Lima Day/Night 2 – Pisco, Pisco y Mas Pisco

Taking advantage of a relatively quiet morning, I got some much needed sleep and left my apartment ready to embrace the day.  It was time for some real ceviche, and it turned out a well-regarded restaurant, Punto Sal, was a mere 2 blocks away. Facing directly across the Malecon and the views of the ocean, I ascended the tight staircase to a table with a very nice view.

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Although I knew I wanted ceviche, I asked the waiter what he recommended along with that. He suggested I try their mixed platter, which had not only ceviche, but also a tiradito (basically Peruvian sashimi), some wontons stuffed with shrimp and a causa of crab and avocado with a black olive cream.  A few minutes later this thing of beauty arrived.

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Everything was fresh and delicious. It was a bit odd to have the sweet potato and corn separated from the fish but I just combined them myself to get that wonderful mix of flavors.  The causa, which is a traditional Incan dish of potatoes mashed with various fillings, in this case crab, turned out to be the start of the show.

After leaving the restaurant, I wanted to go check out the site from where all of these flying things dotted the cloudy sky.

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Basically a motorized version of a parasail, they swooped seemingly all around me.  At the base of the cliff was the takeoff point, which had no shortage of eager customers waiting their for their turn.

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There was a job to do however so I made a quick pitstop to the apartment to grab my iPad and headed up the street to Parque Kennedy.  The main street towards there was actually 2 roads split between a large dry waterway, which had been turned into a nice path.

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Along left bank were various restaurants and even a clay tennis club.

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Soon I made my way to the Parque Kennedy, a popular hangout spot, especially on a cool Saturday.

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There was a large sunken amphitheater for street performers.  There wasn’t one there when I walked by but a crowd had gathered for the next show.

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On the left side of the park was the infamous “Pizza Alley”, which at night turns into quite the party scene but quiet at this time of day.

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The Circle of Miraflores, getting into the holiday spirit.

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As I made my way to CompuPalace, I entered into some sort of art district, with a line of large markets and shops pedaling Peruvian art and wares. I got the distinct sense though this was purely for tourists, backed by the fact most of the signs were in English.  It turned out that CompuPalace was at the end of this stretch and what I thought would be something like a BestBuy turned out to be nothing of the sort.

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CompuPalace turned out to be a very apt name as I entered a massively sprawling multi-story complex packed with individual stores, both retail and repair along with a crush of Peruvian techies. It looked more like something one would find in Tokyo rather than Lima.  Not wanting to try to explain the issue in Spanish and risk messing something up, I spotted a large Apple sign and asked if anyone spoke English.  They said no and told me to try this other place a few stores down.  That turned out to be a bust as well but one of the employees said he’d take me to another store where his friend worked.  He also wasn’t at that store but they told us to try this other one.  And so on.  This went on for 3 more stops before finally finding the right guy, Amir.

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Amir guided me back to the front of the building, where he handed my iPad to a guy hunched over a small workbench.  He told the cashier to have her call him after they made the initial diagnosis.

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I took a seat on the bench across from the storefront and waited for the results.  About 20 minutes later, Amir came back and explained that the battery had shortcircuited and needed to be replaced.  He said it would be about $50 and I said that was too much.  The guy on the workbench said he would make it $30, and I accepted.  That would never have happened in the States!

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They told me it would take about an hour but I had noticed an intriguing bar next door so I headed there for a drink.  Given the name, I assumed the thing to do was to get a pisco cocktail of some sort but I was burned out on Pisco Sour.  I asked the bartender which was his favorite and he told me to get a Chilcano, which is pisco mixed with ginger all and lime juice.  He first had me taste the pisco by itself, which was quite strong, and then mixed in the cocktail.  It reminded me a little of a mojito but without the mint.

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As I was sipping my Chilcano, I started asking the bartender questions about pisco – its origin, the various styles, etc.  Sensing he had an interested party, the bartender’s eyes lit up as he went into a detailed history of the origin of pisco – distilled from a large amount of fermented grape juice.  This included the reason there are a lot of different tastes of pisco – depending upon the altitude, climate and types of grapes.

