Lima – Day 1/Night 2 – Exploring My New Temporary ‘hood

I woke up to the sounds of loud construction going on seemingly right outside of my window but at least they had started at the reasonable hour of 9AM.  I caught up with a bit of work, wearing headphones to drown out the noise, and at around noon, headed out to satisfy my ceviche craving.  One of the places I had asked people where they go on their day off turned out to be a cevicheria pretty close to my apartment.

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The Google Maps path showed it was a bit under a mile away, which would be easy enough to walk, and seemed to be pretty easy to navigate.  This was true, until I made the turn to another street, where I literally had to take the beaten path.

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There didn’t seem to be another option so I did my best navigating the various holes and broken glass that was seemingly everywhere, anxiously consulting the app to find out how much longer of this I had to endure.  Eventually, after stepping around a particularly muddy section, I arrived at my destination – La Onceava.

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Given what I had just experienced, I was very surprised to find a large, pretty modern looking restaurant in front of me.  The expansive courtyard was filled with lunch goers and was blissfully free of English or other languages.  TripAdvisor wasn’t going to send too many tourists this out of the way!

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Immediately after being seated, I was greeted with the familiar site of a pisco sour, and while I didn’t really feel like a full one, this mini version was great.  Also great was this magnificent basket of chips.

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The menu, not surprisingly, was filled with options for ceviche and other traditional Peruvian seafood dishes.  One version caught my attention, Piscomarisco, a mixed seafood ceviche with a pisco leche de tigre sauce.  This, as my waiter explained, is the traditional preparation of ceviche up north.

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A short while longer, this plate of seafood beauty arrived.  I had never seen the Peruvian corn on the cob like that but the rest was very familiar – a lovely mix of lobster, shrimp, conch, squid and octopus along with sweet potatoes and red onions.  The seafood was very, very fresh, and I could in fact taste a bit of the pisco in the sauce.  Amazing.

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I wasn’t planning on getting a dessert but when I saw they had one of my favorites, tres leches, for about $4 USD, I had to try it.  As depicted above, this was way more than I expected and the cake was fantastic.  I ate pretty much all of it, paid the check and left the courtyard only to be basically surrounded by cabbies all vying for my business.  When I told them I was going to walk, a few in chorus said “no, very dangerous, take our cabs.”  Had this been at night, I probably would have agreed but since I already knew the way, I politely declined.

I picked a slightly different route home to avoid the construction mess and headed back to the apartment.  A few hours later, it was time to go check out the section of Barranco I had seen previously, which apparently was very close.  Walking down the other side of the street, I turned on to Avenida San Martin, which ran along the old part of the barrio.

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I was immediately struck how different the surroundings were, with beautiful parks and mansions with large gates and security cameras everywhere.  I passed by the large Barranco Park and headed up a side street to a small restaurant that had been getting a lot of buzz.

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Sibaris, according to the menu, focused on whatever is available that day at the nearby Suquillo Market and items changed accordingly.  From a quick read, it seemed to be leaning heavily on the fusion cuisine that has become a staple of Lima.

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The wine selection was underwhelming but the beer choices were plentiful.  I ended up with another style from Nuevo Mundo, this time a porter.  It was a very nice beer made even better by the ice cold glass it was served in, which was needed as the restaurant was a bit stuffy.

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Instead of a starter and main, or just a starter, I decided the two best things were both starters so chose those.  First up was a tiradito of Amazon river trout.  I was thrilled to find trout on the menu as it’s rare in South America and this turned out to be a fantastic starter.  The trout was perfectly sliced and the slightly spicy sauce enhanced the flavor greatly.  I could see why people were talking about Sibaris after this.

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For my other starter, I selected the “buns” of shrimp and braised pork belly with sweet potato spread.  Now THIS was Peruvian fusion at its best, with the crunchy tempura shrimp balancing out the rich pork belly.  The Asian style bun with the spread was the perfect vehicle for these bite-sized wonders.  Another great dish.

