Tag Archives: South America

Astrid y Gastón | Lima, Peru | Jan ’14 | “the 20 year retrospective”

20 Mar
  • Old Address: Cantuarias 175, Miraflores District 15074, Peru
  • New Address: Av. Paz Soldán 290, San Isidro, Lima 27 – Perú
  • Phone: +51 1 2424422.
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): > $100
  • Courses: (20 main/22 total): 1 amuse, 1 bread, 16 savory, 4 dessert
  • Rating: 14/20
  • Value: 2/5
  • Dining Time: 240 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 11 minutes
  • Chef: Diego Muñoz (Mugaritz, el Bulli, Royal Mail Hotel, Bilson’s in Sydney Australia)
  • Style: Peruvian
  • Notable: First fine-dining restaurant to focus all the way back in the 90’s on Peruvian food

I think this 20 year retrospective menu, which AyG only served in the last month of their operations in their old address, in January 2014, was one of the more memorable meals I had partaken. (They’ve since moved to the Financial District of Lima, in a new space called “Casa Moreyra”.) Was the food great? In all honesty, not really. There were no eye-opening combinations, nor any dish I thought was excellent (i.e. 5/5), though I remember the liquid nitrogen chirimoya dessert (like styrofoam pillows), and the peking cuy (guinea pig). Puzzling was the chifa dish that was just a fried piece of fish and puffed rice in oyster sauce. “Sole meuniere” was just a slab of plain fish. Chicken liver, an ingredient pinched in taste compared to its fowl-ier brethren, was presented without embellishment. Purely gastronomically, I had much better experiences at Central and Maido.

But it seemed almost beside the point. The food was secondary to the story-telling. The special menu was a celebration of the history of the restaurant. The constraints were clear: the kitchen was going to select a dish from each year, and feature it as a 20 course menu. From there, they wove a story about how a French restaurant in an unstable Lima, eventually found its voice championing the native dishes of Peru, and set up branches all over Latin America and Spain. How they became more experimental over the years, especially the dessert courses. It was interesting to see the evolution of restaurant before our eyes, told through 20 courses.

It seemed purely experiential, the evolution of a restaurant told in 20 dishes. While I didn’t fully enjoy the gastronomic side of it, it appealed to the sentimental side of me. Since it seems churlish to criticise a special menu working under a stringent set of constraints, below I present the menu and photos without further explanation, so you can take my place tableside.

Other Notable Links: Spanish Hipster write-up on the El Viaje menu, the year-long menu directly preceding this, planned together with Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana.

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The side alley in Miraflores

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To the right, the waiting area

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Dining room

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The kitchen, helmed by Diego Muñoz.

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We arrived early, by Latin American standards. (8pm, most guests started filling the room at 9pm)

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Cono de Mango

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1994: Foie Gras Times
Apple, grapes, port, chicken foie.

July 14th 1994. French revolution.
The restaurant opens its doors with a sign that said:
Astrid y Gaston Restaurant.
Haute cuisine.

It was time for morels,
and foie gras.
They were different times.

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1995. Tartare Times
Artisan bread, beef tenderloin, bone marrow, smoked yolk, herbs

Astrid leads.
The freshness of her 20 years conquering it all.
The bar, dining room, tables, dishes, like a dance.

Her dance.

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1996. The debut of the Tuna
Tuna, tumbo, oriental salad

Something new starts
to beat in 1996.
The beef, the sole
they couldn’t agitate
the heart as they used to.

Winds of change.
We could feel them come.

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1997. The a lo pobre that wanted to be entrecote
Black beans, sweetbreads, banana

And suddenly, hidden between goose
and grapes, the tacu tacu made its entrance

Fearful, confused.
not knowing if he would stay.

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1998. Duck tasting
Cured, rillettes, confit

We were always taught
that the kingdom of the duck
was in France.

No-one told us his place
was also among the Mochica.

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1999. Ingredients get an ID
Free range egg, “Huacho” sausage, quinoa, and asparagus.

Mother earth. Land of the water, the sun, the wind and fire.
Together they transform the products.

They create life.

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2000. Down to Chile
Sole menieur, hazelnuts.

We were ignorant
of so many things.

We could only feel.
We felt we could share our dream.

That we were at last ready.

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Shrimp melcocha

Like our own love story,
Peru and France finally transformed into a single plate.

It was time to fly, to discover, to dream.

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“Chupe” rice, corn and lobster

One never knows why things occur.
They just do.

Ideas align, words lose meaning,
everything falls into shape.

Everything finds its purpose.

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2003. Revelation
Causa de pallares, paiche, “charapita” chilli.

But something was missing.
Something deep, meaningful,

A voyage across
the Peruvian territory.

Drink from its past,

feel its present,

visions of the future.

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“Playboy for the hormonal New World crew”

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2004. Culinary adventure
Pulpo al cilindro

And the adventure started.
Ancient faces,
ancient people,
nothing was left out.

The peace of knowing
that in the kitchen
there are no hierarchies

2014-01-05 00.26.032005. Peru as doctrine: 500 years of fusion
Chifa style fish

To discover oneself.
Take off our masks
and feel the joy
of belonging to a place and time.

The joy of being free.

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2006. From Peru to the World
Street food ceviche

And with freedom comes trust,
dreams, forwardness.

Free we could conquer hearts, fearless,
without the heavy fear
of the dark alley.

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2007. Peruvian cuisine, a movement.
Goat, watercress and roasted onions

Fear, vanity,
disbelief were left behind.

By ourselves are no-one,
together we are heaven.

We were cooks,
we became a movement.

2014-01-05 00.59.41“Shadowplay”

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2008. Mistura
Peking cuy

How to build a bridge
between the countryside
and the city?

Between kitchen and tables?

How to celebrate together?


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2009. Pachacutec: The dreams of the youth
Suckling pig, sweet potatoes and Andean herbs.

The kitchen can become a window for our dreams.
We just have to open it.

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Suspiro loco

The voice of Peru sounds different.
In its tone we do not find violence nor fear.
Her new voice provokes, seduces, agitates.

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2011. A new challenge with new blood
Chirimoya Alegre

It has been a long journey since
Behind we are held by an army of youth,
firm and steady march.

It is their time.

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2012. Story Telling
Sensitive sphere

Experience and youth, savour the future.

To tell stories.

Through our kitchens, stories are born.

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2013. The farewell
Beso de Camu Camu,
Sable salado
mango vainilla,
Formula 44
Sol y Somba

Cafe finca “Tasta”
de Edith Meza Sagarvinaga
Satipo Junín

The end of a lifetime.
20 years of love and battle.

A new life and home await for us.

So much to be thankful for.
So much to give back.

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Malabar | Lima, Peru | Jan ’14 | “Amazonian”

18 Mar
  • Address: Av Camino Real 110, San Isidro 15073, Peru
  • Phone: +51 1 4405200
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $140
  • Courses: (10 main/ 13 total): 1 amuse/1 bread/8 savory/ 2 desserts/ 1 mignardise.
  • Price/Main Course:  $14
  • Rating: 13.5/20
  • Value: 1/5
  • Dining Time: 97 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 11 minutes
  • Chef: Pedro Miguel Schiaffano
  • Style: Peruvian / Amazonian


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Malabar is a bit different from 3 other renowned restaurants I visited in Lima (Astrid y Gastón, Maido, and Central). Strangely, none of the waitstaff speak English, so it was off to the races with my halting Spanish to comprehend the dish explanations. One can only imagine that this is a deliberate choice on the part of chef-owner Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, since during my lunch at Amaz (his more casual twist on the Amazonian concept, located in the upmarket Miraflores district) two days earlier, there were plenty of waitstaff who could speak English.

Another difference about Malabar was that it was the only one of the four in the San Isidro financial district, about 5km away from the Miraflores district.

While Malabar’s food was pleasant enough, I have to confess that reflecting on the meal 2 months later, no tastes really stick with me. It was nicely plated, but no one dish grabbed the stomach or made me remember the food besides that it was quite pleasant. Having had no immersion at all in this cuisine and its ingredients, I was running based purely on taste and smell. If one could eat with one’s eyes, this would be great cuisine. I have faith that the ingredients sourced here from the Amazon (which Chef Schiaffano leads a vanguard) are all very rare, but the concept of this restaurant seems to be first a showcase parade of unfamiliar ingredients brought into elegant visual forms, presented to the diner experimentally, to see which Amazonian ingredients are a hit with gourmands. I ended up appreciating Schiaffano’s gastronomic project to support conserving the Amazon ecosystem and culture, much more than the direct gastronomic results themselves.

