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H and I recently returned from a week in Lima, Peru (which was supposed to be eight days, and thanks, JetBlue, ya bastahds). I had a list, and we followed the list, and the list served us very well.

Our first meal on our first day was lunch at Merito, which gets a lot of acclaim, and rightly so. It’s a small, very popular place in the fashionable Barranco neighborhood, and their thing is interesting new uses for traditional Peruvian ingredients. Mucho kudos to them for actually paying attention to the note I put in the reservation about what H can and cannot eat; we were very well taken care of.

Possibly you’ve heard the term “the fajita effect” bandied about, which refers to a dish that makes its way across the dining room, inspiring everyone to order it. As we are followers, our first course was just that – a grilled ear of corn with a chili cheese sauce. The corn in Lima is not like the corn at the USQ Greenmarket. It is not sweet corn. It is workhorse corn. It is very good corn.


This was followed by an amaranthus chip topped with fish tartar (I’m not gonna bother with the Spanish names unless they’re absolutely necessary, because why should you have to look anything up?), scallops with sanki and jalapeño, fish with (more) corn, and flan. I also had an alcoholic drink before 5pm, which is not like me, but I was on vacation, so there. It was called a sachatomate, and to be honest, I wasn’t that crazy about it. I kinda thought it would be like a bloody mary – a good pre-5pm drink! – but it wasn’t.



catch of the day


Our second fancymeal, at Rafael, was unfortunately a disappointment, especially after Merito set the bar so high. For one thing, it was the kind of fancymeal you can get anywhere, so not all that special (although the food was Peruvian). For another, despite my written (ignored) and oral (ditto) requests to guide our ordering to accommodate H, he ended up with a muy picante dish that he had to send back for replacement. Also the menu does not warn that you will be charged for bread. I don’t mind - it was good bread! - but I prefer transparency. Anyway, tuna tiradito, very nice.

tuna tiradito

And sea bass with prawns and rice. This was very heavy, salty and buttery - even with H’s help, I couldn’t finish it. And this is why I don’t usually go in for “this type” of restaurant: I always feel super-sluggish the next day.

sea bass

We didn’t even get dessert. It didn’t seem worth it.

Back to awesomeness! I went for a solo lunch at La Mar Cebicheria because someone “wasn’t hungry yet,” and he is still kicking himself. I hadn’t yet figured out the bus thing, so I hoofed it quite a ways, on a hot day, in the bright sunshine (not a given - Lima’s very cloudy). Along the way I convinced myself that I was going to the wrong address, or the restaurant would be closed, or it would be so crowded I wouldn’t be able get a seat. None of this happened. And I was rewarded with this beautiful tiradito of a grouper-type fish, the name of which escapes me (something akin to “fortunato” or “fortuna” or like that).


Next up was uni and scallop and onion and avocado and pepper, absolutely spectacular and I felt like dancing.

sea urchin

Was I gonna give these folks, with their very professional servers and their airy spacious room, my dessert business? Damn right. This is lucuma ice cream. Lucuma is a fruit that (according to one of our tour guides) is liked by only 85% of the people who try it. I am in the majority. It is custardy and a little chalky and not too sweet.

lucuma ice cream

By now it should be obvious how I arrived home toting several extra pounds, even after walking a minimum of 7 miles a day. Our final fancymeal was at Astrid y Gaston. I was prepared for lovely food. I was not prepared for dining in a gigantic hacienda that kinda reminded me of Leonard’s of Great Neck, if Leonard’s was actually a classy joint. This was the only place where, when we said we were from New York (and EVERYONE asked), the guy who led us to our table wanted to know Mets or Yankees. So we knew we would have a good time. Service was excellent here, and Astrid herself made the rounds and chatted with us for a bit. See? Classy.

Corn vichyssoise with churros. And just as an aside, to emphasize how freaking cheap eating in Peru is, this was $4.50.

corn vichysoisse

Korean-style cold pasta with crab. So refreshing! The cylinders are some kind of potato. Did you know that Peru cultivates 5000 varieties of potato? Probably, you’re smart people.

pasta with crab

H got cuy. Ish. I guess if you have to eat an adorable rodent, it might as well be here.


Some kind of grilled fish with clams. I was nearly comatose by this time. It was the weakest course, as entrees often are. But still good!


And continuing in my quest to eat fruit I’ve never had, custard apple marinated in gin (yass!), with sorbet.

custard apple

Our last day, we made another stab at La Picanteria. This time on a weekday. This time at 4pm (not entirely on purpose - our cabdriver got lost), so not a popular meal time. Success! I did not understand the ordering system (I do now, but too late), and thus was somewhat grievously upsold, so this ended up being an absolutely vast meal, more appropriate for four - or even six - than two. Where were you when I needed you, @DaveCook?

You choose a fish. You choose two preparations of said fish. One board shows the weight of the fish. Another shows the price per kilogram. Our fish - a chita - was 1.9 kg. Which is a pretty big fish for two people. Did we want an appetizer, perhaps some uni? Did I not yet understand how big this fish was gonna be? Or how big the uni appetizer was gonna be? I did not!

The uni, which was the most uni I have ever consumed at a single meal. Or 10 single meals, even.


Soup with rice. No indication this was part of the proceedings. Okay, then!

rice soup

Half of the fish, ceviche’d. With fried squid (or clams? I dunno), why the hell not.

chita ceviche

The other half the fish, grilled. With yuca. And the fried head of the fish.

grilled fish

And more soup! Broth made from the bones of the fish.

fish broth soup

Should we have dessert? In for a penny, in for a pound. This is called misti, and it’s some kind of ice cream cake with cotton candy on it. The crust was very tough, which reminded H of his mother’s apple pie. Which is to say he was more of a fan of that crust than I was. You needed an ice pick to get through it.


We made a friend. He insisted we live in Queens. We do not live in Queens.

picanteria friend
Another little aside - I pushed open a door, thinking it was the ladies room, and spied a red neon sign that said Adults Only (in English). So I backed out quickly, thinking I’d stumbled upon a brothel or a strip club or something. Naturally, H wanted to check it out. I made him ask a server what it was. It was a brewery! Behind a restaurant! Shades of OG Angel’s Share, kind of.
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