After paying the bill, I retraced my steps back to the plaza and crossed over the other side to the Bridge of Sighs, one of the more notable landmarks in Lima.

This was the part of Barranco I had explored previously so I took a few snapshots, walked around a bit and headed over to Santos, which I had enjoyed during my first visit.  Unfortunately, it was pretty empty as it was only 11PM so I took off but not before getting a photo of this cool room.

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I walked along the grounds just outside of the area, noticing an interesting art installation that studded the banks of the now dry river.

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My final stop of the evening was going to be at what is considered to be one of the best bars in the world.  While I was looking for something small and intimate, it turned out to be nothing of the sort.

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Ayahuasca Bar and Restaurant was housed in a massive mansion from the late 1800 that had been lovingly restored to its original splendor.  I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer size and took awhile to walk around to get my bearings.

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After checking out each room along with the truly amazing bridge connecting the two parts of the mansion, I ended up in one of the busier rooms, which had Ron Zacapa branding all over it.  Since that had become a favorite of mine, it seemed like the logical pitstop.

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The bartender in this room looked like something out of central casting for a fierce Inca warrior but turned out to be a gentle giant, even at one point proudly pulling out a large coffee table book about the venue after I had asked about its history.  Not every day I go to a bar with its own coffee table book.

Wanting something a bit different but with the Zacapa 23 that I had grown found of, the bartender suggested a mojito with that instead of the usual white rum.  It was an excellent call, and I enjoyed the next 30 minutes or so continuing to explore the mansion

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At about midnight, more people started to arrive, and I could tell it was about to switch into party time.  Unfortunately, my long day combined with the fact it was 2 hours later on my body clock made it time for me to leave this weird, wonderful place.  I made the quick walk back home and went to sleep.  Tomorrow would be my final stand and my eagerly awaited return to El Mercado for one last bite.

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Buenos Aires – Day 9, EZE-LIM – Night 1 – The Homestretch

It was my final day in Buenos Aires, and I still had quite a bit of pesos remaining, which would be useless once I left Argentina so it was time for a mini-spending spree.  First up, I decided for one final nice meal at the legendary parilla Don Julio.  Since I didn’t have a reservation, I made sure to get there by 1PM so there wouldn’t be a wait, and I was soon seated at a nice center table to better take in the old school surroundings.

Don Julio is one of the oldest parillas in Palermo Soho and while it doesn’t have quite the cache of its neighbor La Cabrera, it is still considered to be one of the best in the city.  I judge all parillas by the most sacred of Argentine cuts – the ojo de biefe (aka rib eye) so that’s what I ordered along with fries – old school at its finest.  I was pleasantly surprised the rib eye only cost about $15, way less than what I was expecting.

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Soon this glorious cut of charred meat arrived along with a mountain of hot, crispy fries.  Not knowing what I’d be having for dinner on the plane, I was glad to get in a nice and very filling lunch.  About half-way through the deliciousness, I concluded it wasn’t right to have this without a nice glass of Malbec.  Since I was still trying to use up my remaining pesos, I selected the much-heralded El Enemigo Malbec from Mendoz, and it was a perfect companion to the rich steak.

After lunch, still with a large handful of pesos to spend, I walked over to the outlet mall, where there was a very nice wine store called Winery.  I told one of the staff members I was looking for 1-2 bottles of a Mendoza Malbec that would be hard for me to get in the States.  He ushered me into their cellar section and rattled off several choices.  I was torn between getting 1 excellent bottle or 2 really good bottles.  After much hemming and hawing, I opted for the latter and had them tightly pack my purchases.

I made one last trip to the apartment to pack up and drop off the keys to my host.  I had contacted in advance a taxi service to take me to the airport and was pleasantly surprised when they pulled up exactly on time.  I had over 3 hours before my flight but since it was close to rush hour didn’t want to chance it.  This turned out to be very wise because what should have been a 30-45 minute drive turned into a 90 minute ordeal trying to escape the onslaught of traffic seemingly everywhere.

