Lima & Cusco dining report
This is my first post - since I used chowhound almost exclusively for my food research for this trip, I thought that I would give back a little.
We were in Peru for a long week – Lima for four days and Cusco for four days.
Our first lunch was at Punto Azul, at its San Martin / Alcanfores location. This was a very cool place with a great atmosphere on the patio, with everyone coming in seemingly knowing everyone else. As this was within our first 24 hours in the city, we keyed off of one poster’s recommendations – the scallops broiled with parmesan cheese, the pescado seco and the ceviche. We were happy with the ceviche (ceviche pescado) and the pescado seco was delicious. But I envisioned the scallops as being a piece of meat lightly dusted with cheese; instead, each “shell” was completely sealed over the top with parmesan. So, as the melted parmesan cooled, it hardened into an unattractive blob. It didn’t seem to deter the other patrons, however, as it seemed as though every other table was ordering this. Overall though, I would definitely recommend this place.
We also went out to dinner at Laene – the Spanish restaurant also recommended by the same poster. This place was incredibly cool with a massive bar and groovy clientele. Once again, everybody seemed to know everyone else (except us!) with kissing upon greeting taking place nonstop throughout the evening (a custom, by the way, that needs to be implemented in the states asap!). At 7.55 on a Wednesday, we were truly the first customers, but within an hour, the place was absolutely packed. While this made for a great atmosphere, I think it had a negative impact on the kitchen. We started with the beef carpaccio dusted with sesame seeds. This dish was excellent, with the sesame seeds contributing a nutty flavor to the usual olive oil and capers. It was downhill from there. Next, we had the verduras tempura – I guess I wasn’t really expecting Japanese-style tempura but what arrived was sliced vegetables / potatoes covered in this kind of heavy, doughy bread coating that was soggy and bland – not appealing. Finally we had one of the paellas – it looked great but the whole dish was overcooked with the shrimp hard and the rice mushy. I think that this was a direct result of the kitchen being slammed. I would STILL recommend this place though as I suspect you could pick your way through the menu, have a pisco puro or two and just chill out and take in the scene.
We were then off to Cusco. We stayed at the Libertador (highly recommended), which had a direct influence on our meal selection over the next few days. As you walk out the entrance of the hotel and stay to the right-hand side of the street, there are several local, hole-in-the-wall cafes, which we sampled twice. The menus of these places differed slightly - all seemed to have chicharrones and chicken soup, but one had milanesa (a personal favorite) while another offered arroz dishes. We had two different chicken soups, one milanesa, one arroz and one chicharrones over the next couple of days at these places. While I won’t go into detail over each dish, I will just say that each was fresh, hot, crisp, moist, juicy and savory. A lunch for two, which included a bunch of food, beer and inka cola, cost about US$7.00 - $8.00. Unbeatable!
We also ate at the Inka Grill, ordering the Inka Grill Pizza and chicken soup (again – my wife was suffering from altitude sickness). Both dishes did the trick.
Back to Lima and we were headed to A&G for our last evening meal. While the experience wasn’t up to Michelin three-star, I would say they get an A+ for effort and our food was prepared as though we were the only customers. We started with the ceviche (a bit spicy) and a triple fish tartar thing where three kinds of potato chip cups were filled with three different tartars – nine total portions that were arranged in a cool checkerboard grid on the plate. For our main course we ordered the black cod and the mixed Peruvian grill – grilled filet, fatty pork chop and heart (!) topped with a fried egg – my kind of dish. We finished with the chocolate sampler, very creative, subtle and not sweet at all. With a bottle of Montes Sauvignon Blanc (Chile) the total was about US$140, with the wine about $45. At these prices, I could eat there every night!
Finally, I want to mention another local place in Lima. If you look across Alcanfores while sitting on Punto Azul’s patio, you will see a small blue-colored café called Tavito, which we checked out. This place is very local and, again, everything we tried there over two lunches was fresh, hot, tasty and cheap in the same US$7.00 - $8.00 range. We were laughing that Punto Azul was across the street for about 4x the cost and we were having as enjoyable a dining experience.
Another poster mentioned that you needed to lower your expectations for food when traveling in South America; we didn’t and certainly didn’t have to!