For a better version of this type of Peruvian terroir cuisine, I would recommend Central over Malabar, which had at least 3 very memorable dishes.


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‘Mugaritz-style’ stone potatoes.

This is a very labour-intensive carnival piece. Each potato is baked with flour water brushed on top, 3-4 times each to get the desired stoney effect. For pure whimsy this dish was a home-run. This dish is the infamous stone potato of Mugaritz restaurant in Spain. – my Tapas Molecular Bar write-up.

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Pisco Sour

Malabar is known for its Pisco cocktails. This was a great afternoon drink. The most memorable part of the meal for me.

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Queso de castaña: Flores de jengibre, tomates confitados y congonilla (4.25/5)

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Taidai de pescado con jugo de tumbo, mastuerzos y tobiko (4/5)

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Yuca: Mojo de naranja agria, fariña, tapioca y masato (4.25/5)

[Cassava: Mojo sour orange, farina, tapioca and masato ]

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Huatia de papa: Papa cocida en su tierra, charqui de alpaca y quinua negra (4/5)

[Huatia Potato: Potato, their land, jerky alpaca and black quinoa]

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Octopus, Pepper, Seaweed (4.5/5)

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Paiche en aji negro: Habitas regionales guisadas y maduros (3.75/5)

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Escolar en adobo: Cebollas de trenza y camotes crujientes (4.75/5)

The most remembered dish of that lunch – a spicy sambal-like covering around the escolar fish. I feel it is a bit facetious to serve the escolar in such meagre portions, but such is the tyranny of the tasting menu – would it not have been better served in a large portion, family-style? (I’m going off my experience with sambal stingray in Singapore, best served in hearty portions).

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Puca picante de costillar de res (4.5/5)

Tasty and pliable to the knife.

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Chirimoya, plátanos manzanos y yogurt orgánico (4/5)

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Cacao: chocolates nacionales (4.5/5)

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A spicy sweet.

Central | Lima | Jan ’14 | “Peruvian terroir, art on a plate”

20 Feb
  • Address: Ca. Santa Isabel 376, Miraflores, Lima – Perú
  • Telephone: [511]242-8515 / [511] 242-8575 | Email: reservas@centralrestaurante.com.pe
  • Website: http://centralrestaurante.com.pe/
  • Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday, 1-330pm, Dinner: Monday-Saturday, 8-1130pm
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $120
  • Courses: (8 main/13 total) 2 amuse / 1 bread / 6 savory / 2 dessert / 2 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $15
  • Rating: 19.5/20
  • Value: 5/5
  • Dining Time: 140 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 11 minutes
  • Chef: Virgilio Martinez (also proprietor of Lima in London, and another upcoming in London. ex. Lutèce (NYC), Can Fabes, Astrid y Gastón), Pía Leon (ex. El Celler de Can Roca)
  • In Own Words: “My food is very visual, to me landscapes, feelings, romance, emotions are very important. I believe that my cuisine is very close to nature but in an artistic way.” [1]
  • Style: Avant-garde Peruvian/Amazonian
  • Notable: Rated by an influential local guidebook as best restaurant in Lima; platings are works of art.

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Rating: 19.5/20

The Chef. Chef Virgilio Martinez’s fame precedes him. In the last year, he has opened a restaurant in London (called Lima), and he has another restaurant in Cuzco, gateway to Machu Picchu. An advocate of Peruvian cuisine worldwide, he is only 36 years old, and Central has been reviewed by Lima’s foremost dining guide (a little red book) as the best restaurant in Lima. Previous to opening Central, he worked at Lutèce (New York); Can Fabes (Sant Celoni, Spain), and served as executive chef at two restaurants of the Astrid y Gastón restaurant chain (prevalent in the Spanish world), in both Bogotá and Madrid.

You know what, I spent some time in Madrid and in Barcelona 10 years ago. After awhile, I went back to Peru and I saw more calm in the city. In the gastronomic sense, it was just okay, it was good. I had this epiphany when I went to Southeast Asia and I saw how people were very proud of street food. That really inspired me to go to the very unknown parts [of Peru]. So I got to know these parts, and I got to know all these ingredients. When I saw 200 ingredients that I’d never seen in my life, I was like, okay we have to do something with this because this is just amazing. And then we started to do the research on recipes with those ingredients. That was my personal motivation to go back to Peru and do my thing. – Virgilio Martinez

Two Visions of Peruvian Haute-Cuisine. Of the four high-end restaurants and menus I visited in three days in Lima, I could split them into two kinds – the first as Peruvian fusion (Astrid y Gaston’s [AyG] 20 years menu, Maido’s Nikkei menu); and the second highlighting Peruvian terroir (Central, Malabar, more casual: Amaz). I felt that the first type of Peruvian fusion haute-cuisine was not as enjoyable for me – it was almost as if I was being treated to a menu by committee, where disparate elements (Chinese shortrib and glutinous rice at Maido, Peking cuy and cannoli at AyG) were being put on my plate just to punch home the point that Peru was a cultural melting pot of Spanish, Italian, Incan, Chinese and Japanese immigrants. As if the presence of diversity on the menu was more important that the way tastes could unfold on the menu. In almost all of the cases, these “affirmative action” style dishes flopped. Fried rice with cod and oyster sauce does not a good dish make, AyG. The “affirmative action” trap is an all-too-common one that fusion restaurants fall into. The fusion restaurant gimmick: Ingredients from culture A are mixed with ingredients/preparations of culture B to produce a decent dish, but one in which the ingredients are replaceable, and there isn’t an essential reason to mix those two cultures. Very few fusion dishes follow an inner logic of the tastes themselves. A good rule of thumb seems to be: if fusion results in a dish that is merely interesting, don’t serve it. In the past year I could count on one hand the fusion dishes which were brilliant (sake-souffle at RyuGin, and Pejerrey Tiradito at Maido off the top of my head). Even at Maido (a restaurant I enjoyed very much), the only fusion dish which was essential was the tiradito; the other fusion dishes were well-executed but forgettable; and the chifa (Chinese-Peruvian) style dishes were consistently the weakest parts of the menu at both AyG and Maido.

I much preferred the Peruvian-terroir type restaurants. I learnt while researching Lima’s dining scene that there was a deviant strain of terroir-restaurants called “Amazonian cuisine”, attributed to Pedro Schiaffino of Malabar and Amaz. While I enjoyed both Malabar and Amaz, I felt that Peruvian-terroir took a big step up at Central. The flavors here were more precise and complex. It also has a larger canvas to play on – while a big part of Central’s ingredients comes from the Amazon, but it also encompasses all elevations and climes.

“Scientists have calculated that there are thirty-four types of climatic zones on the face of the earth. Peru has twenty of them. ‘In Inca Land one may pass from glaciers to tree ferns within a few hours,’ Bingham wrote, still astonished years after arriving.” – Turn Right at Machu Picchu, Mark Adams.

The Food. The menu I had was called Mater Uno. It has been expanded to about 18 courses now, but remained at about 13 courses when I visited in early January. The most memorable tastes were (1) the cut chirimoya fruit with cocoa – the chirimoya had the texture of pineapple with the taste of soursop; remarkable; and (2) the cushuro cyanobacteria with mashed frozen potato. The chefs at Central plate with painters’ brushes. In their hands, elegant paintings appear on our plates, feasts for the eyes. Occasionally the dining experience crosses over into didactism, where native Peruvian ingredients are placed on our plate just because the average diner has zero familiarity with them, and Central is trying to educate us on their provenance. But I always found the tastes precise, calibrated, with no flavour overwhelming the dish. Even though the food was unfamiliar, the tastes were balanced.

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SEA: Seaweed Calamari (4.5/5)

Ceviche style.

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COAST: Native Corn (4.5/5)

Intense corn taste.

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AMAZON: Spicy Root (4.5/5)

Yacon (a sweet water chestnut-like root) smeared with a bit of charapita spicy pepper.

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ANDES: Tuber Chamomile (5/5)

Camote (Andean sweet potato) that tasted like apple pie.

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Special mention for the bread service goes to the “butter” (5/5), which is actually hardened butterscotch that is made solid. I ate a lot of it after taking this picture.

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Scallops, Kañihua, Tumbo, Borrage [10 mbmsi]

Raw scallops coated with kanihua (mountain grains); tropical fruit notes from the tumbo (banana-passionfruit sauce).

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Octopus, Purple Corn, Olive, Limo Chili [500 mamsi]

Perfectly roasted octopus, in a purple corn “corn-somme”.

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River Shrimp, Sacha Inchi, Native Herbs, Chia [1200 mamsi]

The nutty and salty river shrimpes were paired with raw, verdant native herbs and chia. It was a complex composition, no taste dominating.