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He asked if I wanted a taste of some different styles and although it was only 4PM, I didn’t want to be rude so I said of course.  The first pisco was an example of a high altitude one from Arrequipa, which is where a lot of the pisco that is used in cocktails come from due to its neutral flavor.

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Next he poured a taste of one of his favorites, which was a small batch pisco from the Inca region that had a lot more flavor.  It reminded me a little of a nice tequilla reposado, in that it’s a sipping shot versus mixing into a cocktail.

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Because I mentioned I was from Los Angeles, next he gave me a taste of an artisinal pisco that is made in Peru but for a San Francisco based distributor.  This one was particularly good, with a much smoother finish and more floral notes.

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Finally, he brought out a very small batch pisco made with Italian grapes, which he said is the most mild of the piscos.  This one tasted a lot like grappa but without the harsh finish. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed sipping all of these without having to wince.

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I told him I needed to stop before I got too drunk and made my way to the door, stopping to take a quick pic of a model of the traditional pisco distiller.

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I got back to the shop just as the technician was finishing up with my iPad.  He turned it on and looked as good as new.  I paid the cash and made the trek back to my apartment for, yes, another siesta.

I had a 9PM reservation at the formal restaurant from the same chef as El Mercado so I headed out into the cool night and mere 10 minutes later, I had arrived.

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Located on a quiet part of the street, Rafael was bustling with what seemed to be the well-heeled social class of Miraflores.  The air was full of the wonderful smoky aroma from the large wood grill, and I was place in a great corner table overlooking all of the action.

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I was pretty hungry and made quick work of the fantastic bread that had been charred on the wood grill so I was ready to dive right in to a main course.  After asking my server which he preferred between three options I had made note of, he assured me the lobster was the way to go.

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The lobster had first been poached and then thrown on the wood grill, making it smoky and quite tender.  This was served with a gnocchi made of Peruvian yellow potatoes ala carbonarra, asparagus and covered in a truffle crustacean foam, which added a nice briny touch to the dish.  The sauce was so good once I had eaten everything else, I sopped up the remaining with the bread.  Delicious.

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Since I had skipped getting an appetizer, I decided to get one of the lighter desserts on the menu – a “tumbao” of custard apple, cherimoya (both Peruvian fruits) with milk caramel and almond cream.  This was a fantastic mix of flavors and textures, with the slightly chewy custard apples (nothing like a tradition apple though) and smooth cherimoya.  A real winner.

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After asking for the check, I was presented two final sweet bites.  A macaroon and a tiny ice cream sandwich.  A nice way to complete a great meal.

Since it was still early, I wanted to check out a cool bar and after doing some quick research, locked on L’Orient Express, which was known for its interesting pisco cocktails as well as a unique setting.

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Unique was an understatement as the entire small bar had been designed to look like a bar car from the famous Orient Express.  I was lucky enough to get the last seat at the bar and after an elongated back and forth between Spanish and broken English, I finally discovered the thing to get here was one of the sours but with an infused pisco.  There were several infusion from which to choose but the bartender said cinnamon was her favorite so who was I to argue with that.

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The cinnamon wasn’t that pronounced but still gave the sour a very different taste than the traditional pisco sour.  As I sipped my cocktail, I asked if I could have a small taste of the infused pisco by itself which the bartender happily obliged.  Now I could definitely taste the cinnamon plus the pisco had actually changed to a dark brown from the infusion.  It was delicious and I made a mental note of perhaps coming back there Monday for a final nightcap on this leg of the trip.

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LAX-LIM – Back to the Beginning

After a few months off, it was time to get back in the saddle again and head once more to my beloved South America.  This trip would be particularly meaningful as it would take me back to where it all began.  It was just over 3 years ago that I made my first trip to Lima, which started my love affair with all things South America.  It was also where I realized I should really start documenting my travels in a blog, which I finally did when I headed to Buenos Aires for the first time a couple of months later.

My flights were predictably bumpy but not too bad overall.  I was using the “free” one-way ticket that was part of my Cartagena trip and thankfully had business class seats as even those weren’t exactly roomy.

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I arrived in Lima at just before 2AM and got to my apartment at 3AM.  The 3 hour earlier time on my body clock helped but I crashed pretty much as soon as I got into my bed.