I still had plenty of time to check in, which was a breeze and security was even easier so I thanked the travel gods once again.  I apparently did this too soon as I forgot I still had migration to go through.  I sighed as I saw a massive line in front of me and 2, yes 2, booths open.  It took about an hour to finally get through and by this point, i was down to 30 minutes before I would need to board.  I had really wanted to check out the American Express Centurion Lounge since I am a Platinum card holder but this turned out to be 20 gates away from mine.  So instead, I used my Priority Pass card to access the much closer One World Lounge… for about 10 minutes before I had to head to my gate.  Oh well.

My flight to Lima was on an older 767, including the old school monitors versus the newer in-seat ones.  I had been lucky enough to snag an exit row seat, which in these older planes meant even more space than usual.  Unfortunately, this also meant old skool meal choices, both of which looked awful along with a very liited beverage selection – and no ice.  I reluctantly chose the beef option and let’s just say, be grateful I didn’t take any photos of it.  The flight, despite the trip over the Andes, was relatively bump free and a bit under 4 hours, I was back in Lima.

I wanted to mix things up for this final leg of the trip so I had booked an apartment in the bohemian Barranco section of the city.  I had enjoyed my brief visit to this area the first time I was in Lima and was eager to explore it more thoroughly.  I took the same Green Taxi service and was surprised to find out it was the same 60 soles fee that I had paid to get to Miraflores.  After a somewhat circuitous route, I arrived at the apartment, which was located on a quiet side street between of the 2 main ones in the barrio.

The one-bedroom apartment was fairly Spartan but would be just fine for only 2 nights.  I unpacked, cleaned up a bit and headed down the street to El Dragon, a club that many people had told me to check out, especially since Wednesday was their house music night.  I walked down the fairly grimy street, passing what looked like several quite delicious food stands and about 15 minutes later arrived at the unmarked El Dragon club.  I paid the $10 entry fee, which included a free drink and made a quick loop.

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The main room had a surprisingly booming sound system and after a futile attempt to convince the bartender that my free Miller (blecch) should be one of their country’s beer since it was the same price, I took the Miller and planted myself at one of the same tables facing the dance floor.

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I chatted with several patrons and enjoyed the set the opening DJ was putting together.  I noticed what looked like the headliner approaching the booth and while I was starting to get tired, I wanted to see what he was like.  As I saw him and someone else start to hook up a bunch of equipment, I began to realize I probably wouldn’t like his set.  This proved to be true about 10 minutes later when the nice, driving house music was replaced with the worst impulses of German tech house in all of its bleeps and blorps.  I took that as a sign to head home and pick up my exploration of Barranco tomorrow.

Buenos Aires – Day/Night 8 – Nuevo y Viejo

Today would be my final full day in Buenos Aires. Work kept me busy until about 1pm when I was finally able to escape for a bite to eat. This time I was certain my destination was open so I made the quick walk down the street and arrived the relatively empty L’adesso a few minutes later.

There is a fairly large Italian influence in Buenos Aires and this place is considered to be one of the better restaurants focused on real Italian cuisine. I had been told their 3 course tasting menu was excellent and soon discovered there were in fact 2 options – Il Piccolo or Il Grande.  Sending the latter might be too much I opted for the smaller. I was soon presented with a very nice amuse bouche of fresh tomatoes and basil on focaccia.

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About 10 minutes later, this monster arrived. A huge bowl of eggplant Parmesan with rosemary and black olives. This is definitely not my usual favorite mix of ingredients but I trusted the chef. While definitely not my favorite dish on my trip, it was still very good with the fresh rosemary helping cut through all of the richness. I knew from the menu that the 2nd course was pasta of some kind but after about 15 minutes of waiting, I began to wonder if perhaps that last course was it.

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A few minutes after that the mystery was solved when presented with a massive bowl of bucatini with fresh tomatoes, olives and white fish with a seafood broth. Again not something I would necessarily order on my own, it was very good.

