Central Restaurante | Yo Dat Shit Was Fire!
Here's the pilot edition of our new series called 'Yo Dat Shit Was Dope!' The concept of this series is to provide a detailed recap of the dopest restaurants that we visited. You won't find a ranking or rating here; just our recap of the experience. First up -- Central Restaurante in Lima, Peru.
The first entry in YDSWF; Central is the either the #4, #5 or #7 top restaurant in the world (depending on which publication is telling it). Two months prior to our Peru trip, we made a reservation here. Even this far out, the number of available slots was limited. If you do go, make sure to book well in advance, foo.
Central is the landmark establishment by Virgilio Martínez Véliz, who you may have seen on his episode of Chef's Table. The core theme of Central is to utilize indigenous Peruvian ingredients, and accentuate them with modern cooking techniques. We were very eager to experience this for ourselves.
As we left our hotel in Paracas (after a friend's wedding), we hopped on the shuttle bus to Lima. Unfortunately, the ride was very terrifying and very long. We ended up being 30 minutes late for our reservation. Understandably, they had to give our slot up to the next people on the wait-list. This meant that we'd miss out on the 11 course tasting menu. We were devastated. However, the host decided to take pity on us (seeing as how disheveled we were, with our travel bags, and dark bags under our eyes) and put us next in line to sit at the bar. What a roller coaster of emotions that day.
We took our seat once they opened up. The atmosphere of the bar was very casual and comfortable. We peaked around the corner and the main dining room appeared to have the same vibe. For a restaurant of this caliber, it was a refreshing surprise to see the lack of stuffiness.
The bartender came over, greeted us and dropped some menus. The bar menu consisted of 8 items and 3 desserts. We immediately decide to get 1 of everything. When the bartender returned, we placed our drink order -- coca leaf chilcano and a Pisco Quebranta. We told him our desire to eat everything on the menu, at which point he pumped our brakes. He expertly guided us through the menu, explaining the balance between cold and hot dishes as well as suggesting an optimal order for consumption. We decided on 6 dishes and 1 dessert.
Here is a summary of everything we tasted:
Sea Tartar * Scallops - Charela - Sargassum
This one made me shed a few tears while eating. Sure, there was the combo of exhaustion, flux of emotions and the coca leaf chilcano in me; but nevertheless, the flavors in this were explosive and it was perfectly citrus-y. This was my personal favorite dish -- and a perfect way to kick off the meal.
Glazed Octopus * Native Potato - Onion - Sea Lettuce - Kaniwa
The octopus was perfectly tender on the inside, with just the right amount of sear on the outside. Oh, and after having this, I guess I really like sea lettuce now.
Roast Avocado * Black Butter - Tree Tomato - Macre
I never knew that avocado could taste this way. The marinade played well with the density of the avocado flesh, and the toppings... those damn toppings. I'm now convinced that fresh herbs and spices from the Amazon should be used on every dish.
Coastal Rice * Clams - Octopus - Scallops
This dish was very buttery and heavy. The flavor was good, but the rice can definitely eat up valuable real estate in your stomach. We enjoyed half, but had to stop so that we could fit in a few more dishes.
River Snail * Black Chili Pepper - Bellaco - Cecina
This dish had some of the most unique textures we've ever eaten. On the bottom was marinated snail chunks, flavorful and chewy to the bite; The foam on top was rich and airy.
Pork Rib * Algae - Cushuro - Black Mashwa - Chulpi
This was probably my least favorite dish of the meal. That being said, it was still lightyears ahead of what I thought could be done with food. The biggest standout in this dish was the algae. They looked like roe, but were actually small bubbles of algae found high up in the mountains. Must try to believe.
Chirimoya Chia * Theobroma Macambo - Beetroot - Smoked Milk
As you may know by now, I am not a big dessert guy. However, the bartender told us that this was a dish that true Peruvians would order, so we had to try. This was the right decision. The fruit base of this dish had an even, slightly sweet taste that makes it easy to work with (similar to taro). What really made it special were the accoutrements. The beetroot and smoked milk really amplified the taste of the fruit without being overwhelmingly sweet. You can make an amazing dessert without using 100 lbs of sugar... who knew?
By the end of the meal (and a few more coca leaf chilcanos later), we were sitting sideways. This was definitely one of the top 3 meals we've ever eaten. Each course was supremely creative and executed with expert precision. More importantly, the dishes were fun. You could tell that the chefs had a good time putting everything together. The finished products looked more like art project, rather than dishes to be eaten. But we still ate them. We ate the shit outta them.
If you are ever in Peru, Central is definitely worth making a special journey to dine at. If you make a reservation for the tasting menu, don't be foolish and miss your time-slot (like we did). However, even if you do, and end up eating at the bar, it will still be one of the best culinary experiences you'll be a part of. Hallelujah hollaback.
Central is relatively cheap for this caliber of food. However, it'll still cost you $$$$