Lima: Ode to Central

When one of Tom’s coworkers found out that we were going to Peru for our yearly vacation, he could not stop gushing about the country. One of the things he mentioned was that Central, the current #5 best restaurant in the world, was based in Lima. (Although some would say that the validity of the judging is questionable as the food critics, despite needing to remain objective, are technically not obligated to actually pay for their meals). Additionally, Astrid Y Gaston #33 and Maido #8 who also made the most recent The World’s 50 Best list are also based in Lima. 

We opted to only visit one of the three, although we did consider trying at least two of them. It’s only due to the USD to Soles exchange rate that we would have even considered this splurge relatively “affordable”. If it had been in Europe, or even Copenhagen, where the previous #1 restaurant was located (before it closed a few months after we left Scandinavia), we would have had to pay an arm and a leg, or sell an organ on the black market, to justify the expense.

The USD to Soles exchange rate is roughly $1 to S/ 3.25; We do obviously get slightly less favorable odds when we have to be at the mercy of our banks and credit card companies. This allowed our 1105 Soles meal to balance out at approximately $340 USD ($170 pp). It is definitely agreed that this is an irrational expense for the average person, but since our daily costs in Peru are lower than typical, and we don’t expect to return to Lima anytime in the near future, we were able to justify the once-in-a lifetime splurge. We also only share a big fancy meal about once every year or two…

And what an experience it was! The 17-course menu brought us from the highlands of Peru to the lowlands, from the jungle, to the dessert, to the Andes mountains. As the third largest country in South America, Peru is an incredibly diverse country with a multitude of ecosystems and climates, and Central’s menu celebrates the unique abundance of natural resources and wildlife that can be found in these ‘altitudes.’ (The only unfortunate side note being that we ate our lunches a little later than we should have for our 8:00 PM reservation and were therefore struggling a little bit towards the end.)

The below pictures are roughly broken up by ‘course’ and the key ‘flavor’ components. I’ll try to explain the textures we experienced as well, but with 17-courses, you can imagine that we were both starting to mix things up LOL.


Appetizers:

I-10 M Rock Molluscs: Sea Snail, Mussel, Sargassum, Limpet. We were instructed to use the algae crackers, which had a similar texture to that of traditional Chinese ‘crab chips,’ and the dowel to spoon the mixture of snail onto it before taking a bite. It was a little like a firm ‘salsa,’ but surprisingly not too fishy in flavor.

180 M Desert Plants: Huarango, Cactus, Sweet Potato Leaf, Loche. This one was our favorite! We had to sequentially eat the ‘Loche cake,’ then consume the fried sweet potato leaf befor taking the cactus shot. Tom and I both experienced a surprise in our mouths because we expected the cake bite to be warm, but it was actually cold! The crunch of the sweet potato leaf followed by the warm cactus shot melded all the textures together perfectly. The shot tasted just like kale to me Lol.

3900 M Loft Andes:  Potato, Tree Tomato, Alpaca, Muña Mint. We dipped the potato in a mixture of the tomato, dried alpaca heart, and Muña mint. It was an interesting mix, kind of like what you’d expect if you shredded beef jerky and mixed it in with some moisture. I didn’t not enjoy it, but like everything on this menu, it was unexpected.

3400 M Thick Stems: Olluco, Chincho, Onion, Field Mustard. I can’t quite remember the sequence for this one. We either had to eat the flowers first and then the onion crisp roll stuffed with mustard and maybe Chincho, or the other way around. I really enjoyed the contrast of textures from the crunch of the fried onion crisp to the smoothness of the herbed mixture inside.

450 M Waters of Nanay: Piranha, Cocona, Achiote, Huampo Bark. This one was eye opening for sure! You’ll notice that some of the pictures include elements that are clearly not edible and were provided only for plating aesthetics. I was definitely thrown off by the frozen piranha heads sitting in front of me Haha. First we had what seemed to be fried piranha skin followed by a veggie cake topped with piranha meat. To be honest, it tasted just like pretty much any other white fish to me. 

300 M Forest Cotton: River Shrimp, Llanten, Huito, Pacae. The cotton-like bite you see definitely felt like we were eating a cotton ball. We then ate the leaf wrapped shrimp (Tom’s was subbed for fish since he is not a shellfish fan) before finishing off with the shot. My memory is clearly getting hazy as I simply cannot remember what is what anymore. The leaf was either the Llanten or the Pacae as was the shot mixture. 