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Frozen Potato, Cushuro, Mullaca Root, Paico [4500 mamsi]

This may have been the best dish of the night. Sour and springy cushuro (a type of cyanobacteria, which I also had the previous day at Maido), paired well with the mild taste of mash potato. It was a joy to crunch through the springy cushuro (which had a touch of turmeric taste) . Paico is a herb that starts off anise-tasting, and ends up minty.

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RED JUNGLE (3.75/5)

Arapaima, Airampo, Huito, Hearts of Palm [800 mamsi]

The Amazonian arapaima riverfish is considered a delicacy for producing boneless steaks; here it had a savory ham-like texture. airampo, a cactus fruit stained the fish. Huito, charred on top, had a nutty almond like taste.

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Lamb, Kiwicha, Tarwi, Chamomile [3800 mamsi]

Okay. Cheese taste from (chamomile?) cubes overpowering.

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PURE AMAZON (4.25/5)

Bahuaja, Huampo Wood, Maca Root, Taperiba [500 mamsi]

Huampo root, boiled down (the green puree) had a menthol slightly limey flavor. Bahuaja nut, the central mass, was like a nutty semifreddo. Maca root crisps provides a taste of Froot Loops on the outside of the Bahuaja Nut; Taperiba formed the olive-colored gel.

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Cacao, Coca, Chirimoya, Chaco Clay [2500 mamsi]

I loved this dish. I had chirimoya desserts at Borago, Gustu, Astrid y Gaston; but this took the cake. Chirimoya was served simply as the main dish; a fruit with the texture of pineapple and the taste of soursop. It was served simply with chocolate-coca soil. Simplicity.

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Cullen, Stevia, Macambo, Lemon Verbena [1200 mamsi]

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Notable Links:

Maido | Lima | Jan ’14 | “Nikkei delight”

5 Feb
  • Address: calle San Martín 399 (esquina: calle Colón), Miraflores, Lima, Perú
  • Telephone: (511) 446 – 2512
  • Website: http://www.maido.pe/index.php
  • Hours: Lunch: Mon-Sun: 1230pm-4pm. Dinner: Mon-Sat: 730pm-11pm.
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $135
  • Courses: (15 main/15 total) 13 savory / 2 dessert
  • Price/Main Course: $9
  • Rating: 18.5/20
  • Value: 4/5
  • Dining Time: 95 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 6 minutes
  • Chef: Mitsuharu Tsumura
  • Style: Nikkei (Peruvian-Japanese fusion)

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Twiddling my thumbs on a lazy Sunday in Lima, when all the major restaurants seemed to shut down all at once, didn’t appeal to me. With a bit of scheduling jujitsu, I decided that the optimal way to partition my three precious days in Lima before I went to hike Machu Picchu was:

  1. Astrid y Gastón on Saturday dinner (it was not open on Sundays and Mondays)
  2. Maido for Sunday lunch (most permissive of the major restaurants)
  3. Central for Monday dinner. Later I added Malabar for Monday lunch.

Of the four major restaurants I went to in Lima, Maido and Central were the ones that left the greatest impression. There are two menu options are Maido, the Japanese set menu, where the restaurant conjures up an authentic Japanese experience, and a Nikkei menu, a Japanese-Peruvian fusion menu. While I’m sure Maido would have served good Japanese, I wanted something a bit more unique to the city – so I took the Nikkei menu option.

“Nikkei” is a term that means the Japanese diaspora. Peru is of course one of the countries with the largest and most prominent Japanese diaspora – former President Alberto Fujimori was the first leader of Japanese descent of a non-Japanese country, and helped to crack down on the Shining Path, which only two decades ago terrorised the cosmopolitan playground of Miraflores with a truck bomb. Today Miraflores is an semi-autonomous district in Lima, with its own tourist police force, 5-star hotels, and an excess of casinos. Its self confidence finds its way into some of the best food in South America, with Astrid y Gaston, Central, Amaz, and Maido all located within a tight 2km area.

Something that was interesting to me was to hear Japanese being spoken at least half the time amongst the chefs. This gave me an foreshadowing of the authenticity, discipline and precision that chef Mitsuharu Tsumura instills in everyone at the restaurant. The chef, I’m excited to report as a Providence-resident, studied at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, and then apprenticed at an Osaka sushi restaurant. He returned to Lima, and worked at the Sheraton Lima – until he was 28, when he struck out to create Maido. – [biography]

There were many standout dishes. The best was a liquid nitrogen ceviche tiradito, which was unforgettably served in a petri-dish. In every dish, I felt precision in execution, as if the flavors summoned in the chef’s mind, was being transmitted directly to my tongue, through precise technical skills honed by repetition. I’m a fan. Maido’s a must-visit when I next return to Lima.

Rating: 18.5/20

Memory: Pulpo al Olivo, Pejerrey Tiradito, Bahuaja, Temaki Sushi


“Nikkei Experience – The Third Reality”

“Life is movement. Nothing is static or absolute. No one is. We are in a state of constant flux, just like the Earth, the tides, bacteria, light, the blood in our bodies, colors, seeds. Like family trees, cuisines are constantly being redefined, their identities enriched by an intense intercultural exchange which has formed the basis of all civilization ever since humans shared their first sounds, products, ideas, and customs. Fusion cuisine is just that: cooking, an inclusive word that perfectly encompasses it all. The fireplace is where bloodlines merge, where people come to sing, individual and group histories are forged, life gestates. The fireplace is where dialogue is fostered, the elements meet, opposites attract. Thus was born Peruvian Nikkei cuisine: from a complex history called Peru; and another, equally complex, far-off and foreign history called Japan that merged to live in harmony and create the third reality: Nikkei Cuisine.” – Mitsuharu Tsumura – Josefina Barron

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The menu is cutely shaped like an olde Japanese passport.

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1. Pulpo al Olivo (5/5)

Grilled octopus, botija olives tofu and crispy black quinoa

Brilliant. Perfectly grilled octopus, crisp, warm, tender. Olive tofu. Cold. Textured by crispy quinoa. All three ingredients played their part.  A single bite, very harmonious.

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2. Hassun (4.25/5)

Whelks in soy sauce with kiuri and apple sorbet – Southern squid, wakame, Porcón mushroom in two textures

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Southern squid, wakame, Porcón mushroom in two textures

This was very good.  A visual pun on maki sushi, where instead of green seaweed wrapping white rice, we have a strip of white squid wrapping around wakame seaweed. Served amidst mushroom paste on a mushroom chip.

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Whelks in soy sauce with kiuri and apple sorbet

The sweetness ice of apple sorbet made the whelk almost dessert-like.

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3. Nikkei Ceviche (4.25/5)

Cabrilla, clam, camaron, tobiko, crispy yuyo

Especially enjoyable was hunting down those last bits of tobiko (flying fish roe) in the ceviche sauce.

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4. Paracas Scallop with Maca (4.5/5)

Paracas Scallop, maca emulsion, fukujinzuke, kimpira gobou

A fukujinzuke (Japanese vegetable pickle medley) soil with succulent scallops.

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5. Pejesapo Sandwich (3.75/5)

Steamed bun, pejesapo, tartar sauce, creole salad

A fairly ordinary sweet bun sandwich. Citrus notes.

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Liquid Nitrogen. Foreshadowing.

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6. Cuy-san (4.5/5)

Cuy confit with molle pepper, chilled harusame noodles with sanbaisu and rocoto.

Cuy, the infamous guinea pig, here is confit, packed into a spring roll, and served with a simple sweet dish of cold noodles. Appetising in its simplicity. Garnished with a single corn leaf.

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“Tree” times a charm

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Ceviche sauce with nori, chalaca, shichimi, cancha

This was a dish that was all the good and great of Maido’s clash of cultures. From Peru, ceviche sauce was cooled with liquid nitrogen in a mixing bowl, and put with nutty toasted corn (cancha). Slivers of pejerrey fish were served tiradito style, thinly sliced – the tiradito style itself being an offshoot of sashimi. Finally, topped with a Japanese 7-spice powder. Brilliant. A knock-out dish.

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8. Nigiris from the Sea (3.75/5)

Deep fried rock fish nambazuke – Smoked mackerel with yellow chilli, onions and masago

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9. Rice Tamale (4/5)

Banana leaf, smoked nitsuke style bacon, cocona pepper

This was reminiscent of many Chinese dim-sum lunches I’ve had over the years, so much that I thought (and still suspect) it’s a chifa (Peruvian-Chinese) style dish. A single cross-section of savory tamale, crested with a bit of heart of palm.