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The final course said “a trio of desserts” so that left a lot to wonder. I knew though it would probably be very good and soon found out when an impressive spread of tiramisu, biscotti with limoncello sauce and gelato with caramel arrived. Unfortunately, I knew due to the caffeine I couldn’t have the tiramisu but the other two were fantastic.
Seeing though that I hadn’t touched the tiramisu, the server asked if I wanted something else. Not wanting to be rude I said sure. The chef himself brought out the replacement – an absolutely perfect pana cotta with macerated black cherries So good in fact I forgot to take a photo – d’oh!
I somehow rolled away from the table and headed back to the apartment to lie down for a bit. After a bit more work and my usual siesta, it was time to hail a cab to the up and coming barrio of Belgrano.
I had wanted to check out this area during my last stay but somehow never got around to it. My destination was a newish restaurant Astor which featured modem takes on classic Argentine dishes. After about a 20 minute cab ride, I exited and walked up the block…only to discover a sign saying they were moving locations. Grrr.
It took awhile to hail another cab in this quiet residential area and without Internet access, I didn’t really have a new address in mind. I decided to just be dropped off in the center of Palermo Soho and go from there.
As I walked down one of the main streets, I saw a place called Sintaxis that had been on my list so that sounded good. I walked in to the large bustling dining room that seemed to be mostly groups of friends and families. The only table available was for 6 so I felt a bit odd sitting in that solo but oh well.

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When the menu came, I discovered that the concept of the restaurant was that everything is gluten free. Only in trendy Palermo Soho would this work. Still, given the insane amount of gluten I had ingested for lunch perhaps this wasn’t a bad idea.

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Since I really didn’t have a clue how to navigate a menu like this, I relied on my server who recommended the pork ribs with BBQ sauce and roasted apples.  While not to the most aesthetically pleasing of dishes, it tasted great and was a nice change of pace after so many heavy meals.

After dinner, I walked a few blocks over for one last nightcap with my old friends at Rey de Copas.  I told the bartenders about my experience at Nicky Harrisons and had the original version of the Negrito Peligroso, which was quite good but not in the same class as the one I had at the speakeasy.  I chatted awhile with one of the other Rey bartenders, who was there on his day off and had a long discussion about why Argentine beer is so terrible and how hard it is to get imported liquor due to the very high restrictions/taxes.

By just over 1AM, I hit the wall and while tempted to have one last drink, I knew tomorrow would be a long day and probably wise to just head home.  I told my friends I would be back at some point soon and cruised back to the apartment.

Buenos Aires – Day/Night 7 – Back to (kinda) Normal

The next morning it was time to me to  start to get back into a somewhat normal rhythm so that was spent catching up on work. Around 1 or should I say 13:00, I hit the streets to find a quick lunch somewhere close. My first choice turned out to be closed so I ended up a cute little cafe.

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In the spirit of getting back to normal, I had a very basic but delicious cheese, spinach and chicken omelet and a side salad. I had initially sat outside but the sun was starting to heat up quite a bit so I retreated to the comfy inside.
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It was noticeably hotter but thankfully  without the oppressive humidity that had made the weather so bad during my last stay. Given this, it made sense to finally hit up the ice cream store on the corner which had been beckoning me since I had arrived.
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I chose a small flan with dulce de leche and damned if that wasn’t exactly what it tasted like. I headed back up to the apartment to do some more work and cool off from the heat.

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A few hours I made the quick trip a few blocks down the street to revisit one of my mainstays, Unik. One of the most striking restaurants I had ever been to thanks in large part tot the massive modernism furniture collection proudly displayed by the owner.
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The main chef was sadly on vacation but I recognized the maitre d’ as the former bartender and he smiled when he saw me. It being Monday and all, the restaurant was fairly empty but I was already getting hungry from the wonderful aromas emanating from the open kitchen a mere few feet away from my table.