1900 M High a Jungle: Macambo, Cassava, Copoazu, Air Potato. The potatoes in one of the breads in this picture actually grow on trees instead of in the ground! Do you think it still classifies as a root vegetable then? We were brought a a spread of breads made from an interesting variety of vegetables including the Macambo Bean, a relative of the Cacao bean in transition for the next phase of our meal.

Entrees

0 M Marine Soil: Sea Urchin, Pepino Melon, Razor Clam, Seaweed. The texture of the sea urchins, the gooey pinkish things, was very tender and melted in your mouth. The Melon added a bit of crunch and acidity to the plate. This was the first time that either of us had sea urchin, it was not….unenjoyable, but I probably would not go out of my way to have it again.

1200 M Tree Points: Avocado, Kiwicha, Arracacha, Lake Algae. The avocado was warm! They made little beads of the three other veggies and topped it with a warm milky sauce. Once again it was very different as it’s pretty rare to eat warm or even hot avocado. In the US we normally have it in the form of guacamole or as a topping for tacos. 

2010 M Land of Corn: Kculli, Purple, Chulpi, Piscorunto. Peru has an abundance of corn types that are impossible to find in the US. These chips were amazing, all had their own unique flavor. They were artfully laid out on a bed of sauce made from the purple corn.

600 M Amazonian Plain. Churo, Cecina, Black Chili Pepper, Bellaco. More sea snails with differently flavored foams.




20 M Coastal Harvest: Scallops, Yellow Chili Pepper, Milk, Tumbo. As expected I ended up having to eat this course for Tom, and it made me fuller at a faster rate than him. I swear that it is unfair that I ended up eating his food even though I am clearly the smaller person with the smaller stomache. (In his defense the broth was really quite fishy)

-10 M Sea Coral: Octopus, Crab,  Squid, Sea Lettuce. I think I forgot to take a picture of this one because I can’t seem to find it in my camera roll T.T!…I blame Tom because he gave me a one picture per plate limit. 😦 Frankly I am glad that Tom tried a bite at all! I, myself, am not really a fan of Octopus or Squid since I find the texture to be too chewy for my taste, but I am also a staunch believer of not wasting food unless absolutely necessary. This time around however, I refused to finish Tom’s portion. 

4100 M High Andes Mountains: Pork, Black Mashwa, Macre, Kañiwa. The chips on top were made from the Macre, a type of squash, and Kañiwa, a type of grain. They were artfully draped over a 7-Hr braised pork belly and lightly dolloped with a Black Mashwa sauce. This last one was a welcome change from all the seafood and river flavors we had been experiencing. I felt that the flavor of the pork was a little too subtle for my tastes though, as I am used to a more Asian flair when it comes to pork bellies. 

Dessert:

4100 M Humid Green: Caitura, Cushuro, Sweet Lemon, Chaco Clay. This one reminded me of Taiwanese snow ice. Essentially it was a sweet lemon sorbet (frozen into small shards, potentially with liquid nitrogen) topped with ‘tapioca balls’ flavored and dyed with the Caituro, Cushuro, and Chaco Clay.


400 M Amazonian White: Cacao, Chirimoya, Bahuaja Nut, Taperiba. The white fluffy stuff you see is comprised of shaved Bahuaja Nuts, the petals were thinly sliced Chirimoya and Taperiba fruits, and under the petals was a chocolate mousse. The Bahuaja nut tasted similar to a macadamia nut and gave the combination of mousse and fruit a nutty texture and flavor.

3050 M Medicinal and Plant Dyes: Congona, Matico, Malva, Pilipili. This one was a palate cleanser to wrap up our night don’t remember what was what anymore, but we were told to eat it in an order we pleased. 

In short, our visit to Central was, in a single world, an experience. Chef Virgilio Martinez , who has also appeared on Netflix’s third season of “Chef’s Table,” has artfully managed to bring new life to classic Peruvian ingredients. His choice of flavor pairings and textural combinations, in addition to his implementation of molecular gastronomy allows each component to successfully stand out as an individual, but also meld together in ‘one perfect bite.’ The dishes were truly art!


We finished off our night with a quick visit to the kitchen and a picture with the artistic team behind the dishes that were now settling in our very full, but very happy, bellies.  

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Cathy Hunter
    Oct 27, 2017 @ 12:44:23

    Looks like an extraordinarily wonderful place to visit, we hope it exceeded your every expectation. Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences with us. Love you both😘

    Reply

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