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The encounter of Chupe de Camarones and Chawanmushi

Sweet seafood surrounded by egg-custard chawanmushi. A pleasant seafood sweetness seeped into the chawanmushi.

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11. Nigiris from the Earth (4.5/5)

Cylinder duck – Crispy panceta – Outside skirt Wagyu aged for thirty days A Lo Pobre


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12. Gindara Pancayaki (4.25/5)

Gindara marinated in miso, panca chilli and yellow chilli, camotillo potato cream, crispy leona potato, Pachacamac greens, purple corn powder

Sablefish (gindara), if I remember correctly, tastes like cod. A quieter protein. Roast corn was done perfectly, like the octopus in the first course.

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13. Estofado Nikkei (4.25/5)

Nitsuke braised short rib, white fried rice with cecina and benishoga

Another quieter dish, here nitsuke – a sweet braise – performed on beef, with fried rice, reminded me of the Asian home cooking I grew up with.

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14. Bahuaja (5/5)

Milk, ice cream and crispy “castaña”, mango, cranberry, cushuro, mochi

A sublime dish. A sweet milk ice-cream with an array of delicious ingredients. No ingredient outshined the other – but the most curious was “cushuro” –

Known by its scientific name, Nostoc commune is a type of cyanobacteria, more commonly known as “blue-green algae,” although it’s not exactly blue-green in color nor is it a true alga.

These bacteria form colonies of spheres which measure 1 – 2 centimeters (0.4 – 0.8 of an inch) in diameter. The spheres are soft and watery and glow in the presence of ultraviolet light. Their green pigmentation is due to the presence of chlorophyll; their blue pigmentation due to the presence of phycocyanin. Additionally, the presence of phycoerythrin, a reddish pigment, in combination with the other pigments, explains why some are more brownish in color.

Cyanobacteria can be found in diverse habitats around the world, aquatic or terrestrial, and are characterized by their tolerance of extremes in temperature and conditions. They are capable of remaining dormant for long periods of time and can abruptly restart their metabolic activity upon rehydration. They are capable of carrying out both photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation, nitrogen fixation meaning that they take atmospheric nitrogen and convert it into a form that we can utilize, a precursor to amino acids and proteins.

Nostoc commune is only one of the world’s edible varieties of cyanobacteria. Another, for example, is the “facai,” consumed in China during the time of festivals. This is the Nostoc flagelliforme(Takenaka et al, 1988) which grows slowly in the desert regions of northern and north-western China. – source

Cushuro was one of the most wondrous discoveries of my gastronomic travels in South America. It’s textured like a tender bubble-tea pearl, and tastes like mild earl grey tea. Maido perfectly incorporated it in a “Treasures” themed dessert.

The origin of the name “Bahuaja“. Another write-up from Comosur:

Micha followed the contemporary Asian dessert with a dessert named after an Bahuaja Sonene National Park, the rainforest in the southern part of Peru known for its wealth of biological diversity and, in more recent years, evidence of indigenous groups that have avoided contact with the rest of the world. The dessert used cashews in a variety of forms – as ice cream, milk and crunchy sprinkle – as the base, adding mochi, cushuro and tapioca infused with camu camu.

Some of those words evading you? Mochi you may know as the squishy rice dough that is often wrapped around ice cream and available at Japanese restaurants. Cushuro is a fascinating green bacteria sphere that grows at higher altitudes in parts of Peru. They have little to no flavor but feel like a mix between tapioca bubbles in bubble tea and caviar. Camu camu is a cherry-like fruit that is native to the Amazon, in this case the Peruvian Amazon. It is gaining attention for it’s supposed anti-oxidant properties. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the new acai in the near future.

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15. Temaki sushi (4.75/5)

Nothing is what it seems. The seaweed is chocolate. The rice, is strawberry cream. And those salmon roe… dessert pearls. Whimsical.

Gustu | La Paz | Jan ’14 | “food as world changer”

30 Jan
  • Address: Calle 10, No. 300, La Paz, Bolivia
  • Number: 591 (2) 2117491
  • Website: http://restaurantgustu.com/eng/welcome/
  • Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 12pm – 3pm, 7pm – 11pm
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $80
  • Courses: (10 main/14 total) 2 amuse / 1 bread / 7 savory / 3 dessert / 1 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $8
  • Rating: 16/20
  • Value: 5/5
  • Dining Time: 170 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 12 minutes
  • Chef: Kamilla Seidler (ex. Geist), Michelangelo Cestari
  • Style: New Andean

In recent months I have heard of the “gentrification effect”, where a hip new restaurant (placed in the wrong part of town), or a social coffeehouse (in Melbourne’s backstreets) changes a sketchy area for the better. Heavy foot traffic makes viable an ecosystem of other restaurants (perhaps to handle the spillover effect), bars, coffee houses. It is reminiscent of the big-push theory of creating a top-notch research university – “hire at least two superstars to your university department, and watch as other bright postdocs trip over themselves to work with them”.

Location, while an important factor, appears to be more of a “moderating variable” than a causal one, Parsa says, ruling that “a poor location can be overcome by a great product and operation, but a good location cannot overcome bad product or operation.” – The Restaurant Failure Myth, Businessweek

I think the establishment of Gustu in Bolivia (one of the poorer countries in Latin America) – an international opening covered by the NYTimes, the FT, and Bloomberg’s Ryan Sutton – accomplishes three things. The first, geographic, is it may make a gastronomic hub of the well-to-do Calacoto suburb in La Paz. The second, economic, is that it establishes a type of opportunity, to work in the cutting edge of gastronomy, that was not there before. The third, gastronomic, is that it showcases Bolivian ingredients as not seen before. The social mission of Gustu is highly admirable – no other gastronomic project on the planet is taking as much risk as opening in Bolivia. But since locals are not the primary target of Gustu, whether the restaurant thrives will depend on its ability to turn out great food in order to attract foodie tourists. And that was what I spent one night in La Paz to find out.


What Gustu is (besides a restaurant):

  • noma’s co-owner Claus Meyer has a non-profit foundation, the Melting Pot Foundation.
  • In 2010, the Melting Pot Foundation decided to start a food school in Bolivia. [source]

The cooking school, which is an integral part of the restaurant GUSTU, gives the socially disadvantaged young people in South America’s poorest country an education as culinary entrepreneurs, and the pro­ject draws on Claus Meyer’s experience in the establishment of noma and the New Nordic Cuisine movement. – Melting Pot

Why have we picked Bolivia?
Bolivia is one of the most culturally diverse countries in South America, being home to 36 indigenous groups. 60 percent of the population lives in poverty, and Bolivia’s indigenous population is among the poorest in the country. There is a highly unequal distribution of the economic resources and the farmland between the country’s 9,7 million inhabitants. The majority of the indigenous peoples belong to the poorest groups in the country and show a relatively weak political participation. Bolivia has the highest illiteracy rate and the lowest average school attendance in the region. Especially among women, indigenous peoples and the rural population, there are many who can’t read or write.

Bolivia may be the poorest country in South America, but also has a great basis for agricultural produce, exciting producers that are popping up all over the local communities, and a potential for a revitalization of the different ethnic and regional cuisines. Bolivia is high, cold mountains, hot valleys, savannah, woods, and rainforest. Bolivia is home to the world’s largest salt flat Salar de Uyuni, and the country is also a producer of coffee, cocoa, potatoes of all kinds, sugar cane, soy, coca leaves and bananas – and it deserves mention that the production is turning increasingly organic. Bolivia’s indigenous peoples are carriers of pre-Columbian cultures and their gastronomic roots date as far back as to the time before 1500 and Columbus’ discovery of America. – Melting Pot

  • Gustu’s manifesto:


This manifesto has the following bases:

  1. Be inclusive and become a source and symbol of pride among Bolivians.
  2. Enhance the diversity of native and local products, cultural and productive practices and encourage sustainability by linking with the Bolivian cuisine.
  3. Combining search of great taste with the importance of human health and the environment.
  4. Revalue regional gastronomic knowledge of popular tradition and safeguard as a national cultural heritage.
  5. Bolivian Gastronomy must reflect the diversity of products by ecological levels, seasonality and modes of preparation, individual of our country.
  6. Suggest cuisines based on local and indigenous techniques and ingredients, which also take into account global trends.
  7. Build a culture of quality through culinary education level students, producers, chefs , retailers, authorities and consumers.
  8. To promote research , documentation and dissemination of gastronomy.
  9. Develop a fraternal, reliable and cooperative relationship between all players in the culinary chain.
  10. Recognize, strengthen and integrate regional movements Restaurants and productive .

