Restaurants & Bars

Latin America & Caribbean

Peru -- Lima, Cusco (Cuzco), Aguas Calientes, Puno report

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Peru -- Lima, Cusco (Cuzco), Aguas Calientes, Puno report

aventinus | Jul 19, 2010 06:48 PM

I just got back from eight days in Peru. As one can see from my reviews below, especially my gushing reviews of Cicciolina, I dined very well. I typically ate at upscale, contemporary restaurants with dishes influenced to a varying extent by traditional Peruvian cuisine and ingredients. Ironically, I have eaten more authentic Peruvian food at several restaurants in the U.S. The primary reason for this is that online reviews of restaurants in Peru, on which I based my dining decisions, focus on trendy, cosmopolitan restaurants and exclude more traditional, down-to-earth restaurants. For better or for worse, my reviews follow this tradition. I apologize for their brevity, which is due to lack of time and a pinch of laziness. I will try to capture my objective opinion of each restaurant in a rating from 1 to 10. Restaurants rated 6.5 and above are recommended.

Every restaurant below is very cheap by American standards -- generally at least 50% less than what one would expect to pay in the States. As a reference point, a four-course meal at my top-rated restaurant, Cicciolina, with two glasses of wine, a glass of pisco, mineral water, and a 15-20% tip (which I believe to be very high in Peru) cost about $60.

LIMA

Pescados Capitales. 9.0. An excellent contemporary cevicheria in Miraflores, open only for lunch. Wonderful open dining room. Great service. Good to great food. The best dish I had was the three-fish ceviche, which consisted of salmon, tuna, and whitefish bathed in a creamy aji-pepper sauce, served along with some boiled Peruvian corn (which I happen to love). Also very good was a lucuma tart with a thin chocolate icing. The grilled octopus was good too, but I found the texture slightly more chewy and slimy than the best renditions.

Panchita. 8.0. I told my taxi driver the address of this restaurant in Miraflores and he responded "Panchita Panchita Panchita." When I arrived, the spacious restaurant buzzed with activity in both the dining area and the lounge. The restaurant has a new and glamorous feel. I dined at the bar. The food was generally good. Only one dish stood out, however -- the arroz con pato (rice with duck). This is a traditional Peruvian dish in which the rice is cooked in stout and spices, which makes it quite savory. The duck was nicely browned and cooked to perfection.

CUSCO

Cicciolina. 10.0. Outstanding restaurant -- by far the best in Cusco. After dining at a few other places in town, I tried Cicciolina and found it so good that I dined there for every remaining meal in Cusco. Other diners seem to appreciate Cicciolina as well. The relatively spacious restaurant was always full for lunch and dinner (though there is usually space to dine at the bar). The open kitchen perpetually bustled with activity. (It was very enjoyable to watch the chefs make dishes, especially fresh pasta, which they hang to dry on strings in the window.) At least when factoring in price, I would pick Cicciolina as my favorite restaurant in the world.

I had 6 meals at Cicciolina, including two light breakfasts. The lunch and dinner menus (which consist of a tapas menu and a regular menu) are extensive, wide-ranging, and fascinating. I ate three or four course meals and never ordered the same dish twice. Every dish was excellent. My favorite dish was the grilled tuna in a complex red aji pepper sauce. The tuna had a remarkable smoky flavor that adds even more complexity to the dish. (This smoky flavor was present in every grilled item I tasted at Cicciolina.) The tuna was accompanied by delicious yellow potatoes mashed with mild yellow aji peppers and huacatay. Also wonderful was the beetroot-flavored ravioli in a creamy walnut sauce; the squid-ink tagliatelle with shrimp in a Thai coconut-milk sauce; the duck prosciutto on top of grilled polenta; the freshwater ceviches, and numerous other dishes. Desserts were outstanding as well. My favorite was the strawberries in a thick, condensed port sauce, accompanied by pisco ice cream. The mango pastry with basil ice cream was also great.

My breakfasts at Cicciolina consisted of a bagel with smoked trout and herbed cream cheese and a basket of bread with jams and butter. Both breakfasts were good, though not as remarkable as the dishes I had for lunch and dinner. However, the breakfast menu had numerous items more interesting than those I ordered.

Incanto. 7.5. This restaurant has the best bar in Cusco. I was quite impressed by the craftsmanship of the bartender. It is a great place to explore the world of piscos and pisco-based cocktails, or to have a classic cocktail. My dinner here was good and interesting. I will note, however, that the chef's take on tarte tatin was, to me, a huge disappointment.

Limo Cucina. 7.0. Good food, nice upscale, yet casual, atmosphere. The causitas with cilantro-infused oil were the best of four or five causas/causitas (i.e., cold dishes of mashed yellow potatoes with some topping, often including diced fish) I tried in Peru.

Inka Grill. 5.5. The biggest disappointment for me in Peru, my lunch at this top-rated TripAdvisor restaurant was a dud. The aji de gallina was lukewarm and bland to boot, and the accompanying rice tasted dry and old. My impression was that both were reheated. Better was the appetizer causa with diced fish and avocado. (As a side note, this restaurant, along with Incanto, Limo Cucina, and two other restaurants, the names of which I forget, is owned by the same Lima-based investment group. I learned this during conversation with an employee of one of these restaurants.)

Bistrot 370. 4.0. Very out of sorts. I ordered arroz con pato as my main dish. The waiter said it would take 30 minutes. I said that was fine -- I would have some soup and an appetizer first. The pureed wild mushroom soup was tasty at first but got boring quickly. The appetizer gnocchi were a gloopy disaster. When I finished those dishes, the waiter asked if I would like to order something else. He said he had told me earlier that they don't have arroz con pato. I got annoyed by this and left.

AGUAS CALIENTES

El Indio Feliz. 7.0. A pleasant restaurant owned by a French husband and Peruvian wife. The menu is more French than Peruvian. The trout ceviche was quite good. A French chicken with black pepper sauce was pretty good as well. Perhaps most enjoyable was the basket of warm, complimentary bread and big dish of whipped butter.

The Treehouse Restaurant. 6.0. This restaurant appears to strive high and has an ambitious, interesting menu. However, I found the dishes rather basic and a bit disappointing, though not bad. The restaurant had a new manager and my impression was that the chef was inexperienced.

(I will also note that a grilled chicken sandwich at the snack bar just outside Machu Picchu, along with chicha morada and a cerveza, made a pretty good lunch. Near the snack bar is a sit-down restaurant serving a buffet, which I did not try.)

PUNO

La Casona. 6.5. The most genuinely Peruvian restaurant I ate at in Peru. The menu was wide-ranging and had numerous interesting dishes and beverages. The food was generally very simple and certainly nothing to write home about. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the basic, true flavors, especially of the french-fried yellow potatoes and grilled kingfish (which I presume was freshly caught in Lake Titicaca).

Casa Andina Private Collection (hotel restaurant on the lake). 7.5. Very nice atmosphere. Looks out over the lake and has two fireplaces. The food and service were generally good. My favorite dish was the dessert -- fried dough balls called "buñuelos" stuffed with caramel and served with ice cream. It was nice that this restaurant had a wine list that extended beyond South American wines. (As an aside, I tried numerous South American white wines on this trip, including several Peruvian wines. Generally I found them tart and lacking body. The best wine I had by far on the trip was a bottle of orvieto at Casa Andina.)

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