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One of the things that I immediately noticed during my first visit was their superior bread basket. Made entirely in-house it’s a bread lover’s dream. Thankfully, it was as good if not even better this time.
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Looking for something to along with the bread, I noticed an intriguing starter of venison tartare with preserved cherries and rye toast points. The maitre d’ knew though what I really wanted with it was more bread and in front of me was a glorious selection of piping hot flat breads. This proved to be the perfect vehicle, and I are every last piece. Outstanding.

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Because I knew how great their game meat cookery was, I chose the wild rabbit loin wrapped in pancetta with chard and mustard. Yet another winner with the perfectly cooked loin enhanced by the salty goodness of the pancetta. Damn I love this place.
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Because it was still relatively warm out, I opted to have my dessert back at the ice cream store, where the same guy as earlier in the day was still working – poor bastid. This time I went with almond, which was very good.
Full and happy, I rounded the corner and retreated back to the apartment for some sleep. Tomorrow would be my last full day in Buenos Aires with more returns to old favorites and perhaps some new places as well.

Buenos Aires – Day/Night 6 – A Walk Down Memory Lane

I woke the next day and had a sudden urge for a good ol fashioned brunch. Fortunately, over the past few years Portenos had embraced the concept and there were no shortage of places to go. Opted for one of my old haunts, Magdalena’s Party which was a few blocks from me.

Known as one of the key hangouts for ex pats, it was fairly packed with people both in and outside having standard brunch fare. I decided to get eggs Benedict and a glass of mimosa of course.  Part of the charm of Magdalena’s Party is that their staff clearly enjoys a good party both during and off hours. This was evident in the slightly hungover vibe I got from my server.

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The eggs Benedict and roasted potatoes were great fuel to wake me from my lazy Sunday and I soon departed to walk around the neighborhood a bit more.

Eventually it came time for dinner and I excitedly walked over to one if not the best restaurants in Buenos Aires. Las Pizarras was a mere two blocks away and features various game meats cooked to absolute perfection.

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The menu changes daily and is displayed on 2 large boards (these are the pizarras) on either side of the room. As usual there were several items that looked great but after a quick consultation with my waiter, I ordered the braised pork shoulder with boar bacon, asparagus and a poached egg. It was another home run, with uber tender pork combining nicely with the smokey salty boar bacon.
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Like iLatina, Las Pizarras had moved up considerably in TripAdvisor so I wasn’t surprised to find the couple next to me, with their matching his and her hipster glasses, was from DC.

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The last time I was at Las Pizarras, I had what was probably my all time favorite duck dish so when I saw the lovely word “pato” on the board, I knew that would be my main course. This time the duck was accompanied by a pear honey purée and roasted apples. While not the epiphany the duck was last time, it was still damn tasty.
After I gave my compliments to the chef and his staff, I walked down the street a few blocks to return to yet another place, Sugar Lounge. This is where Chris and I had caught some of the NFL playoffs and since it was almost time for Sunday Night Football, I thought it would be a great place to finally watch a game with some fans.
Unfortunately, the big crowds that had been there in the past were nowhere to be found. Slightly bummed but undeterred, I made my way a few blocks further down past Plaza Armenia to my final blast from the past.

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During my stay last time, the constant heat had made me long for a nice beer. Unfortunately, in Buenos Aires (as noted in my ill-fated trip to Taberna Odin) this is easier said than done. However, I had found the savior that I was now entering again – Antares Cevezaria.

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Antares was one of the first craft breweries in Buenos Aires to have their own brew pub. The headquarters was this one but there were several others throughout the city. They only serve their own beers but luckily they are all very good.

I first tried their new barley wine and found it to be pretty decent if a bit bland. Still compared to the swill I had previously, it was a marked improvement.

Next I had the imperial stout that I had enjoyed quite a few pints of in the past. This version was just as good. Actual flavor in an Argie beer!  Finally I tried their brand new double IPA and while it was a bit too hoppy for my tastes, I could still tell it was a well-made beer.  I said my goodbyes and headed home, ready to return to a bit more normal schedule in the week ahead.