We resolve to make the Bolivian Movement in Gastronomic Integration an engine for positive social and economic change, through the impact on public policy proposals, generating new jobs, fair distribution of resources and promotion of tourism. – source

  • The main people I interacted with that night were chef Kamilla Seidler and GM Jonas Andersen (both formerly of the restaurant Geist in Copenhagen).


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My Airbnb apartment was less than 100m away from Gustu!

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The restaurant, from afar. I arrive early by South American standards.

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The Front Area

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Kitchen Area

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Service Begins


12-course menu

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Tumbo y Ciruela Club

“Tumbo – the banana passionfruit

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1. Zonzo, Salteña and Masaco

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Zonzo (4.5/5)

A delicious grilled yucca snack, with crispy cheese and burnt garlic sprinkled on top.

further sources on zonzo, with recipes: (one), (two)

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Salteña (3.75/5)

Salteñas are a baked Bolivian empanada. A traditional breakfast dish, this salteña was filled with oxcheek, potato, and carrot. Coca in the dough.

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2. Peanut Macaron with Palmito (Heart of Palm) Paste (4.75/5)

A good combination. Strong taste of peanut, akin to the filling from Asian peanut butter crackers.

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3. Grilled Avocado Puree with Fresh Plums (3/5)

I did not much like this dish – the grilled avocado puree was quite bitter, though the plums from the La Paz valley were pleasant in themselves. As a dish though the bitterness overwhelmed the momentary sweetness of thin plum slices.

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Bread with Coca Infused Butter (distinct and bitter, enjoyable and memorable)

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4. Tender Beets and Papalisa, Perfumed with Hibiscus (3.75/5)

Beets broiled, dehydrated and rehydrated (hibiscus vinegar?). I had seen this trick before at birch (with lavender vinegar) and Aska the previous year. This produces a chewy beet candy with satisfying resistance to the tooth. Papalisa or Ulluco, an Andean staple crop second only to potato, are very small tubers, distinguished primarily by their texture, a firm little tuber ball. A dish of textural contrast. Hibiscus paper.

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5. Poached Rabbit and Choclo with Lime (3/5)

Choclo, a robust large corn, is harder and starchier than the North American corn I’m used to. Here the choclo was charred and paired with poached rabbit and lime. The poached rabbit with lime was a simpler preparation. The choclo however remained hard, and for me detracted from the rabbit. The choclo demands attention, by virtue of its hard texture. The rabbit and choclo remained separate dishes on the plate.

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6. Silky Palm Marrow with Charque and Egg Yolk (5/5)

My favorite dish of the night. Charque, jerky made from alpaca, was charred into bits, like bacon, and set with a poached quail egg and strips of heart of palm. This was a great texture play – the soft, ethereal tissue that had the surface texture of a plastic strips had and the crisp bits of charque were bound wonderfully by a creamy yolk.

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7. Grilled Cauliflower with Drops of Mandarine (3.25/5)

A dish I have seen in other reports of Gustu. This was a triple play of cauliflower – puree, roasted, and a shaved slice of raw cauliflower, given contrast by slices of oranges. The meaty taste of cauliflower was in the puree and roast, but the shaved slice of cauliflower was not great fun to eat.

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8. Llama Filet with Chuños Glazed in Apple-Banana Syrup (4.5/5)

Chuñ0 – is a freeze-dried potato product from the Andes.

After harvest, potatoes are selected for the production of chuño, typically small ones for ease of processing. These small potatoes are spread closely on flat ground, and allowed to freeze with low night temperatures, for approximately three nights.

Between the freezing nights, they are exposed to the sun, and they are trampled by foot. This eliminates what little water is still retained by the potatoes, and removes the skins, enabling subsequent freezing.

After this, they are exposed to the cold for two additional nights.

White chuño is obtained by “washing” the frozen potatoes. The “washing” may take various forms. In Bolivia, the potatoes are spread on blankets or straw and constantly sprayed with water to moisten them. In Peru, the frozen potatoes are transported to a river, and deposited in pools.

The final step is drying in the sun. The result is now called chuño, also known as papas secas. In Bolivia, white chuño is also called tunta. – Wikipedia

The chuño potatoes tasted remarkably like dried banana crisps, which I suppose owes a great deal to the Apple-Banana Syrup! The llama had the texture of veal, and the taste was also similar to veal, with a more gamey taste. Perfectly executed dish.

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The Potosina Malta (5/5) may be one of the most unique pairings I have ever tasted. In GM Jonas’s words – “sweet, no acidity, no smoke, burnt bread”. It is pure sweetness, and reminded me of Pedro Ximenez sherry, if PX sherry was a stout.

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2014-01-03 21.44.239. 120 Days Aged Beef with Carrots Fermented in Orange Juice (4.75/5)

Bolivia doesn’t have a culture of aging and culturing things – and therefore Gustu is pioneering the practice. The carrots had been fermenting since the 7th of July (I was there on the 3rd of January, so that makes very nearly 6 months), and it was paired with the ruda (or common rue) – which tasted of anise+cinnamon. The carrots had the bite similar to the beets earlier served,  and had great depth of flavor. The 4.5 month aged beef, dry-ish, had the taste of blue cheese, well-offset by the carrots. The last of the mains.

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10. Creamy Chancaca, Tumbo and Singani (5/5)

Chancaca, or piloncillo, is “unrefined whole cane sugar, typical of Central and Latin America, which is basically a solid piece of sucrose obtained from the boiling and evaporation of sugarcane juice.” – Wikipedia. Here, it was made into the beige meringue base, topped with the tumbo (banana-passionfruit sorbet). Good.

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11. Iced Chirimoya on Aji Fudge with Flakes of Tomatillo (3.25/5)

Chirimoya ice-cream with aji (dill family) fudge and tomatillo paper. A spicy puree was at the base of the dish. The sourness of the dish reminded me of haw candy, which I used to devour as a kid in Singapore. I didn’t quite like the dominant spicy, haw-sourness of the aji fudge – but I can see this as a matter of personal taste.

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Don Tomas’s 200 bottles of El Poblador. (5/5)

Wow. This wine is made from Misionea(sic?) grape, a grape brought to the New World by Spanish missionaries in the 15th(?) century. It tastes exactly, and I do mean exactly, 100%, on-the-mark, like black forest chocolate cake. Intensely cherry. Brilliant.

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12. Soft Chocolate Bar with Cacao Sorbet, Passionfruit and Ground Wild Cacao Beans (4.25/5)

A elegant end to a memorable meal.

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Coffee and Postprandial Snacks

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In anticipation of the 4am taxiride!


As a result of confining much of their food to geographical limits, locavore restaurants like Boragò and Gustu become destinations worth visiting in themselves, cultural heralds. They are certainly serving up some of the most interesting food in the Americas. My visit to Gustu was highly memorable, characterised by interesting ingredients, well-executed cooking and great service. I wish the team all the best in accomplishing their noble social mission. There’s a buzz about La Paz, and it’s from Gustu.

Rating: 16/20

Memory: Silky Palm Marrow with Charque and Egg Yolk; Llama Filet with Chuños Glazed in Apple-Banana Syrup ; Potosina Malta; Peanut Macaron with Palmito; Don Tomas’s El Poblador

Significant Links:

Absent Andes

Not much of human life is here at Gustu yet. The lack of ambience and community in Gustu jabbed me in the back throughout dinner and left the biggest impression. Jonas explained that he just didn’t know why it was so quiet, that this was really unusual. I went on a Wednesday and a Friday night, and both were the same. Fair enough, restaurants need some time to get the word out and punters in. But I think Gustu will continue to struggle attracting first and repeat customers beyond the first flush of glowing publicity it has enjoyed. Meyer has himself spoken about the difficulty Gustu has persuading Bolivians to visit, indicating a fundamental problem with his vision here.

For what it’s worth, my dining partners said they would come again, but maybe for a special occasion – though our bill came to 750 Bolivianos, a little more than the average monthly household income (in a country where not too many people are in regular salaried employment). And other local friends were not keen on trying it at all.

(I did notice that the restaurant, on a Friday night, did not fill to about 2/3’s until about 10pm. I put that down to the ramp-up period though)

Boragó | Santiago | Jan ’14 | “the summation of Chile”

6 Jan
  • Address: Av. Nueva Costanera 3467, Vitacura, Santiago, Chile
  • Telephone: +56 2 2953 8893
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $130
  • Courses: (15 main/17 total) 1 amuse / 11 savory / 4 dessert / 1 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $9
  • Rating: 19/20
  • Value: 5/5
  • Dining Time: 270 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 16 minutes
  • Chef: Rodolfo Guzman (ex. Mugaritz)
  • Style: Avant garde Chilean / foraging
  • Notable: forages all ingredients within 140 miles of Santiago.


