Peru – Lima

March 18, 2008

(March 13 – 17). Lima is virtually impossible to wrap your mind around. It is over 800 square kilometers and functions as thirty separate “cities” each with its own mayor.  

The downtown district, know locally as Lima, is a traffic-clogged, pollution-ridden disappointment. The colonial structures that remain are in disrepair, few restaurants exist, and no major attractions are compelling.That said, however, a few of the other districts make this city well worth a visit.blog-7180-250x169.jpg

We stayed at the aptly named Country Club Hotel, built in the 20’s across from a golf course in the San Isidro district, the financial center of the city with many beautiful homes as well as the office buildings.

The other upscale district is Miraflores where there are many restaurants, luxury hotels and an unusual mall in three levels stepping down to the Pacific.

 In Pueblo Libre, another district, we took a guided tour of the Museo Arqueologico Rafael Larco Herrera, an absolute gem of an art collection as well as a stunning building.

blog-7074-275x183.jpgHere is the largest private collection of pre-Columbian art, with displays guaranteed to take your breath away.

Then there is the storage area where some tens of thousands of pieces are shelved so that you can see perhaps a dozen or so sculptures of one person over a period of years on just one little shelf. It boggles the mind. blog-7090-250x167.jpg

Walk down the ramp outside into the Sala Erotica for a taste of something very unusual. A charming café completes this lovely museum experience.

 Twenty blocks or so away is the National Museum, found by following a blue line painted on the sidewalks and crosswalks. It does have the largest collection of pre-Columbian artifacts in Peru but they are not displayed as well as at the previous museum and don’t inspire the same degree of interest.

 blog-7141-275x183.jpgIn Barranco, a beach district north of Miraflores, which is now Lima’s bohemian district, the Museo Pedro de Osma offers a unique look into Lima of a century ago.The house was built then by an industrialist and is now open to the public. We had to knock on the iron gates and an attendant opened a fierce padlock to let us in and locked it behind us. Then he went around and turned on lights.

The main building has beautiful inlaid wood floors, amazing stained glass windows and a display of the religious art Pedro collected, some of which is so aesthetically beautiful that it makes up for the theme.

A lovely building back through the gardens housed the formal dining room and probably the kitchen in the days when Pedro and his family lived entertained here.A new building houses exhibitions of contemporary art, and another the gold and silver collection amassed by Pedro. Now for the food, and Lima is known for its food.

blog-7098-225x150.jpgA lunch at “El Bolivariano” which we passed walking along the blue line which leads from the National to the Museo Herrero , was a treat.

Pork chicharonne and camote chips (sweet potato) and a ceviche, served in the typical Lima style with a lemon cream sauce, topped with Parmesan cheese and garnished with both boiled corn kernels and baked, dried ones was outstanding. We washed it down with two cold beers and happily paid the $US23 bill.

Dinner at the highly touted “La Rosa Nautica” took us to Miraflores and then out on a long pier over the Pacific. More ceviche and fish. As with most of South America the portions are so big that we couldn’t begin to finish everything. Michael, we needed your appetite.

Both the Lima-born and -raised manager of the Casa Andina on Suasi and a Peruvian banker we met on the Hiram Bingham touted “Brujas de Cachiche” as their favorite so we headed back to Miraflores one night to try it out.

The menu is a hard cover book of maybe 20 or 30 pages, the left hand side serving as a photographic chapter heading. On the right side are listed 6 or 7 dishes in that particular category, with detailed descriptions.

We started with a shrimp, octopus and fish ceviche with avocado, corn and onions and the causa, potato cakes rolled an stuffed with crab and avocado which are typical and so different and so refined but so well done that the individual tastes of the ingredients shine through.

Gary’s giant scallops were grilled in lemon butter with crispy leek threads and garlic, served still attached to their shells. Varian’s chicken in traditional Lima presentation of chili, cheese and nut cream was delicate, rich and quite wonderful. Again, more than we could do justice with.

At “Chala” in Barranco, we remembered our portion size observation and each ordered two appetizers and still couldn’t finish them, superb as they were. With our pisco sours we dipped tequenas (finger sized meat rolls) in an avocado cream foam (Chef Israel Laura Torres has studied in Barcelona so we sensed some Feran Adria in the presentation) and inhaled the fantastic thinly sliced fried plantain chips.

The ceviche ($US9) with onion, corn and glazed sweet potato was outstanding, especially when a bite mixed all the tastes together. Another causa ($US13), maybe the best of the bunch, presented us with mashed yellow potato rolled around smoked trout, crab, cream cheese, caramelized onions, goat cheese then breaded with panko crumbs and baked. Wow!

After those two cold appetizers, we had two hot ones, jumbo prawns ($13US), also breaded with panko (Japanese bread crumbs), filled with yucca and dried grouper, deep-fried and served with a sweet soy-based sauce.

Fried pork chicharrone ($US8) served over a terrine of sweet potato, goat cheese and mint with an onion salsa completed our feast. With it we drank a Tannat grape wine from Uruguay that was quite good.

Sitting next to us were a foodie couple who regaled us with tales of food and restaurants and chefs in Lima. They also said they hear great things about a new restaurant in San Isidro near our hotel. And are we glad they did because “Fu&ion” (sic) was not on any list that we had.

The degustacion menu at $US40 is a real bargain, but then most food here in Peru is. To start, there was a fish sort of sashimi style, with both a tomato-based sauce and a mayonnaise one, and garnished with avocado and black sesame seeds. Crispy caramelized prawns followed with a Dijon sauce and an orange reduction.

The two main courses were a fish with crispy beans and rice and herb salad, and then duck in a raspberry sauce with a light mushroom risotto.

The pre-dessert was a delicious bogona gape sorbet, setting the stage for the cinnamon ic e cream and the sweet “huevo chimbo” whatever that is.

The owner, a lovely woman named Berit Kudsen, told us that the Incas had cooked with herbs, fish and other ingredients that so obviously contributed to their longevity that the Spanish adopted a lot of it.

Then the Chinese immigrants absorbed the ingredients into their style of cooking and later the Japanese did so. Thus, the result today is a diverse cuisine recognized as one of the world’s greatest.

And, we don’t think it has yet come to New York. Something to look forward to!

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