Chef Virgilio Martínez's unique take on Peruvian food includes using a diversity of ingredients in a manner similar to that used by the peoples of the Andes in pre-Hispanic times: through vertical ecological monitoring. Such a forward-thinking nature drives a true culinary excellence that sees Central named the S. Pellegrino Best Restaurant in Latin America and as #14 in the world.
|Image via S. Pellegrino website|
|Image via Trip Advisor|
First up, we ate a cracker dotted with various gels called Paita Expedition representing 25 meters below sea level. This dish was made of frog and deep water algae, and tasted like vegetables of the sea.
The Orchard of Mala (290 meters above sea level) was made with cactus milk and topped with colorful Retama petals. It was served in a shot glass sitting in a block of ice. This had different flavors than I've ever had before - kind of citrusy, kind of sour.
What looked like a plain gray pebble was in fact a frozen clay of chaco and ocas - a tuber vegetable, similar to yam, found 3900 meters above sea level to represent the Dry Andes. We were instructed to eat the pebble right away before it melted. The texture was cold, but very soft and clay-like with an earthy flavor that I enjoyed. The actual tuber was artfully presented on the plate to the left, in the picture above, but was just on the plate for show and not to eat.
Next, we ate The Ten Mile Fish (5 meters above sea level) made of calamari with sargassum - a type of algae that inhabits shallow water and coral reefs - served on a barquillo (biscuit). The flavor was very fresh and the sargassum gave a nice saltiness to the delicate squid. I liked this bite the most.
Another favorite was the Diversity of Corn (1800 meters above sea level) that presented corn in three ways, with a custard center sandwiched by crispy wafers, and toasted husks on top. The corn flavor was sweet, yet complex and another nice little bite.
Trekking 1250 meters above sea level we ate a beautifully plated dish called High Jungle. A frozen gel made of duck and yacon - a slightly sweet root vegetable similar to jicama that is grown up in the Andes - was wrapped in a leaf and covered with vibrant edible flowers. I could really taste the duck, whereas Keith found it much more subtle.
As a 'bread course' we were served the Dead Amazon (860 meters above sea level). Crackers made from ungurahui - a fruit found in the rain forests similar to cocoa beans, and achiote - a red spice commonly used in Caribbean cooking - were presented with black and sweet cream butters, as well as a big bread loaf made with strong coca leaf. The crackers had very distinct flavors that were more interesting than what is offered in the traditional bread basket. The coca leaf is commonly offered in tea form in these parts to help alleviate altitude sickness. It has a very strong woody smell akin to marijuana, and an even stronger taste.
By now the entire dining room was full, and other patrons asked to be escorted into the front expediting area of the kitchen to take photos of the staff. I captured the one above as they were mugging.
The next course was a favorite of mine called Rock of the Sea (6 meters above sea level) featuring clam and sweet lemon in the center of an air cocoon. It looked like a weird scoop of mashed potatoes or something, but was fun to break open the cocoon to eat the sweet cold center.
Valley Between the Andes (2875 meters above sea level) was made with avocado, tree tomatoes, and kiwicha, or mini quinoa which is a common Peruvian superfood. Vegetarians would love this bite.
Keith enjoyed the Mountain Beef presentation that represented (2750 meters above sea level) and featured shaved dried beef heart with milk, and quinoa next to a braised piece of beef. The milk was cooked down to a sauce and the quinoa was like a cracker-sponge to add crunch. The meat itself was super tender and reminded him of a higher quality short rib. As a substitute for me, I ate a roasted piece of oca - a tuber vegetable, similar to yam, that is also found up in the mountains. It looked like a fat worm, but was indeed just a yam. It was served with a green splash of some sort of vegetable, and was disappointingly plain overall and clearly an afterthought, compared to Keith's dish.
To show off ingredients found 85 meters above sea level we ate Arid Forest - another fun plate of algarrobo (carob fruit), dried mamey (similar to sweet potato), and 81% dark chocolate that is made with cacao from the Palo Blanco region of Peru, an oasis of jungle in the center of the Peruvian coastal desert. This was a nice balance of fruit and chocolate to segue us into the dessert courses.
One of the most odd texturally and visually presented dishes was Coca Leaf Environment (1750 meters above sea level) that had flavors of coffee, muna mint, and chirimoya - an Andean fruit, also known as custard apple, whose flesh is white and creamy, and has numerous dark brown seeds embedded in it. It was very mushy and cold in the mouth, and just overall strange.
Finally, we ate a chocolaty cracker, with a chocolaty truffle orb, and a gelee candy called Barks and Resins - Jungle (645 meters above sea level). These three bites were made with shambo quiro, sachapapa, and huampo - all fruits and flowers found in the Amazonian jungle. Served alongside was a sweet drink made from macambo - a cousin plant to cacao and stevia called Theobromas Solar Infusion (450 meters above sea level).
The whole experience was very artistic and culturally intriguing. With a total price tag of $500 after conversion for the two of us, it was a very expensive meal that lasted a little over 2 hours. I did not feel that the extra drink pairing really added much more to the understanding of the various elevations, and would have enjoyed the meal just as well without it. Overall, it was a unique experience and the staff was well informed of the history of each ingredient, and did a great job translating to English to give us a clearer picture of what we were eating. We ate some strange ingredients that are only found in this part of the world, so it was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Total Rating: 4.2
Food: 5, Price: 2, Service: 4.5, Ambience: 4, Accessibility: 4