Amazing. The New Year had barely passed, and I was already having one of the best meals I could imagine anywhere. I first heard of Borago, when it was blogged by John Sconzo. Reflecting the New Naturalism philosophy of Mugaritz, noma, and In de Wulf – it was a delight to see it applied to a different set of ingredients, one I was completely unfamiliar with. I’ve heard a catchphrase used to describe these restaurants – Borago (Santiago), Gustu (La Paz), Astrid y Gaston (Lima), Central (Lima), among others – “New Andean“. [reports to come, later]. All ingredients from the restaurant are foraged within a 140km radius around it.

Borago is best enjoyed after traversing the length of Chile. I imagine travellers, fresh from 10 days in the Patagonian rainforest, or driving down the coast of Chile, or just flown in from San Pedro de Atacama in the Atacama desert, would find delightful reprises of their journeys in each of the dishes conjured up by Borago. For example, a soup made of Patagonian rainwater was served in a bed of moss. A macaron made with plants from the Atacama desert was made to look like that dry, desolate landscape. The plating was inventive, and absolutely delightful. The tastes were precise, and towards the end there was a sustained sequence of excellent and memorable dishes which rivalled anything I have experienced.

I ordered the 16 course extended Raqko tasting menu. Borago offers an 8 course option (Endemica) and 16 course option (Raqko). Rodolfo Guzman helmed the kitchen that night of 2nd January, ably assisted by Peruvian sous Tommy de Olarte and Mexican sous Sergio Meza, who has had experience at In de Wulf and noma. He:

has spent time working at noma and In de Wulf  amongst other noteworthy restaurants before coming to work at Boragó. Cooking since he was just 14 years old and now still only 22, his is a name to watch. – Docsconz.

A beautiful meal, there is no better send-off to Chile than dining at Borago. Indulge on your last night before you fly back home.

Rating: 19/20

Memory: Egg (Huevo de Galina Mapuche), Mushroom (Chupe de Setas de Pino), Rainwater Curanto, Conger Eel Tempura, Milk (Temera y su Leche), Atacama Desert (Rica Rica de Atacama), Sheep (Oveja Chilota)

Notable links:


My eating tour at a few of the Top 50 Latin American restaurants had gotten off to a rocky start with a amateurish meal at Tegui in Argentina. But Borago (the second fine-dining spot I had visited after 2 weeks in South America) restored some faith in that list by the end of the meal.

Geography: Borago is located in the upscale neighbourhood of Vitacura. You can use Uber to get to the restaurant, since Uber has just launched in Santiago.


An Aside on Economics: Chile’s economy is undergoing a boom right now. But there are storm clouds ahead. Chile mines over 1/3 of the world’s copper ore, and copper accounts for 13.5% (2011) of Chile’s GDP. Codelco (Chile’s national copper company) sells copper ore straight from the Antofagasta region to China, which refines it and ships it back to Chile. [This reminds me in principle of the exported expertise-building that took place in Singapore when Malaysia exported water from the Johor region from 1961-2011, only to have it purified and shipped back for a higher price]. There is a worry that Chinese demand is going to taper off. There are three plausible reasons I have heard:

  1. General rebalancing towards Chinese consumers due to unsustainability of investment-led growth model. The steady-state analysis by Michael Pettis in his book is very persuasive. He makes what he calls his “second assumption” on timing that Chinese demand will taper off very soon, where China will soon hit debt capacity limits, where loans for investment cannot be repaid out of taxes (implicit in artificially low savings rates, suppressed exchange rate).
  2. The time of fundamental infrastructure investment in Chinese cities is over. Copper is mainly needed for high-voltage power-lines. I consider this a non-factor, since according to Tom Miller’s book on Chinese urbanisation, there is still about 300 million of Chinese rural-urban migration yet to occur.
  3. Substitution by carbon-nanotubes for fundamental infrastructure. Copper may be needed for high-voltage power-lines, but China is looking towards carbon nanotubes for fundamental power infrastructure, being cheaper. I consider this an on-the-fence factor, because much depends on how successful Chinese research into carbon nanotubes will be.

In addition, there is a worry about how the tapering of QE in the US will start bringing hot-money investors seeking higher returns back to the US and away from the rest of the world.

What this means for a Chilean high-end restaurant, is that there is a question mark over the domestic economy and domestic consumers. High-end restaurants are like desert flowers that bloom when prosperity rains upon the local region. A restaurant like Borago represents Chilean prosperity. If the rains of prosperity cease after a short time, then restaurants must subsist upon the tourism aquifer, or shrivel, wither, die. Gastronomic tourism is especially important in a high-income-inequality region such as Latin America, which has a smaller domestic base of gastronome consumers. In any case, I noticed that most of the diners in Borago the night I was in (2nd January), were tourists (mainly American).

Aside 2: Besides talking about the nature of demand for Chilean fine dining above (domestic and foreign), the foreign demand for global fine-dining is in fact, composed of a very distinct set of “foodie” people. There promises to be a good documentary on foodies released this year. I hope the directors devote some significant time to how foodies interact with each other. That’s the most fascinating part.


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The passage of 4.5 hours…


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Statement of intent

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Initial photos on the pass

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Mawun Rainwater – collected from a lagoon in Patagonia

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Pork Skin

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Normally a Chilean candy filled with dulce de leche, this replaced it with chicken pate.

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A yellow pepper salsa (“pobre?”) with ash of coriander, onion, tomato on top

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Melon Jelly with Golden Liqeur

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De Martino, Viejas Tinajas, Muscat, 2012, D.O. Italia. (1,2)

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The evening has begun…

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1st. Nalca y Frutilla Blanca de Purén (2.75/5)

Nalca, a stemmed herb of the rhubarb family, and occasional pest plant, was presented here sliced two ways.

First in a disc, and lengthways. I did not like the lengthways slicing, which preserved the toughness of the fibres in such a way that was almost inedible.

A more pleasant thing was the “white strawberry”, in season for only 2 weeks a year (lucky me!). It tasted exactly like strawberry.

Wild dill, and a dill sauce.

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2nd. Locos Cítricos (3.75/5)

Locos, a false abalone (actually a sea snail), is usually served with olive oil and mayonnaise (how I had it earlier that day at Aquí Esta Coco)

Here the idea, explained to me by Meza, was to avoid masking the taste by adding a lot of mayonnaise, but to pair it with citrus. Lemon balm leaves, bits of lime peel, blitzed 12 times and reduced to paste dabs, sprinkled with parsley and a sweet hunk of citrusy paste in the middle made of an endemic herb.

Pleasant, though I felt the locos here had a bit less sweetness than the ones at lunch.

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Jugo de Pepino-Aceite de Oliva (3,4)

Delicious. Cucumber and olive oil.

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3rd. Verdolagas al Rescoldo y Yogur de Pajarito (3.5/5)

Purslane, cooked like a meat straight on the grill. Yoghurt with kefir.

While I enjoy the direct grilling technique applied to beets and carrots, I didn’t think that this purslane had enough sugar or chemicals to react deliciously with the heat. It was still a bit tasteless when it came out.

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4th. Cremoso de Isla Negra (4.5/5)

The beginning of a sustained sequence of courses I really enjoyed all the way until the end. The first three courses were duds to me (the only reason why Borago doesn’t get a perfect score), but from here all the way to the end the quality was unflagging.

Roasted samphire (a type of seagrass) was served with creamed spinach. Beautiful, crunchy texture contrasting with paste.

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Domaine Raab-Ramsay, Blanc de Blancs, D.O. Marga-Marga (5)

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5th. Ajo Chilote y Huevo de Gallina Mapuche (5/5)

An egg yolk from the Mapuche hen was cured in sugar, taking all the water out until it became a sweet gummy, was plated deceivingly with what looked like cooked egg white but was actually elephant-garlic-and-potato puree. Plating masterpiece.

Afterwards I had to spend a good minute getting the gummy egg yolk bits out of my teeth.

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Jugo de Damasco (6)

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6th. Chupe de Setas de Pino (5/5)

A cooked down stew (“chupe”) of pine mushrooms and bolete mushrooms foraged 120km away in Quintay was garnished with mushroom crisps and crispy mushroom strands. Next to it was pine powder. Evocative of a forest floor. Tasted marvellously of pine-woodiness.

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Agua de Lluvia de la Patagonia (7)

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7th. Curanto y Agua de Lluvia de la Patagonia (5/5)

Here’s a humorous Wikihow link on how to make Curanto. Essentially, a mud-wall underground barbecuing technique. Concentrated with intense flavors of the component parts, this was a dish I will remember for a long time.

