  It had a crusty exterior and a soft interior like many good, homemade breads.  The other breads were presented as muffins.  The first being a Fruit Bread and the other a Potato Bread.  They both tasted very good, but the potato bread was softer.  The butter that was presented with the bread was also housemade, one standard butter and one smoked.  I preferred the smoked on the potato and the coca breads and the standard butter went better with the fruit bread.

Our appetizers were brought out by the chef who introduced himself and wished us a good meal.  I found this highly unusual, but I didn't mind, because it said to me that the chef was paying attention to our table and that we would have a great meal.  I am not sure why he did this, because after paying attention after that, I noticed that our table was the only one that got this special treatment.  I oredered the Charred Purple Corn Scented Octopus with Lentils, Botija Olives, and Tree Tomato.  It was a great presentation and tasted really good as well.  The octopus was cooked perfectly and went well with the lentils.  The olives were presented as dots of tapenade on the side and while I generally don't care for olives, it did did go well with the octopus and lentils.  The other appetizer was called Harvest of Scallops and in addition to the Scallops, it had Limo Chili Milk (a spicy ceviche sauce), Rocoto (pepper),  Sweet Root, Wildflower, Conch, and Caviar.
While we were eating our appetizers, a small course, unannounced and unordered was presented to us.  It was a simple plate of Glazed Sweet Potatoes which were presented on a stone.  They were sweet, simple, and satisfying, and it was a nice presentation.
For our entrees, I ordered Roasted Grouper with Black Quinoa.  A separate copper pan with Native Potatoes, Calamari, Squid Ink, and Peas was presented on the side.  The grouper was very tender and flavorful with a slightly crisp outside.  The black quinoa added a nutty and crunchy flavor.  I wouldn't have thought that calamari and mashed potatoes would go together, but surprisingly, it went together well.  When the other dish came, I wondered why I had ordered fish.  It was a  21 Day Aged Suckling Pig with Arracacha (South American Root Vegetable between Celery and Carrot) which was served on the side, Borage (Starflower), and Pickled Vegetables.  It looked really good and I was told that it tasted even better.  I did try it and did like it, but I couldn't really make an opinion with one bite.
While we were eating our entrees, our second unannounced and unordered course showed up and while it was very nice to look at, it was a bit more difficult to eat.  It was a place of thinly sliced hot peppers of various colors.  I did try several and determined that they all seemed to be hot peppers, the purple one was kind of sneaky because it started tasting like an onion and the heat didn't hit until I swallowed.  While the plate looked very nice, we were unable to finish this.

Finally, it came time for dessert.  I ordered Desert Huarangos (White Carob) with Peanuts, Palo Blanco Cacao (Cacao from the Palo Blanco region of Peru, an oasis area in the coastal desert) presented as ice cream, Lucuma (a subtropical fruit native to Peru also called eggfruit  for the dry flesh of the fruit similar in texture to a hardboiled egg yolk.  It has a flavor similar to maple and sweet potato), and Citrus Leaf.  It was rich, sweet, and very flavorful.  The other dessert was called Cacao Forest and it started with a scoop of Chocolate Ice Cream from the El Shunte region of Peru (in the Amazon) with Arcilla Clay, Yuyo Flower, Muña Mint which were powders to be combined with the chocolate.  The clay made the ice cream more smooth, the yuyo flower added some richness, and the mint was a digestive aid.  It apparently tasted good and interesting (as well as being very creative).  It seems to be a twist on quechua food.
While we were eating dessert, a small glass of very thick White Cappuccino came out for the Cacao Forest.  I assume to finish the dish.  It was very thick and tasted very creamy.

After the dessert in a fine dining restaurant and while the bill is being settled, many restaurants will bring out petit fours.  This was the case here as well, except that we were brought three plates of petit fours.  We were first presented with homemade marshmallows, we then received two different types of gelee, a Pisco Gelee and a Hazelnut Gelee, and we finished with chocolate.  All of the Petit fours tasted very good.  The texture of the chocolate took us aback a little bit because it looked similar to a scrubbing cloth, but it tasted very good.

The food and service at Central were very good and I am very glad that we were able to make it there.  The food was innovative and tasted good and used many ingredients with which I was unfamiliar, but I really enjoyed it.  I cannot say though, whether I enjoyed Central better than Astrid y Gaston because when you get into the rarified atmosphere occupied by these two restaurants, everything should be fantastic, which it was.                

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