Stephen and Jeni are foodies, that is plain and simple. We are trying to raise the palates of E&S- with some success. So Central in Lima was a must. Central was recently awarded the Chefs’ Choice Award 2017 from the Worlds Best 50 Restaurants (Central is #5).
The concept behind Chef Virgilio Martinez’s menu is to explore the biodiversity of Peru’s natural food. Each of the 17 dishes represents an elevation and showcase foods found at that particular elevation. Food items were sourced from the Andes, the Amazon, and the sea. Yes…..you read that correctly 17 courses. And the kids ate along with us.
We have eaten at many great restaurants over the years…but by far Central had the most gorgeous (and most unusual) presentations. The flavors delivered were original- sweet potato leaves, piranha, sea lettuce, tree bark. The diversity of the flavors offered were outstanding. Not only did we experience new flavors, but old flavors presented with a twist.
The dining experience was a finely choreographed performance. The emphasis on detail was not missed. The tweezers were out in full force. Each presentation was superb with thought and execution. Each unique morsel of food served a purpose for taste and texture. Each serving implement was selected to enhance the presentation. The kitchen was on full display once you entered and worked in perfection. The entire house staff worked swiftly and quietly. Napkins folded whenever you left your chair. The next presentation in the drink or juice pairing was timed perfectly with presentation of the next dish. Our water glasses were never empty. Empty dishes disappeared without a notice. The progression was a perfected science. You never waited for the next dish yet were never rushed. Many times one dish was presented on two or three platforms (nothing was just on a “plate”) since one dish could not tell the entire story of the elevation. The first few dishes were meant to be eaten with your fingers although unique serving utensils were provided through the meal. Several accompanying beverages were also presented- but not a typical cocktail type.
It would be near impossible to describe each dish in detail, so I will try to share some of our highlights.
The most difficult part of this blog? Deciding on which of the 17 dishes to describe! It was an eating adventure.
Waters of Nanay from 680M presented piranhas (no explanation needed), cocona (Amazon tomato with a taste of tomato and lime), achiote (ground annatto seed with a peppery aroma and a nutty, sweet earthy flavor), and huampo bark (a tree). Amazon.com sells achiote paste which I will soon add to my kitchen pantry stock. Did we actually have piranha? Yes! The first dish was a presentation on crispy piranha skin (it was balanced on the mouths of the piranhas) and the second dish has more of a typical fish presentation. And those teeth were still sharp!
Marine Soil from 0M consisted of sea urchin (and a healthy portion), pepino melon (a Peruvian fruit that is a cross between a honey melon and a cucumber), razor clams, and seaweed. The crispiness and refreshing flavor of the pepino complimented the richness of the sea urchin perfectly. I am always excited when sea urchin appears on a tasting menu and pepino is now one of my favorite fruits.
Colors of Amazonia from 450M consisted of pacha (an Amazonian fish), yacon (a tuber with a sweet taste of fresh apple watermelon), bellaco (an Amazonian tree that traditionally has been used for herbal medicines), and lemongrass. By this point, I had fallen under the Central spell and was eating the food without thinking of the source. The food was well balanced and delicious. So what if it was tree bark? It was really good tree bark! Chef Martinez has an unique ability to see the possibilities in his native foods and explore new cuisine options.
Sea Coral representing 10M and all the main ingredients are easily recognized (octopus, crab, squid, sea lettuce). However, the melding of flavors was different than expected. The sea lettuce added a crispness (without being crunchy crisp) to balance the earthy tones of the octopus. The foam on foods hasn’t seemed to add flavor in other restaurants. However, Central’s composition depended on the flavor of the foam additions.
Humid Green from 3700M served as a palate cleanser and consisted of caigua (a small spiky green fruit of the cucumber family with medicinal purposes), cushuro (a type of cyanobacteria), sweet lemon, chaco clay (an edible clay). I haven’t eaten “dirt” since my childhood days, but it was delectable. The dish was a neutral flavor that helped prepare your taste buds for the desserts after the protein dishes. Generally palate cleansers are sorbets or another food with a tart or citrus taste. It did not have those typical flavors but worked perfectly to “reset” our taste buds for the final two courses.
Was Central the best meal I have ever had? I don’t think so, but it was the most creative, innovative tasting experience I have had. The plating and presentation was close to the top also. Would I eat here again? Absolutely! I would love to see what creations Chef Virgilio Martinez has discovered next.
Our daughter, E, has her own blog and she will post on her own version of this meal….keep a look out for it!