At Boragó, the flavors of the curanto were distilled into a broth, rich with the flavor of clams and pork, which was served in a cup surrounded by moss and twigs among which was tucked a nugget of fried potato.  It was delicious. – Ulterior Epicure

Curanto is a traditional preparation from the south of Chile and involves burying layers of food including shellfish, meat, chorizo,  potatoes, vegetables and other ingredients cooked under ground on a layer of hot rocks and covered with nalca leaves to keep the smoke inside. This is usually done during a minga, a traditional party held when houses are literally moved from one location to another. At Boragó they used Patagonian rain water to create a stock incorporating all the flavors of the curanto serving a traditional potato bread or milcao on the side nestled amongst the branches. – Docsconz

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Calcu, Rosé, Ensamblaje, 2012, D.O. Colchagua (8)

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8th. Corvina y herbias de Playa (3.75/5)

Sea bass in ash, with beach herbs. Slightly overcooked fish, but the rock (for foraging smells) was evocative.

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9th. Congrio Frito… (4.75/5)

He coated conger eel in ash and perched it on the banks of a lake of machas broth, blushing with the peachy-pink color that the machas clam (mistakenly called “razor clam” by locals; it’s triangular in shape) secretes when cooked.  This dish, like many other dishes, including an inky dashi made out of ulte seaweed, was rich with the xian of the ocean.  It was one of my favorite dishes at Boragó. – Ulterior Epicure

An ashen tempura of conger eel, in bullwhip kelp root dashi. Conger eel had a soft, cod-like texture. Very good.

Jugo de Pimentón Rojo (9)

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Tipaume, Ensamblaje, 2011, D.O. Alto Cachapoal (10)

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10th. Temera y su Leche (5/5)

Brilliant dish. 40-hour beef cooked in milk (to evoke the smell of what it produces), served with alfalfa leaves (to evoke the scent of what it eats), a burnt branch (to evoke the smell of the meadow). Milk crisps further enhanced the milk scents. The entire lifecycle of a cow.

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11th. Pieza de Vaca y Espino (4.75/5)

Guzman used wood or products from four different trees in this dish. The seeds in the photo above were edible as they were and also used for the complex, mole-like glaze on the beef. These were from the Espino tree (Acacia Caven), which according to Wikipediais just an ornamental tree. According to Rodolfo Guzman, however, the Mapuche have been toasting and eating Espino seeds for over 2000 years. The toasting gives the seeds an aroma like coffee. The Mapuche call these tannin-laden seed pods Quirinca. The beef was cooked over both Espino wood as well as wood from the Tepu tree of southern Chile. Additional elements in this dish came from the Quillay tree and the Ulmo tree. This dish made no sense intuitively, but somehow Guzman pulled it off and made the wood enhanced beef work. Sure, wood has been a flavor enhancer via smoke for as long as humans have used fire, but I had never before actually eaten woody elements as I had here. The only thing on the plate that wasn’t actually edible was the branch itself. I’m still not sure that I understand this dish or how Chef Guzman did it, but I’m glad I had it! It was a very complex dish that really grew on me as I ate it. It will likely continue to haunt me for some time. – Docsconz

A good dish, reminiscent of the coffee spareribs ubiquitous in Singapore czechar places (the difference being that Singaporean ribs are fried, and here the shortrib was, I believe, sous-vide-d). Sweetly and slightly bitter glaze on shortribs. Good.

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Quirinca seed pod.

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Jugo de Murra (11)

Blackberry juice. A note here on the philosophy of the sommelier at Borago. Most of the drinks I had were orthogonal to the dish, adding a completely new dimension to the dish, without competing or diminishing the flavors. It was very enjoyable to drink the pairings.

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Ramping up to dessert.

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Licor de Rica-Rica (12)

A mothball smelling, mild tasting sap.


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12th. Rica Rica de Atacama (5/5)

Ice cream from the rica rica plant, and a macaron layer made of rica rica. The filling was made from the Chañar wildflower. Evoked the Atacama desert.

I had just spent 4 days in the Atacama desert, in landscapes that looked like this:

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So this dish immediately hit home in visual associations.


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Chicha Premium, D.O. Cachapoal (13)

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13th. Oveja Chilota “Chilota Sheep” (5/5)

A cake covered with fermeneted maqui berry juice, an endemic berry tasting similar to black berry, was covered with a blonde sugar floss and a sheephead-shaped marshmallow. Taste and visual presentation, superb. [The “sheep” is a plating also used at El Celler de Can Roca.]

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Someone has to kill the sheep.

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Infusión de Cedrón (14)

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14th. Chirimoya contenta y zanahoria (4.75/5)

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I could not guess the identity of the leathery, sweet thing on the branch. Persimmon? It turned out to be carrot, cooked for a very long time. Carrots have been a revelation in recent years – so many cooks have taken the humble carrot. There are so many possibilities within this humble vegetable.

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A haute-version of Chirimoya Alegre. Chirimoya is custard apple, and here was paired beautifully with citrus and carrot, in puree, sorbet and crisp form.

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Cerveza Barrio, Barley Wine (15)

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15th. Coulant de Espino (4.5/5)

A tribute to Michel Bras’s coulant. Warm inside, cold and quite hard outside. I had to take five strong taps to crack my coulant.

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16th. Frio glacial

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Puff the Magic Dragon again!

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Cleaning up, the end.

Tegui | Buenos Aires | Dec ’13 | “over-reaching”

25 Dec

Address: Costa Rica 5852, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Phone: +54 11 5291-3333

Verdict: Save your money, and go to a parrilla.

Rating: 5/20



My dinner at Tegui was a very disappointing experience. Tegui was lauded to high-heaven in Latin America’s Top 50 Restaurant List, ranking top in Argentina and #9 in Latin America overall. I was intrigued to take the measure of Argentine cooking. Here was the teaser text:

The playing with perceptions continues once again at the table, however, with Martitegui continually changing his style of cooking in order to create an air of mystery about his establishment. One week his menu could resemble that of a European restaurant, the next it could take on a more diner-like feel, depending on which ingredients the chef has been seduced by. It’s an approach that not only keeps the kitchen – and indeed the diner – on its toes but ensures the cooking is as fresh and inventive as the day the restaurant opened its doors.

Presuming you catch Martitegui in one of his more European frames of mind, diners can expect carefully created dishes that are just as concerned with texture and aroma as taste, such as burrata with strawberries, basil, balsamic vinegar and pistachios; king crab in coconut cream and mango and low-temperature cooked osso bucco and caramelized apples. Wine is an important part of the offer and each dish comes with a by-the-glass suggestion. – Hype Box

As mentioned in my post on La Cabrera, I wasn’t sure if Buenos Aires was a city geared more to high-end fine dining, or food with a more common touch. I tried Tegui on my first night in the city, but I had two major complaints with Tegui:

  1. Basic cooking mistakes. A roasted quail was overcooked to the point of greyness, with bland skin, A rabbit terrine was too dry and coarse.
  2. Truly bizarre combinations: cold sorbets juxtaposed with hot meats. A dessert course kills the appetite kindly by cloying you with sweetness and coldness at the end. The effect of having multiple hot courses with cold sorbets was that my appetite was killed many times over. This was weirdness for the sake of weirdness, a disease well-christened “twerking” by Ulterior Epicure Bonjwing Lee.

All throughout the meal, I thought of the words a friend who works at Momofuku Ko said to me the previous week while munching jalapeno-fried-chicken: “At Momofuku, we just do things the right way”. Those words echoed with me all throughout the meal. Here was avant-garde-ism for the sake for avant-garde-ism, reaching for sophisticated effects while neglecting simple things like making sure the quail is actually cooked properly.

Perhaps the kitchen was having a bad day, but towards the end of the meal, I wasn’t looking for revelation or inspiration any more, I was just praying that the kitchen would just give me something decent. Luckily, since dessert is hard to screw up, I got a couple of decent desserts, but those were unspectacular too. 


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The evening street of Palermo Hollywood

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Speakeasy-esque entrance

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The restaurant, cooking area is right at the back

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Wine-collection, at the entrance

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First snack: Cornet. Brie cheese and Tomato. (3.25/5)

A derivation of the famous per se/French Laundry cornets, right down to color key – but the differences was that the cone was not a crispy tuile, but had the texture of a digestive biscuit.

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Bread service

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Snack: Hot blinis with eggplant caviar and sour cream (3.5/5)

Eggplant caviar spicy.