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I awoke to a very loud and bustling street just outside of my window.  The view was spectacular but I realized it wasn’t a wise idea leaving the window open as the noise between the honking cars, birds chirping and passerby chatter, it was a bit much.

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My first stop was a long-anticipated return to the glorious El Mercado.  The casual grill-focused spot by one of the most famous Peruvian chefs, Rafael Oestering and built in a former car repair shop features a dish that was life-changing for me – the grilled octopus.  But first, a pisco sour of course

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Until I had their version, I had always shied away from ordering octopus as it can be very chewy in the wrong hands.  El Mercado though boils the octopus twice, first in salt and water, and then with aromatics and Peruvian purple corn.  It’s then transferred to the wood-fire grill, which imparts a wonderful smoky flavor.  Adding to the smoky goodness, are mushrooms and Peruvian potatoes that are also grilled.  The result is simply one of my top 10 dishes of all time.  Tremendous.

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Although I was quite satisfied with the grilled octopus, I noticed a new section called Sandwiches that given the low prices, I assumed were just small bite size ones, so I decided to try a couple of them.  First up was called “Bulldog Sandwich” – which was a delicious combination of pulled suckling pig and crispy crab with an aji amarillo (a Peruvian sweet yellow pepper.)  It was in fact tiny but packed with flavor.

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The other one was called “Chicharron Asiatico” – which featured fried pork, lacquered shrimp, sauteed onions and once again the ubiquitous aji amarillo sauce.  After this incredibly filling small bite, I was done.

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After a short cab back to the apartment, I decided to go walk around the neighborhood, starting with the Parque de Armor, which was right across the street.

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This massive statute gives the park its namesake.

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The park extends along a cliffside, which makes for a spectacular setting.
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As part of my walkabout, I had also brought along my iPad, which I had dropped when leaving the Lima airport and was no longer working.  There is no official Apple Store in Lima but there were 2 places I had found that were essentially knockoffs.  The first one was shut down so I headed to the famous Larcomar Mall, where the other was located.

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I normally stay away from malls as much as possible but the Larcomar Mall at least features a pretty stunning surroundings, hanging off the Pacific.  Not surprisingly, this store also couldn’t help me and suggested I go to something called CompuPalace, which was located just past Parque Kennedy.  That was going to be on list tomorrow so I made a mental note to add that to my agenda.

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I decided to take the scenic route home along the coast.

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After a much needed siesta, it was time to head for my first dinner in Lima.  Wanting to mix both new spots as well as ones I went to last time, I had asked arguably the best Peruvian chef in Los Angeles, Ricardo Zarate, who is from Lima, what restaurant I shouldn’t miss.  He had enthusiastically said Fiesta Gourmet so off I went, using Uber for the first time which couldn’t have been easier, and cheaper to boot.

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I was escorted to a table with a nice view of the quite stunning bar and wine cellar (although in this case, elevated on the 2nd floor.)

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Featuring mostly Northern Peruvian food, the menu was divided between fish and farm animals.  Most dishes were designed to be shared family style, including whole massive fish, like the Peruvian grouper, which could be ordered via various cuts.

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Of course, given I was alone, this wasn’t an option for me.  As I was trying to decide between fish or farm, I was served a welcome pisco sour along with an amuse bouche of slow cooked, shredded pork on a Melba-like piece of toast on top of a quail egg.

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Wanting to try a bit from column A and column B, I decided to get the hot “ceviche” of medium-rare medallions of Peruvian grouper with the traditional flavors of ceviiche but grilled instead of cooked in citrus.  The grouper was wonderfully fresh and indeed truly did taste like a ceviche, only hot.

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Next up, I choose a side dish of just the crunchy bottom rice of their duck with rice cooked in a clay pot with peas.  While there were no pieces of duck, the rice still had a rich duck taste to it and the fresh peas were a nice bright touch.

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While I probably should have quit, I was intrigued by a dessert I had seen sent to a neighboring table and thought what the hell.

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This impressive looking plate consisted of a pile of Peruvian style donuts, made with sweet potatoes and a fig honey dipping sauce.  The donuts reminded me a lot of beignets without the powered sugar and the dipping sauce added some much needed sweet notes as the donuts themselves were fairly mild in flavor.

A quick Uber ride back home, I hit the sack ready for a big day tomorrow.