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Snack: Goat Cheese, Tomato, Strawberry Granita (4/5)


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Main #1: Goat Cheese, Beet, Strawberries, Basil (3/5)

The goat’s cheese was shaved using a Microplane, a technique popularised by Momofuku Ko with their shaved foie gras, but ended up clumping together due to low temperature. The four ingredients had almost no synergy together, especially since the goat cheese was bland and unassertive. It did not help that I had a far superior version of a shaved cheese dish at ma peche (report to come) a few days before.

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Main #2: Almond soup, toasted serrano ham chips, fresh figs. (3.5/5)

Another discordant dish. The almond soup was cold and cheesy, which did not go well with the ham and figs. The ham and figs made a good combination, but was overpowered by the almond soup. This reminded me of a similarly overpowering combination of salmon with pistachio emulsion I had two years ago at Le Bernardin in New York. The almond soup was pointless.

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Main #3: Octopus, homemade salami, tapenade (dehydrated black olives), melon, avocado. (3.5/5)

Melon and octopus and salami were pleasant enough, but the avocado cream was a bit too much, if applied in the volumes suggested by the dab.

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Main #4: Rabbit Terrine, Corn Ice Cream, Apricot, Cucumber Yoghurt, Dabs of Hot Pepper (1/5)

Terrible, absolutely terrible. What was corn ice cream doing alongside a rabbit terrine? Not only was the dish bizarrely conceived, but the rabbit terrine was coarse, of uneven meat sizes, and some parts were dry. Was the terrine meant to be cold? Very well. But the terrine wasn’t cold, instead it was in the uncanny lukewarm zone, where it is just hot enough to suggest it should be a hot dish, and yet not hot enough, suggesting it was cooling after cooking. The lukewarm temperature was a turn-off.

Furthermore, the cold corn ice cream made for a very uncomfortable mouth-feel when eaten with the lukewarm, coarse, dry terrine. Really, really bad dish. I did like the corn ice cream on its own, so it salvages one point. The appearance of ice cream so early on, also may have played havoc with my appetite.

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Main #5: Ricotta Gnocchi, White Truffle Foam, Popcorn (3.5/5)

One of their specialties. Finally, a dish that was served on a plate that was actually hot. It was not bad, though not mind-blowing.

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Main #6: Quail, Malbec Reduction, Dried Fruit Sorbet. (0/5)

This time the plate was at room temperature again, due to accommodating a hot and a cold element. The quail was overcooked, to a ashen grey colour that was reminiscent of a very dead thing. The skin was bland, as if it had no seasoning. Terrible. Perhaps the ice creams were the kitchen’s way of apologising for inflicting such mal-conceived ideas upon paying diners.

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Main #7: 24 hour lamb, eggplant, thyme yoghurt, Mediterranean vegetables (2.5/5)

“herbs set on fire on top of lamb”

Again, plate and meat were lukewarm. The lamb was roasted in the oven slowly for 24 hours, and the meat picked to form a lukewarm and greasy terrine. The redeeming quality of this dish was the crust of lamb on top of the picked meats, which was crispy and quite okay.

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Melon, White Chocolate Granita, Licorice and Balsamic Vinegar Reduction (4.25/5)


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Strawberry sorbet, Blueberry Leather, Panna Cotta dabs (3.25/5)

Okay, if unexciting. Quality of fruits weren’t the absolute best I’ve had.

La Cabrera | Buenos Aires | Dec ’13 | “enough food to stuff a small elephant”

23 Dec
Address: José Antonio Cabrera 5099, Buenos Aires, Capital Federal, Argentina
Phone:+54 11 4831-7002


When I first visited Buenos Aires, I wasn’t sure if it was a city geared more to high-end fine dining, or food with a more common touch. After having been to a couple of the city’s best parrillas (Don Julio, and La Cabrera), snacking on empanadas, and having been to what was touted by Latin America’s Top 50 restaurants as the best restaurant in Argentina (Tegui), I came out satisfied out of my parrilla and empanada meals, and very disappointed with my meal in Tegui (report to come). I thus made a tentative conclusion in my second day in Buenos Aires that food with a common-touch would be my best shot at eating well in Buenos Aires, a conclusion that was strengthened with each passing great street food meal and parrilla meal.

My knowledge of Argentinian steak before this trip came from a book by Mark Schatzker I read last year, Steak, in which he describes the Argentine love affair with beef. In it, he makes the allegation that Argentinian steak has moved form deliciously grass-fed, to proudly corn-fed. I wasn’t expecting the most amazing porterhouse in the world, but rather the parrilla experience.

Before leaving for Argentina [the book was published in 2011], I had read a number of reports that contended that Argentina was abandoning its grazing beef industry for the American model: growing corn and erecting Texas-size feedlots. And this was all due to the fact that Argentines loved steak so much.

In 2001, the debt-laden Argentine economy crashed. When it began recovering, the price of beef started climbing. Farmers were making good money selling Argentine beef to Europe, Russia, and Israel, but Argentines were finding htier three-pound-per-week habit was getting hard on the wallet. The price of steak got so high that at one point Argentina’s president suggested that his people might consider eating less beef, which was the political equivalent of asking eagles to give up flight. Sensing the darkening national mood, he cut beef exports.

For a while, this flooded Argentinian butcher shops with cheap beef, the price of beef dropped by a third. But the flood of cheap beef was soon cut off by furious, not to mention poorer, ranchers and farmers, who were so angered that they banded together and blockaded roads so that food-laden trucks from the countryside couldn’t deliver to cities. The first thing to disappear from store shelves was steak, followed by pork, lamb, and chicken, and much later pasta. People leaned out of windows, hung off balconies and stood on street orners banging pos and pans together to voice their anger.

The ranchers backed down, butcher shops were filled again. Cheaper steak was grilled and eaten.

But the ranchers’ income was shrinking. Some decided to get out of the beef business altogehre. Farmers who held the best land in Arngetina, whose families had for centuries sneered at the very idea of crop farming, did what the law of supply and demand predicted: they cleared the cattle and planted crops. They laid down fertilizer by the ton and sowed corns and soybeans and wheat and anything else that was getting a good price on world markets.

The cattle went to marginal land, land that had never been considered up to the task of finishing cattle. To get them fat, Argentinees began herding them into pens and feeding them corn, which they now had in abundance. – Mark Schatzker, Steak, Argentina Chapter

Sidenote: By the way, speaking to locals, Argentina seems to be in another economic crisis, with 30% inflation. The USD officially trades for the Argentinian Peso (ARS) at 6.25, but the blue dollar rate (black-market rate) is about 9.0-9.4 currently. Tourists to Argentina can get a very favorable rate if they exchange currency in the cities themselves. I didn’t do this, and was kicking myself.

Steak. A steak in America, would be a lazy choice for me, one that I almost never make. Great steak, if one has the equipment, seems possible to consistently replicate at home with a sous-vide machine, a blowtorch, and maybe liquid smoke. But the parrilla promised an authentically Argentine experience, and the wood-burning asado tradition adds a touch of unpredictability to how the beef turns out. And if beef consumption is such a cornerstone of Argentine life, then in Buenos Aires do as the porteños do.

La Cabrera is probably the most famous parrilla in Buenos Aires. All the tourists know it, all the expats know it, all the locals know it. Located near the heart of hip Palermo Soho, it is located on its namesake street. It is so popular that it opened a overspill second restaurant, 50m away from the main one, called La Cabrera Norte. It’s exactly the same restaurant.

Rating: 15/20


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Morcilla Criolla (3.75/5)

“Creole blood sausage” – savory. This differs from Basque Blood sausage (Morcilla Vasca), which is sweet.

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Kobe Beef Wagyu Cuadril 500gms, Rump Steak (4/5)

This dish was a bit dubious in name – I remembered very well last year’s viral column by Larry Olmsted in Forbes claiming that there isn’t real Kobe beef. Still, I was expecting something like Snake River Farms beef, where the beef have Kobe heritage. After all, the marbling is what counts. Of course, all was forgotten as we order the rump steak, a very non-fatty cut. A bit of a mind-fart.

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Churrasquito con Panceta (4.25/5)

“good portions of roasted fat”

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Bife de Chorizo (Sirloin Steak) (4.5/5)

Bife de Chorizo is the cut that Argentinian guidebooks said to get. Here, the steak was smothered in a garlicky sauce. I personally prefer a naked steak, but this floated by boat very well*

*we packed the steak, and ate it for dinner too.

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What is special about the thing is that La Cabrera just stuffs you with all kinds of side dishes, that leave you staggering for the exit door.

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The Lollipop Tree.

A final send-off.